In my last post, I introduced you to Ilise Benun and her new book, Stop Pushing Me Around! A Workplace Guide for the timid, Shy, and Less Assertive (Career Press). Recently, I had the opportunity to ask her some questions about shyness in the workplace. Here´s what she had to say:
Q: Where do those irrational fears come from? The ones that prevent us from connecting with the people who very often can really help us grow our careers?
I believe it goes back to childhood. Researchers have attributed shyness to natural temperament. There is evidence that approximately 15 to 20 percent of infants are born with what Dr. Jerome Kagan of Harvard University and his colleagues refer to as an "inhibited temperament." Inhibited children are those who are easily aroused or excited. They are the ones who, at two years of age, might be more likely to hide behind a parent´s legs when a stranger enters their play area. They are the ones who, at seven, play by themselves instead of with other children.
Dr. Bernardo Carducci, author of Shyness, A Bold New Approach, proposes that this inhibited behavior begins to be labeled by parents, teachers, and acquaintances as "shyness." Shy behaviors then become habits that are strengthened, like muscles, as we mature.
But the opposite may be true as well. "Parents who engineer gradual emboldening experiences to their shy children provide a lifelong corrective to the fearfulness," writes Daniel Goleman in his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence. He also cites statistics that 1 in 3 infants born with an inhibited temperament lose their timidity by kindergarten.
Q: I´m curious about the transformation that some of your clients must experience-and now readers with the publication of your new book. Do you see a real turnaround with visibly shy, inward-focusing people after they´ve learned some of your strategies for overcoming shyness?
It´s unrealistic to think that, overnight, anyone will make a 180-degree transformation, from wallflower to mighty oak, even though there are plenty of books and seminars that promise exactly that. The shy habits that people practice have been developed over many years so it takes time to develop new ones, like speaking up and reaching out. That said, however, it is extremely rewarding to watch my clients, through practice, become better at introducing themselves to strangers at an event or being persistent with a prospect who isn´t responding. I´m thinking in particular of one client who, last week, made a follow-up call to someone he´d met at a networking event. Her prospect was outright hostile on the phone and my client was almost ready to abandon the whole follow up process. Those experiences are both inevitable and necessary, because that´s how we develop the self-confidence and the thick skin we need to keep going.
Next time: Another conversation with Ilise Benun