The word “shy” seems to be a rather easy, catch-all term, all too often applied in sweeping statements to justify or at least explain away various potentially problematic behaviors. That child who freezes up and runs away when spoken to by a safe and friendly stranger? “Shy.” That friend you go to parties with who seemingly won’t initiate or act on any social situation, no matter how potentially beneficial? “Shy.” That person you try to network with in a professional manner who leaves you hanging with awkward, icy near-silence? Also, just “shy.”
But what does the word even mean? What is shyness? When does it come out in a person’s behavior? What causes it and what can be done to change it? If you think shyness is an issue in one’s regular private life, imagine how large an impact it can have in business, especially sales.
According to Dr. Phillip Zimbardo of Stanford University, “80% of Americans are considered shy in at least some situations”. If this statistic is even remotely accurate- and given this man’s credentials, it should be- shyness is a wider ranging problem in the population than anxiety, depression, alcoholism or halitosis.
Different individuals can be “shy” in vastly different situations. I have known seemingly gung ho, Type A salespeople who can engage heartily and confidently in person, and close deals with a handshake like a champion. But put that same sales person on the phone to make some cold- or even warm- calls, and you’d think they’d been asked to bungee jump Niagara Falls in January.
Conversely, I’ve seen salespeople call from lists effortlessly, breaking though the ice and then lasering in on the desired result of the call. They take a contact list in hand the way a lifelong fisherman grabs a rod and reel, excited to execute their mastery and show what they can do. But put some of these same “phone assassins” in a cocktail party or business networking event and watch them cling to the wall like a child on the first day of kindergarten. Without the visual cloak of the telephone line and the familiar surroundings of their cubicle, these guys lose all their mojo.
Many people look at shyness as an ingrained trait, a genetic luck-of-the-draw, the specific circuitry built into our DNA. But I don’t see it that way. I see shyness more as the place that we occupy on the spectrum of social daring and interpersonal initiative. It is a learned trait that can be improved the same way your batting average can, with continued practice and dedication.
There are vastly different kinds of intelligence. There are book smarts, mechanical skills, and emotional intelligence. How valuable is that? We all know at least one person who is socially fearless, yet also has the interpersonal skills to back up their willingness to act with the right words to make a successful connection. Our friend may have no more than a 10th grade education but watch them to walk up and get a business card from a stranger at a bus stop in Mid-Town Manhattan at night during a rainstorm, and next thing you know they’re having coffee on a weekly basis with the 1% of Wall Street.
What it takes is a bit of charm, basic human understanding and charisma. And we all have those things; a lot more than we sometimes think. They’re like muscles that retain their tremendous potential but never look it until we put them to the test. It also takes that spark called initiative and the willingness to make ourselves do something when we fear.
The hardest part of diving into the water is making the leap. Once you’ve made that decision, adrenaline, instincts and preparation carry you through and the feeling becomes one more of exhilaration than fear. Soon you want to dive in again… and again. It is the exact same with diving into a social interaction, whether it be personal or business.
Shyness is really a habit. It’s a series of behaviors that we repeat because we feel that we gain benefit from doing them. That sounds like the opposite of what we’d expect! Doesn’t shyness just hurt us? That is probably the case most of the time, but our minds convince us otherwise because of the way we sometimes manipulate what could be called a deficiency into an advantage.
Picture a “shy” person at a social gathering. He or she draws attention and sympathy because they don’t seem to be mixing or socializing and it looks like they’re not having fun. They stand out in their miserableness. Nice, caring people then come over, comment on their seeming isolation and give them positive attention.
Shyness allows people to avoid what they think will be painful and traumatic situations. If you can avoid that cocktail party mixer, then you’ll eliminate the possibility of looking awkward or foolish in front of others. And each time they sidestep what they imagine would be another disastrous outing, they feel relieved and can congratulate themselves on a wise decision. But this isn’t benefiting you at all! You’re losing the opportunity to grow, engage and connect. So how do you go from shy to shine?
The key here is to begin the process of breaking the avoidance habit. And that comes in steps with each occurrence focused on acting instead of avoiding.
Start by saying yes instead of no to various social challenges and situations. The brilliant Dr. Albert Ellis calls this process “shame attacking”. By making a conscious effort at such we can crumble away our resistance and genuinely become more extroverted.
I have found myself in situations where I was more restrained and withdrawn, even dare I say, shy. One might mistakenly have thought of me as a bit of a wallflower. But that’s not because I’m a naturally uncommunicative or unfriendly person. Put me in various gatherings with friends, family or acquaintances and I’m the life of the party, a non-stop chatterbox, full of quips, quotes and compliments. But I worked to make the naturally sociable outgoing me replace the silent, insular me in those certain environments that caused me to have apprehension.
However, shyness is an ongoing battle. There will always be a newer, bigger social challenge tomorrow that might make use freeze. But by working regularly on shyness-attacking activities and routines, we build on our ability to shine and be our best, most generous, outgoing and captivating selves in any situation. For a person in business, especially one involved in reaching out to new clients, this is not just beneficial, it is extremely essential. Every aspect of one’s business success will grow and become less burdensome, as the shackles of shyness are chipped away.
There is a very accurate expression- “The best way of taming our fear is to perform repeated acts of courage.”
Those acts of courage do not have to feel like doing a 20-foot ski jump or swimming with sharks. They are simply steps such as initiating a conversation, reaching out to a stranger with an opportunity proposal or telling a prepared story. The feeling after is always better than before. Whatever the outcome, you will feel infinitely better and more relieved just by having gotten up in the batter’s box and swung.
Shyness can seem like a nice trait in a party wallflower, and you should never feel shame or excessive self-criticism for having had it, but know that social boldness and fearless communication are within you. Every time you simply force yourself to take an action in opposition to shyness you are transforming yourself into a person who is socially effective, in private, public and business settings.
To work on breaking through your shyness, sign up for a for a coaching membership with ContractorSelling.com. Plans start at just $89/month. Call us at (877) 764-6304 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.