Wondering How To Manage That Painfully Shy Employee? Here’s Some Helpful Advice!

Wondering How To Manage That Painfully Shy Employee? Here’s Some Helpful Advice!

It is common for an employee to feel shy or out of place during his/her first day at work. But for some employees, it is their normal behavior as they confine themselves to a nest and wait for people to speak up to them. Unfortunately, such shy employees are labeled as unmotivated and overlooked. Managing such employees becomes a challenging task for the employer.

The truth, however, is that such employees can be as productive, or even more, than their chatty counterparts and may have substantial untapped potential. All that is required by the employer is to break the shell and make them come out of their nest.

Bernardo Carducci, an expert on shyness, states that 40-45% of the adult population consider themselves as being ‘shy.’

How To Manage Shy Employees

Here’s How You Can Identify A Shy Employee!

Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics that distinguish a shy employee from the rest…

1. ‘Think before you speak’ philosophy:

Shy employees tend to think a lot before they start talking. They work on the axiom: “Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.” This is just due to the fear of speaking up and being judged. They take considerable time to implement their thoughts into words or actions.  

2. Anxious and Vulnerable:

Shy employees often feel anxious and vulnerable and think that they are being judged.

3. Quiet during Meetings:

Shy employees do not open up during meetings, and when asked to speak out the voice seems shaky.  

4. More Warm-Up Time:

They take a little more time to warm up during social gatherings compared to their extrovert colleagues and friends.

5. Averse to Change:

Employees who are shy often avoid putting their feet into new tasks or engaging themselves in new situations. They find it painful to come out of their zone of comfort.

6. Small Circle of Friends:

The circle of friends for shy employees also tends to be small. Such employees are comfortable with a small group of people whom they know well and hence restrict their interactions.

7. Difficulties in Dealing with Differences:

According to Carducci,

When people constrict social interactions to smaller and smaller circles and expose themselves to less and less divergent views, they lose tolerance. They lose their skills of dealing with difference.

Based on the above nature common to shy people, it is difficult for them to deal with differences and hence they tend to withdraw into themselves more and avoid situations that require interaction with other people.

This is more pronounced when meeting superiors with authority.

8. Unconstructive Feelings and Self Doubt:

Shy people are dogged by constant unconstructive thoughts of helplessness or inability to do something. They are also skeptical when approaching others as to how they would perceive him/her.

The Sub-sect of Shy Employees… 

Zimbardo identifies a sub-sect of shy people namely the Shy Extroverts, who are perfectly calm and composed outside but whose insides are in fact churning. Examples include politicians, professors, speakers, etc., who can speak a prepared script but get tongue-tied during questioning. Employees can be identified among these sub-sects as well!

A Few Ways To Manage Shy Employees

Relationships play a critical role in the workplace. So how does one manage such Painfully Shy Employees?

It just requires the employer to play a different ball game altogether!

Shy employees have certain positive behavioral aspects that the employer can tap into and make them beneficial for the organization as follows:

1. Learn to Differentiate between Shy and Introvert Employees and Approach Accordingly:

Most of the problems faced by employers in tackling shy employees come from the lack of simple distinction between an introvert and a shy employee. Shyness and introversion though synonymous are different traits.

While introverts have a preference to solitude as against socializing, they are not scared of social encounters like shy people and have conversational skills.

According to neuroscientists ‘Shyness is a behavior – it’s fearful in a social situation; whereas introversion is a motivation. It’s how much you want and need to be in those interactions.’

While introversion necessitates energizing through the ALONE time, shyness tends to be more associated with DISCOMFORT/ANXIETY in situations that require socialization. Introverts aren’t shy; they are in fact at ease with people, it’s just that they need more time alone to energize themselves.

According to Carducci:

“If you see two people standing by a wall at a party, the introvert is there because he wants to be. The shy person is there because he feels like he has to be.”

Shy employees tend to reflect inward a lot and hence can make well-informed decisions. The employers must take the initiative of engaging in small talk with shy employees. Quite often, such employees tend to feel OK once the conversation is initiated. The problem in dealing with such employees is the first step of starting the talk, so it is essential to teach such employees to engage in small chats.

How To Identify Shy Employees

2. Shyness is not a Sickness so Understand why Employees Feel Shy:

The employers should not perceive shyness as a form of sickness and neglect the employee. It is common for people to misconstrue shyness as a mild form of illness and look down upon shy people. Shyness is more biological and is underrated. It is a personality trait, and there is no magic cure.  

According to psychologist Henderson and Zimbardo, it is essential to understand that shyness is a byproduct of incompetent social skills, that cannot be solved by pills.

Hence employers should understand the reason for their employees’ shyness and get to know as to why they feel intimidated to open up and speak.

For instance, a shy employee might care too much about what his co-workers might think of him. Due to these overwhelming concerns of how he is being perceived, he might tend to feel uncomfortable in social gatherings. Once the employer understands this reason, he can address the issue more knowledgeably and healthily by initiating the employee into small conversations to tap his potential.

The fact that a shy employee is self-conscious is not just a personality trait but an underlying characteristic of the science behind the brain that influences why we care about others’ perceptions. 

3. Play to The Employee’s Strengths:

Shy employees display their strengths in various other ways like creative thinking, making informed decisions and so on. So they might be more suited for non-client facing jobs like research and analysis, planning, etc.

They can be thoughtful speakers, as they tend to think and focus on what they speak.  So the impetus is on the employer to recognize their strengths and place them accordingly in a suitable role.

4. Choose a Synchronous form of Communication:

Shy employees may be comfortable with email, messaging and other digital communication forms that do not require face contact.

Employers can recognize such boundaries and opt for such kinds of communication that they are comfortable with.

5. Finally, Solicit their Presence and offer Positive Feedback:

The employer should ask shy employees to prepare some topics in advance before meetings and encourage them to share their inputs during the meetings. Also, acknowledging their views by praising them works wonders for their confidence!

Shy employees could be hiding a lot of potential, and could be looking for a way to communicate. It all rests on the employer to look for ways to harness their potential, play to their strengths and change them from being Painfully Shy to Profitably Shy!!!


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