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Can You Be a Good Manager if You're Shy?

Can You Be a Good Manager if You're Shy?

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

August 30, 2010

A reader writes:

I’m shy. Sometimes people misinterpret this as aloofness or snobbery. Being outgoing and making friends with everyone I meet has never been a part of my personality. I just have a hard time making casual conversation (which is necessary for good relationships with coworkers), and I have a hard time in difficult/important professional conversations (which are necessary for good relationships with supervisors, AVPs, and troublesome clients).

When it comes to work issues, I have plenty to talk about. When it comes to interacting with our clients it’s also not a big deal—it is strange, but it feels like when I’m at work I put on my work hat. With my “work hat” on, I don’t even stress about the interactions it just happens. But once I’m put into a more relaxed, social situation, I quickly run out of things to say….(at work anyways, with personal friends, this is not an issue).

At the same time, being shy has given me great strengths—I’m a fantastic listener, great attention to detail, I’m very focused, and great at observing other professional/political relationships and seeing where tensions and compromises exist.

What I’m wondering is, do you think that “shy” managers can succeed? To succeed do they need to totally overcome their shyness? Or do you think there is a way that I can work on the weaknesses pointed out above, and emphasize the strengths shyness has given me? I was asked ‘where I want to go within the organization’ after just 6 months of constant praise, and zipping through training that was supposed to take a whole year.

I’ve already come a long way here, in my first professional job out of college—although I should add that I’m a late-twenties grad and I had 3 years of part-time experience as a student worker. My supervisor told me that she and her bosses recognize my potential and success, and they want to start molding and mentoring me for either management, or a higher technical/professional position, depending on my interests. I’m excited, surprised, and scared!! I’d love to try for management, I’d love to take on the challenge, but I’m concerned that my shyness would interfere with my ability to be successful.

This is a great question.

I don’t think that shyness and being a good manager are mutually exclusive, as long as the shyness isn’t cripplingly strong.

You say that you’re generally comfortable with interaction as long as it’s “work,” but once it’s a social situation, you get more shy. I think that’s workable — although you should be very sensitive to the fact that your employees might interpret your shyness in social situation as aloofness, and you should think about whether you can say/do things to counteract it. But in general, I think most employees care a lot more about whether their manager is fair, effective, and transparent than whether she comes to happy hour.


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