I'm Shy – How Do I Succeed in My Career?

I'm Shy – How Do I Succeed in My Career?
From Recruiter - September 8, 2016

History is full ofexamples of powerful, socially shy leaders. U.S. Presidents James Madison, Jimmy Carter, andRichard Nixon come to mind. The beloved American investor Warren Buffett is shy yet highly effective inbusiness and public life.

In our work with leaders, we have found many effective sales executives may spend
their professional time meeting new people, but they consider it work.

The Shyness Continuum

Forty percentof the U.S. population defines itself as shy. In reality, shy is a behavioral continuum.

Try this exercise:

Usinga scale of 0 (not shy) to 10 (antisocial), assign a number to how shy you think you are.After assigning yourself a number, approach three people who know you well. Ask them to assign a numberto you using the same scale.

If the number you gave yourself is higher than the number assigned to you by people who know you,perhaps you are using a pattern of thought called generalization logic.

Stanford University Professor Emeritus Philip Zimbardo conducted pioneering research on how shypeople think, and he foundthat many inappropriately use generalization logic while not usingenough situation-specific logic.(1)

For example, in one experiment, causal attributions of shy students were compared with causal attributions of control studentsin ten different situations. Significant differences between the two groups emerged when they were asked to explain the outcomes of situations. (2) As it turns out,the higher one is on theshyness continuum, themore likely one is to explain things in terms of generalization logic.

An Example of Generalization Logic

Two-year-old Jennifer goes with her mother to visit one of her mothers friends. Jennifer is huggingmothers skirts and avoiding eye contact with the friend. Mother says to her friend, Im sorry, butJennifer is shy.

The mothers explanation is an example of generalization logic. It extrapolates behavior from one situation andthen predicts similar behavior in nearly all situations.

On the higher end of theshyness scalesay people who rank at 5+peoples cognitive frameworks bias them to draw conclusions based on generalization logic. Sometimes, the generalization logic is useful. Sometimes, it is not.

We see it all the time in our practicewhen candidates make statements like, Im bad at networking or I cant do cold calling.

Lets revisit the situation with Jennifer and her mother.Suppose her mother now says the following:Im sorry, but Jennifer tends to be shy when first meeting strangers. Im sure she will act differentlyonce she gets to know you.

Notice that this logic focuses on situational context. It avoids generalization. It explicitly states that achange in conditions would change Jennifers behavior.

The first explanationthe one based on generalization logicoffers no hope of change, but the second explanation focuses specifically on change.

Effective leaders should be able to use both situational logic and generalization logic. But as you move up in the shyness continuum, your pattern of logic might be unbalanced in favor of generalization logic, and you may beunaware that your logic is unbalanced. This lack of awarenessmay bias your decisions in ways that harm your career and your organization.

Overuse of Generalization Logic Can Be Dangerous

A recruiter calls a chief financial officer (CFO) about an opportunity that would require relocation fromBoston to Tulsa, Oklahoma. One CFO who is lower on the shyness continuum might employ situational logic in the following manner:

The job interview itself is worth my time, if only for interview practice. I am not interested inmoving to Tulsa. But who knows? Perhaps the firm will have an opportunity that is too good topass up. Ive never been to Tulsa. I should not judge it until I see it. I will never know unless I giveit a try. After all, it is only a job interview. My family might enjoy a change of scenery, or they mightnot. Lets cross that bridge if and when we need to cross it.

A CFO who is 5+ on the shyness scale might have the following logic pattern:

What happens if I get an offer? My spouse would never move to Tulsa. My children will be angryat me. I will alienate my children, and my spouse will divorce me. I will end up living alone in acheap motel in Tulsa. I will have all my meals at the local Burger King! Is that any way to live??!! Iwill not go to Tulsa for a job interview.


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