In our culture, the workplace tends to reward charismatic go-getters who network their way to the top. The shy people who struggle to make small talk in the break room or chime in during hectic brainstorm meetings can feel overshadowed by others or not taken seriously.
Research conducted by Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader, found four out of five introverts believe that their extroverted counterparts are more likely to be promoted in the workplace. And a 2019 study led by the University of Toronto did find some truth to that: Researchers found extroversion had a “small, persistent advantage in the workplace” overall and a distinct advantage in key areas, such as interpersonal relations.
It isn’t just that work can be frustrating because you’re a shy person. It’s frustrating to feel as if you aren’t fit to succeed in your profession. But being who you are naturally doesn’t have to be a hindrance in the workplace.
Office life when you’re truly shy
Being a shy person might make you feel like you aren’t “meant” to be in a certain career path or that some careers are better suited to someone with a dominant personality, such as a lawyer or paralegal, according to Shannon Mack, a certified life coach based in Chicago.
“I believe that shyness can be seen as a weakness because it can indicate low self-esteem and confidence,” Mack says. “Nowadays, people are so outspoken that not speaking is … weird.”
As people have become more aware of key personality types, traits such as shyness are often intertwined with introverted personalities, but the two are not the same. According to Heather Gray, a former clinical social worker who now works as a success coach for business owners, being introverted means you get your energy from being alone, while being shy means that while you can still get energy from others, you fear negative judgment for your words or actions, making it difficult to connect and feel comfortable with new people.