The benefits of being shy – and how to use your shyness to get ahead

It’s a personality trait often deemed a disadvantage, but championing your inner shyness can reveal some surprising strengths. Here, ANNIE RIDOUT, author of Shy: How Being Quiet Can Lead to Success, speaks to KATIE BERRINGTON about this often-misunderstood attribute – and shares six ways to embrace (and wield) its power


Accept shyness as part of your personality

I was shy as a child and mostly don’t feel [it] now. [So, in writing my book], I was keen to explore where the shyness had gone and why it felt shameful in the first place. In fact, I learned that the shyness is still there, it’s just that I’ve accepted it as part of my personality. I’m now keen to help other people to see this as an important – and often beneficial – part of their personalities, rather than something that needs to be overcome or hidden.

Understand what it does (and doesn’t) mean

In general, [society] seems to celebrate loudness and outgoing behaviors. Perhaps there’s an evolutionary desire, as parents, to feel our children are ready to go out into the world and be independent. But somewhere along the way, we started to believe that we can’t be both independent and shy. Of course, we can. Shyness means quietness; perhaps a wariness, but we can hold back, observe and join in when we feel ready – there’s no rush.

Put shyness to good use

When I’m at a party and I see someone hanging back, feeling reticent about joining in, I approach [them] rather than the people performing in front of a crowd. Shyness has made me observe social dynamics and I feel more drawn to those who are feeling awkward than those who are at ease. I notice other shy people doing this, too. Shyness often makes you more empathic; you feel other people’s feelings and want to support them.

Find the means of communication that suits you

The digital landscape can be a positive place for many people who are shy. We often find it easier to communicate through writing at first, as there’s less pressure to ‘perform’. I imagine online dating suits shy people and I know many feel liberated by Zoom meetings. Being at home in a comfortable environment and taking it in turns to contribute means shy people are being given the space to speak up with a less intense ‘all eyes on me’ feeling.

Recognize how to challenge yourself

I think it’s important to push yourself a little if you’re feeling held back by your shyness. For me, public speaking felt terrifying, but I loved the idea of doing talks in front of a live audience. I could have let the fear hold me back. Instead, I chose to force myself onto the stage and give it a try. It was painful at first, but now it’s OK. I often enjoy it. And, like everything else, the more you do it, the less scary it becomes.

Don’t feel like you should change

Sometimes, the ‘fake it till you make it’ thing can be beneficial because it makes you adaptable. However, in general, it’s better to just be you – whatever that may be: loud; quiet; performer; wallflower. We don’t need to conform or pretend to be someone else.

I’ve been surprised to discover how many people across all the different industries are shy: actors; DJs; writers; comedians; artists. What I loved most about researching my book was hearing from psychologists and psychotherapists, who all said there’s nothing wrong with shyness – unless the shy person thinks there is. It’s not for others to judge: it’s for them, not the person who feels shy, to adapt. That was a powerful and reassuring lesson I wish I’d learnt as a child.

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