Most of us feel shy sometimes – and research suggests that up to 40 per cent of us feel shy often. If you feel self-conscious in a crowd, if small talk is arduous and attention makes you feel awkward, it’s easy to focus on the downsides of being shy – but there are positives too. Shyness and the careful, sensitive temperament from which it springs make the world better for everyone – and can come with built-in super-powers too…
Shy people are thinkers
They can overthink, which can lead to problems, but that mind power allows you to concentrate longer than more restless social butterflies. The shy are often most at ease in their own company, which can also be a strength. We need solitude to reach our potential. The world’s great artists, writers and inventors didn’t have breakthrough moments out on the town!
You don’t jump in with rushed decisions
This caution is valuable. At work, it can make you a master strategist and at home, when your children are fighting, you’re probably the perfect mediator, able to see all sides without wading in with snap judgements.
You’re a great listener…
The shy become experts at pushing attention away from themselves and on to others by asking them questions about themselves and really listening to the answers. That ability to make others feel comfortable and heard is appreciated by friends, colleagues and loved ones.
…and a brilliant observer
The shy prefer not to learn by trial and error or being first to wade in. Instead, they take in every bit of information before making a move. So if you’re shy, you’ve probably developed a super-sensitive radar. Your habit of reading body language and noting what happened when X said Y means you notice things that others miss.
You are valued by others
Your friendships can be especially deep and long-lasting. Friends love the way you listen and the fact that you always notice when they’re struggling. And – though this may sound counter-intuitive – shy people can command great respect as leaders too. When something has moved you to speak out, you’re more likely to command trust than the person who happens to have the loudest voice.
You’re independent and resilient
Shy people are practised at overcoming barriers. The challenges can be endless – the school drama lesson, job interviews, first dates. While others may skip through, if you’re shy, life can require a constant flow of courage and determination. So when that self-critical voice next appears in your head (a common feature of shyness), silence it at once. Give yourself some credit!
Bernardo J Carducci is a professor of psychology and author of Shyness: A Bold New Approach (Harper Collins, £12.34)
Cain is author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t
Stop Talking (Penguin, £8.99) and co-founder of the Quiet Revolution
Like to be bolder?
1 FOCUS ON THE PHYSICAL
Take your attention away from the source of your anxiety (the small talk, room full of strangers) and learn techniques such as breathing exercises, which will help you relax.
2 PRACTISE SMALL TALK
Start in non-threatening situations – shops, museums, walking the dog. Ask for directions, offer assistance, give a compliment. The point is to get used to talking with others.
3 PLAN AHEAD
If you have a meeting or a social event, plan what to talk about when you arrive – whether it’s the morning news or the latest celebrity scandal.
4 ARRIVE EARLY
Shy people often go to parties late or arrive at meetings dead on time in the hope of going unnoticed. But by then people have formed groups that are harder to break into. By arriving early you can meet others one on one.
5 REMEMBER, YOU’RE NOT ALONE
When you next feel shy in a gathering, remember that half of those present are probably feeling as awkward as you. Most people are more interested in how they look and what they’re doing than they are in you!