How Do You Manage A Shy Employee?

A common personality trait for success in the working world is assertiveness. We are encouraged from a young age to speak up, be bold, and go after what we want. This is engrained in us as the image of “success”. This comes easy to naturally outgoing and extroverted people, and they are more likely to get noticed. But what about our shy counterparts? Does this mean they are not going to be successful just because they aren’t the type to stand up and be heard? Not really. Introverted, shy people are equally strong and capable of success—just in different ways.

Studies have revealed that shy people are typically more reflective—which provokes creative thinking and highly equipped decision-making skills. Because introverts are more comfortable with not being the center of attention, they are strong listeners, observers, and are very aware of social situations. They are more in tune with reading body language and facial expressions.

This sounds like an awesome kind of person to have on your team, right?

It takes a dedicated manager to learn how to work with shy employees, learn about their personality, and figure out how to draw out and enhance their unique strengths.

Focus on a personal relationship

Shy people aren’t ones to talk out loud much—especially in a group setting. The best way to communicate with this person is through a one-on-one. Spend individual time with them regularly to get them to open up more. Ask about their work and encourage them to articulate their strengths, what they enjoy doing, and what they would like to achieve.

Because these personality types are very keen on feelings, intuition, and body language, remember to be empathetic and non-critical when communicating. If they open up about how presenting their ideas in front of a group gives them anxiety and makes them shut down, let them know you understand public speaking is not an easy task and empathize with them. This is the best opportunity to learn about them on a deeper level, develop strengths, and help conquer their fears.

Play on their strengths

This goes back to the previous point, but I’ll dig deeper here. During a one-on-one, hopefully you will be able to learn more about your shy employee. In this example, our employee doesn’t like sharing their ideas in front of a group—understandable. We aren’t all born ready to talk to a wall. Maybe you find out they love researching, designing presentations, documenting notes, etc. Or maybe they are cool with giving presentations! They just like to have their presentation agenda planned, practiced, and streamlined to a tee. Whatever the case maybe, be accommodating to their needs. If they prefer the research and design, let them lead with putting the presentation together with an awesome detailed notes section for the presenter to follow. If they just need to perfect and practice, offer to dedicate time to help them practice, review their notes and slides, and make them feel confident they are ready to kill it. Sometimes people just need a cheerleader…

Give them space

While all of these sounds like smooth sailing, some shy people are just more closed off. Respect that. Naturally, introverts have bigger boundaries to break through. It will take time for them to warm up and open up to you. Don’t be offended if after the first one-on-one session they still seem to be guarded—keep trying. You want to encourage them to step out of their comfort some, but allow them to move at their own pace. You don’t want to cross the line and end up hurting your efforts and your employee.

If you find yourself managing a shy individual, try out these steps and start working on a great relationship with that employee!

Curious to see how you rank as a leader? Check out our WorkCompass Leadership Survey to discover your strengths and weaknesses in leadership.



Denis Coleman

Denis Coleman is the founder and CEO of Work Compass, a cloud staff performance collaboration software platform that helps teams align their efforts with strategic goals and continuously improve performance. Frustrated with the disconnect between strategy setting and day to day execution and the lack of tools available to managers to help them be great at their most important function …. Aligning their teams activities with strategic goals and actively managing for high performance Denis spent over 5 years researching strategy execution and performance management practices before founding Work Compass to create a software solution. Denis has held senior roles in Ireland, Czech Republic and North America with high performing electronics manufacturing and professional services organisations for more than 12 years. Denis has worked as Finance Director responsible for €800 million in annual revenues for Flextronics International, Key Account Manager responsible for annual revenues of more than €600 million for Dovatron International and Management Consultant for BDO one of Europe’s most successful professional services providers.

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