Mary’s struggle with shyness came to a head during a virtual meeting about a new IT process launch. Was extra testing essential or could the process go live without it? Mary was adamant that there should be additional testing, but instead of calmly raising her concern she allowed her shyness to get the better of her. Mary uncharacteristically blurted out her objection.

Mary explains: “I needed to be the one to intervene. Terrified, my objection came out all blurty: ‘We can’t go live. We haven’t done enough testing. No!’”

The outburst was the result of Mary’s shyness masking her true, more composed personality. The team misconstrued this as disrespectful and arrogant, which was far from the truth.

“I’m not an introvert, I’m shy. Shyness has had a big impact on my life, but it’s also had a significant impact on my career.”

Shyness has characterised Mary’s life from a very young age, holding back her social development. She didn’t attend a school social event until she was 17 and admits to leaving college with “more qualifications than friends”. But she has always remained ambitious, and it was after the fallout from her virtual meeting that Mary decided something needed to change.

“There I was in my late 30s, misunderstood, not getting the help that I needed, and my career ambitions not being fulfilled.”

Team effort

Asking for help was always daunting, but, steeled by her drive to succeed, Mary reached out to her colleagues. Her line manager and a trusted ex-colleague helped Mary understand that the more nervous and shy she felt, the more arrogant and unapproachable she came across. By encouraging Mary to better integrate into the Shell community, her colleagues had set her along a successful career path.

"My speed of delivery, my personal effectiveness, and my relationships have all improved since I started asking for help."

The more Mary opened up and allowed her workmates to help her, the more she realised how much she wanted to be there for other people as well. Mary started to enjoy being asked for help. “It allows me to show off my skills, my knowledge and my experience in a way that I would have never offered as a shy person.”

Successfully shy

The change in attitude had a dramatic effect on Mary’s personal and professional development. “My speed of delivery, my personal effectiveness, and my relationships have all improved since I started asking for help.” And it didn’t go unrecognised. Her renewed and proactive approach opened up a wealth of new and exciting career opportunities.

"Every step I take I boost my self-confidence and enable myself to be successfully shy."

When she received a promotion to IT Business Interface Manager in 2012 she wanted to celebrate in a way that captured her true outgoing personality. As a huge fan of Arsenal Football Club, she dyed her hair bright red – Arsenal FC’s team colour. It was a watershed moment. “I was being me for the very first time.”

Finally seeing the real Mary had a positive influence on the people around her. “The results were astounding: everybody started including me, asking me for help, wanting me to be a part of their team, and junior staff found it inspirational, thanking me for being different.”

Mary didn’t stop being shy, but decided that she wouldn’t let it hold her back in her career any more. “Every step I take I boost my self-confidence and enable myself to be successfully shy.”

Mary’s tips for overcoming shyness in the workplace

  • See yourself as others see you. How you perceive yourself in social situations isn’t always the same as how other people might
  • Seek advice from a friend. Talking with someone you trust can start the process
  • Ask colleagues for help. Realise that asking for help doesn’t shine a light on your weakness, but instead it shines a light on their strength
  • Acknowledge your faults. Accept that for people to see your good qualities, they’ll need to see the whole you, not just the bits you want to share
  • Be authentic. Build self-confidence by retaining your true personal identity

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