How to Manage a Shy Employee

Joe Weinlick
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Managing a shy employee can be a challenge for managers, particularly those who are outgoing and gregarious. Taking the wrong tack can push the person back into his shell and damage the team as a whole. When you understand the psychology of shyness and find ways to adjust your communication style accordingly, managing shy employees becomes easier and more effective.

Avoid Putting them on the Spot

For a shy employee, few things are more painful than being called out in front of the entire team. The unexpected attention can shut the employee down and make it difficult to communicate. To help your quieter employees handle presentations and questions, offer as much advance notice as possible. If you expect the person to speak in a meeting, include it on the meeting agenda or send an email in advance. The same goes for discipline; talk to the person in private rather than scolding him in front of the whole office. While more outgoing employees may be able to take the public reprimand, it can force a shy employee to recede further into his shell.

Apply Gentle Pressure

In most professional situations, it is unacceptable to allow a shy employee to avoid certain tasks based solely on shyness. As a manager, it is your responsibility to help the person grow and work to his strengths. With shy people, the trick is to push boundaries slowly. Instead of forcing the employee to make a high-stakes presentation, start by asking him to present in a small group. Small changes over time can make a significant and lasting impact.

Use Digital Communication

Shy people are often intimidated by face-to-face communication, especially when it happens in a large group setting. Give your introverted employees the freedom to speak in a safe space by using digital communication tools. In many cases, it is easy to be bolder over email than in person. Use email, text messaging or Web meeting software. Rather than stopping in to chat with the person, start an instant messaging conversation and allow time for replies.

Encourage Open Dialogue

Managing shy employees occasionally requires open — and potentially uncomfortable — conversations. If a shy employee is damaging his chances of advancement by not speaking up or contributing, let him know in a gentle manner. Tell him that you understand that he is not comfortable with public speaking or confrontation, and explain the potential professional consequences. Offer to help the person find ways to contribute, such as providing written feedback or preparing remarks in advance. Consider helping him find resources for public speaking training and professional networking, which will be a benefit throughout his career.

When you are confronted with a shy employee, it is crucial to find a managerial style that works for both of you. In doing so, you will demonstrate respect for the employee's boundaries and create a more balanced, effective team.


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