How Does Being Shy in the Workplace Affect You?

Estimated reading time: 5 mins

Shyness in the workplace is a very common problem (it can be easy to think that it is just YOU, but what you might not know is that shyness and social anxiety affects many people.) According to Bernardo Carducci, an expert on shyness, 40-45% of adults consider themselves as ‘shy’. It’s a very common problem that affects many people. Chances are, if you’re reading this, it’s affecting you too. I hope I can bring some perspective to this, because it’s a major problem that can completely inhibit your social interactions with colleagues and impact your performance. Carducci claimed that being shy intensifies during periods of change (when you least want it to!)

Some symptoms include:

  • You feel anxious
  • You feel vulnerable or being judged
  • You feel self conscious or like a ‘fish out of water’
  • You feel embarrassed/awkward

Your body might also respond in these ways:

  • Your face goes red/blushed
  • Your stomach churns
  • Your heart-rate increases
  • Your voice is shaky and your body trembles
  • You sweat more than normal, perhaps in areas that you don’t normally sweat from (like your hands)
  • You feel dizzy/light-headed
  • Your breathing becomes faster and/or shallower, and you might be breathing from your chest rather than abdomen

Being Shy is Just Unhelpful Thoughts


Shyness often stems from a set of unhelpful or negative thoughts that can impact how a person interacts with the world. Here are some reasons why being shy can often be attributed to these kinds of thoughts:

  1. Negative Self-Evaluation: Shy individuals often have thoughts that are critical of themselves. They might think they’re not interesting, not smart enough, or not worthy of attention. This self-doubt can lead to hesitation in social situations.
  2. Fear of Judgment: Shyness is frequently linked to the fear of being judged or evaluated by others. This fear can be paralyzing, as it leads to constant worry about what others think, preventing natural interactions.
  3. Overestimation of Risks: Shy people often overestimate the risks associated with social interactions. They might believe that saying the wrong thing will lead to significant social repercussions, which in most cases, it does not.
  4. Underestimation of Own Abilities: Shyness can also involve underestimating one’s own social skills and abilities. This lack of confidence can prevent someone from engaging in conversations, making new friends, or speaking up.
  5. Excessive Focus on Self: In social situations, shy individuals might be overly focused on their own behavior and reactions. This self-consciousness can make it difficult to be present in the moment and interact naturally.
  6. Catastrophizing: This involves imagining the worst possible outcome in a social situation. For example, thinking that a minor social mishap will lead to major embarrassment or social rejection.
  7. Avoidance Reinforces Fear: Avoiding social situations may provide temporary relief, but it reinforces the fear and anxiety associated with those situations. This avoidance can make it even harder to overcome shyness.
  8. Lack of Positive Experience: Due to avoidance, shy individuals might miss out on positive social experiences that could help build confidence and reduce anxiety.

It’s important to note that everyone experiences it differently, and it’s a normal part of being human. However, when it significantly interferes with daily life or causes distress, it might be helpful to address these unhelpful thoughts through strategies like cognitive-behavioral therapy, social skills training, or self-help techniques.

What Shy People Do

The above symptoms are no doubt uncomfortable, so shy people will tend to avoid situations that provoke these effects. The result being that they have a tendency to avoid situations that involve an interaction with other people. Especially when meeting new people or people in authority. This can have a detrimental impact on career growth, as career growth typically demands engagement with new people and direct reporting to senior management. Worse still, shy people are painfully aware of their avoidance, so they will beat themselves up over it. Do you do this?

Shy people can take longer to warm up in social situations than their less shy colleagues. Other people can perceive them to be aloof or stand-offish, making the development of new relationships more difficult. Relationships are critical in the workplace – it’s very rare (nowadays at least) for people to be successful if they hide away in their cubicles.

They often avoid trying new things or putting themselves into new situations. And they can often feel stuck in a rut, even though it is self-imposed. Because stepping out of a comfort-zone is painful. So the same things happen every week with little variation.

The same goes for their circle of friends, which tends to be small. Shy people have a close group of friends because they feel more at ease with the people they know well. Carducci said “When we constrict our social interactions to smaller and smaller circles and expose ourselves to less and less divergent views, we lose tolerance. We lose our skills for dealing with difference.

Can you remember a time where a close friend has brought a stranger into your social situation – how did you feel?

Shyness is not Something You Have to Live With Forever!

I just want to point out that shyness is not implicitly ‘bad’. Nearly half the population claims they’re like this! It can be overcome.

Shyness is a personality trait – not a disease. Shy people can learn to cope with shyness and reduce its negative effects, without it limiting their careers. The most helpful coping mechanism, in my opinion, is the challenging of unhelpful thoughts – like pausing that tape I mentioned and asking what basis do I have for thinking this way?

I found this great online self-help guide you can read, for free, published on the UK’s National Health Service website. You’ll find a section in there on unhelpful thoughts, and how to challenge them, plus other ways of coping with shyness.

Does shyness have a negative effect on your performance? Please leave a comment below.

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