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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Overcoming Shyness

Dear Sue: I am in the first week of a new job with a new company. The first week is so overwhelming; I am learning the structure of the new company, going through training and relearning what I thought I already knew. On top of all that, I need to get to know my coworkers, and understand that these are the people who will help me succeed in this position.

I am a shy, introverted and private person. I know how to do my job and I am good at it, but when it comes to networking, meeting, greeting and small talk, I am at a complete loss. I realize this is a weakness and I failed to relay this to my boss in the interview. Now that I am here, I realize I need to put this weakness aside and forge ahead, but I am not sure how to do it.

I don’t want to ruin a great opportunity and the chance for me to eventually move into a better position with the company. I want to master the art of small talk so that I can meet and greet and network and further my career. What are some ways for me to beat this fear I have?

– Shy

Sue Says: I am impressed by your letter. You have identified a weakness that could negatively impact your career success, admitted you need to change and are looking for ways to improve. You have no idea how refreshing and rare your ‘problem’ is; most people focus on the inadequacy of others rather than honestly looking at themselves. So to you I say “Congratulations” – in addition to your efforts to do your job well, you are aware that the impression you make on others and the relationships you cultivate are equally important job skills to acquire.

The good news is that you can change if you want to. There are many people who appear outgoing and confident in networking with others who secretly see themselves as you see yourself. Although not easy, with a little effort, you can change your behavior. You may never see yourself as an extrovert or feel like one, but you can act like one. Some people appear comfortable talking with anyone about anything, but being comfortable with others is only part of what it takes to build good relationships. In fact, people who talk a lot may seem outgoing and charming, but often are a total bore to others.

The secret isn’t in what or how much you have to say, but in how you make people feel. Focus less on yourself and your discomfort, and more on others; you will be amazed at how positively people respond to you. You don’t need to be a great conversationalist to make a good impression; all you have to do is be sincerely interested in others and learn to ask questions that get people talking about themselves. A good place to start is by asking about a person’s job -- ”How did you get into this line of work?” “What do you like best about working here?” “What did you do before you came here?” Ask questions that are open-ended, not a question that can be answered with a yes, no or one word response.

Stay away from topics that have the potential to be offensive or controversial, and stick with neutral topics when possible. Don’t feel you have to engage in strictly business conversation; small talk shouldn’t be too intense; the weather, food, entertainment, travel, sports and some current events can be easy to use in making small talk. The more you get to know someone the more comfortable you will become in deepening the conversation.

You really don’t need to change – you can stay true to your private and quiet nature by being a good listener and sound resource for others. As you increase your comfort level, you may find you enjoy opening up to others. Don’t be too hard on yourself; as long as you have good intentions and are friendly and kind to others, you will be off to a good start.

Finally, when you meet someone, you will make a good impression if you take the time to build a genuine connection; make eye contact (long enough to remember the eye color) offer a firm handshake, repeat the person’s name and smile! A smile communicates friendliness and interest louder than words, and is in a language everyone understands.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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