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David Baxter

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Even the shy can learn to interact
September 19, 2005
Asbury Park Press

(GANNETT NEWS SERVICE) -- NO MATTER HOW MUCH I explain to Anna the importance of talking to people about her career change, she always has an excuse for not contacting someone who could help her.

It comes down to a gene she possesses: a shyness gene.

Yes, there is such a thing, says Walter Smitson, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center.

Approximately 40 percent of the population considers themselves shy, says Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. Just knowing that, he says, can help you get over your fear of talking to others.

For those of us who don't give a second thought to walking up to a stranger and introducing ourselves, the fear can be hard to understand. Basically, shy people are highly self-conscious and self-critical, Carducci says. They think everyone is watching and judging their every move and word.

Shy people are concerned with making undesired impressions on others, says Mark Leary, chair of the Department of Psychology at Wake Forest University. Even though everyone feels some social anxiety, shy people experience it "in an inhibited fashion more frequently or intensely." They also beat themselves up for not feeling confident.

To work through it, it helps to accept what is simply part of your nature.

"Many 'shys' spend lots of time wishing they were the life of the party. They think they can will their shyness away or that they should somehow have outgrown it by now," says Sandra Gordon, co-author with Dr. Bonnie Jacobson of "The Shy Single." But it's an inherent social fearfulness related to temperament.

Here are some tips for dealing with shyness:
  • Understand what makes people tick. When you go to start a conversation, remember that most people like to talk about themselves. Smitson suggests you enter situations with several questions to ask another person: "Most people love telling their life stories and are often looking for an interested listener," he says.
  • Recognize that being quiet yet interested is a good thing. You can come across as open and engaged, and people often like those who are quiet but supportive and aren't hogging the spotlight, says Leary.
  • Realize that no one comes across perfectly. Even the non-shy stumble. So you don't need to try to be perfect or become anxious when lapses occur, Leary says. And if you don't get a warm and fuzzy response, it's probably not related to you.
  • Just as being shy is part of who you are, connecting with others is a part of a successful career.
 
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