“Get over it!” That’s what our extroverted friends would say. “Just do what we do!”
Life isn’t that simple. We aren’t all extroverts and it would probably be a noisy world if we were. Being shy isn’t a personal defect.
You aren’t the only one out there, even if it feels like it sometimes. The world is full of shy people and that doesn’t prevent you from being an effective networker and reaping the benefits that networking can bring to your business.
Shyness can be defined as a reticence and self-consciousness, not just in stressful social situations but over all.
Studies in shyness back in 1972 at Stanford University’s Shyness Clinic indicated that 40% of Americans considered themselves to be shy. Nowadays, closer to 50% are likely to say that they are shy. You would think that with all of the advancements in modern sciences and the humanities that we would become more outgoing. Perhaps all those advances are what are causing us to become shyer.
It has been said that it started with ATMs and Walkmans. We are no longer obligated to stand in line at our financial institutions to do our banking. We can do it with a machine. The opportunity to talk to your neighbour while standing in line is lost as well as small talk with the teller. Grocery stores and many other ones now have self-checkouts. No need to interact with a check-out clerk anymore. Walkmans allowed us to walk and listen to our music, for our ears only, a great way to escape unwanted conversations. The Walkman developed into MP3 players and smart phones that while getting smaller in size have offered us more ways to escape the real world.
The traditional family is no longer traditional. The days where the father went to work, the mother stayed home and the children went to school, all to come home at the end of the day to share a meal and their adventures of the day only exists in reruns of Leave it to Beaver. Traditional meals were replaced by TV dinners, then microwaveable ones. Fast food has become even faster and arguably not even food anymore. The opportunity to develop one’s communication and conversing skills around the family dinner table may be lost forever.
I believe that you can place the condition of shyness on a continuum. On one end you would have an individual who is painfully shy. The mere thought of having to go to a networking event and conversing with people could be enough to cause them to have a panic attack. Any situation where one feels that they are likely to die is to be avoided at all costs.
At the other end of continuum would be someone who experiences some mild apprehension about participating in networking events. They feel the apprehension but go ahead and do it anyways.
So how do we move upwards on the continuum to the point where we are less apprehensive about meeting and socializing with people, even to the point of enjoying it?
As a registered nurse working most of my career in mental health I realize that there will be some individuals that will only be able to move forward by taking an anti-anxiety medication such as lorazepam to reduce their anxiety. This is only recommended for those that have severe difficulty and only for short term. Despite what some physicians will say, these medications are only to be used for short durations. Coming off of the medication can be as stressful for the person as the situation that the medication was taken for in the first place.
I believe that the secret to becoming more social i.e. moving away from shy is a cognitive behavioural one combined with skill development. There are a few clinical modalities that might be of use. Some might say that it is not important to know why you are shy or what causes your symptoms. “Forget about it, move forward, do it anyways!” A Reality Therapy approach might be “You are shy because you choose to be. What are you going to do to change it and become more social?”
A Solutions Focused approach would likely say something like “Tell me what it would look like if you were no longer shy. What would you be doing? Who would you be talking to? What would you be saying to them? How would you be feeling?” They wouldn’t be focusing on the past, only on how the future could be.
I’m a proponent of the Solutions Focused Method combined with education and experience.
There are many parallels with the fear of public speaking and shyness in social situations. Over the past 20 years I have been honing my public speaking skills by studying public speaking as a member of Toastmasters. Both within my club with fellow members and out in the public I regularly challenge myself by delivering presentations and speeches.
Darren Lacroix, the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking describes the secret to becoming a better public speaker as being “Stage time, stage time, stage time.” I believe that the secret to becoming less shy and more self-confident is similar. You need to face your fear of networking by getting out there and doing it, over and over again.
Within the Toastmasters program we develop our skills by continually moving forward in our educational program and raising the bar as they say in increasing the challenges that we face. The more that we speak in public, the more that we desensitize ourselves and reduce the power that anxiety has over us. The Toastmaster’s program also offers constructive feedback as a way to maximize our self-development.
An overall plan to reduce shyness and increase self-confidence would be wise to include joining Toastmasters. Membership will provide you plenty of opportunities to both develop your communication and leadership skills but also plenty of opportunities to network in social situations.
Research the topic of business networking. You will find that while there is lots written about the subject, finding practical tips and techniques can be challenging to find.
Look for networking events in your community. Don’t expect to be a power networker from the beginning. As they say you can’t expect to run before you can walk. Learn what you can about the organization facilitating the event. What type of people attend the events? Is it purely social in nature or are people expecting to network for business opportunities?
If you are shy and it is important that you network, accompany a friend to the next business networking event, preferably someone who is a little more outgoing than you are. Ask them to introduce you to some people that they know that may be of benefit for you to meet.
As I said in the introduction, if almost 50% of people are saying that they are shy, then odds are there will be a high number of shy people at any event. You won’t be alone!