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Shy at Work? Take the Latin Approach

“First – let’s ‘go around the room’ and introduce ourselves.” Your hands turn clammy, you’ve forgotten how to swallow, and the pattern on the floor suddenly becomes more interesting than Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel. Look at where it’s chipping over there!

Does this sound like you?

Shyness affects most of us to some degree, but not all of us are hindered by it in our daily lives. For those that are, shyness is a malaise that destroys opportunity; ruins, or prevents, social interaction; and can lead to a feeling of isolation and despondency. This holds equally for their personal – and work lives.

Ironically, given that most of us experience it to some level, shyness is often misinterpreted.

“The boss is a jerk”, “She’s so two-faced”, and “When the heck is he going to give that speech?” We’ve all heard comments like this, and – let’s be frank – we normally respond either by nodding sagely, or compounding the situation with an insult of our own.

The fact is though, that in many cases he is not arrogant, she didn’t mean to upset you, and your poor co-worker is probably on the loo. This is because, actually, they have their own insecurities – just like you and me.

The likes of Dr Phil advise those suffering from chronic shyness to “focus outside of yourself”, or “prepare yourself topics of conversation in advance”. All great advice, and certainly an avenue worth exploring – but what if there was ‘another way’?

How about this for an idea? Take a trip to one of the Latin countries: Spain, Portugal, France, or Greece – and adopt a bit of their attitude at work.

I chose Italy and have never regretted it.

Italy has been my greatest teacher. Just as Italians don’t like to queue for their bread, the post, or their favourite Parma ham – hence the introduction of ticketing systems a few years ago – they don’t line up for ‘a fair go’ in life either. In short, they don’t wait for life – they seize it!

Suffer from indecision, and lack the confidence to put yourself forward in meetings and for promotions?

Cross the road in Rome! If you wait at le strisce (zebra crossing) in Italy, you will likely be there a long time. Instead, step forward confidently and eyeball the traffic as you cross. Despite the apparent chaos on the road, the traffic will squeal to a halt and wait patiently for you... before roaring off once more!

Learn to take charge of situations, be assertive, and put yourself first. Chances are that you will find others more accommodating than you expected. They will likely stop and take notice of you, they may swerve to avoid you, but very few will just ignore you – and in life it’s important to get noticed.

Too apologetic, and always accepting responsibility for mistakes when, in fact, you were all working on that project as a team?

Go to the supermarket in Italy. Many Italian supermarkets are obsessed with spicci (spare change). Despite that, the supermarket will likely have a daily turnover of thousands of euros, many places insist that you provide the exact change – down to the euro cent.

Instead of apologising and fumbling through your wallet, whack that 50 euro note down on the counter and give them your winning smile. Sure, they’ll mumble and grumble as you leave – but hey, they’ll do that anyway!

Learn not to take anger or rudeness personally. Italy taught me to calmly ask for what I wanted and to be persistent, without taking a scowl or blank stare as a measure of my self-worth. Think of it as training for the battlefield – work!

Be kind to yourself

All joking aside, the Latin countries can be a great place to build your confidence generally. They teach you to put yourself forward ahead of others – something shy people cringe at – and not look back. If you have the opportunity to spend some time in a Latin culture, I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: These tips may make you unpopular, like an Italian, but who cares? They don’t – and nor should you!