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Home » Advice » Help! My office shyness is hurting my career goals

Help! My office shyness is hurting my career goals

STUDENT QUESTION

I am an intern at a financial investment firm. I’ll soon graduate with a degree in business administration, majoring in finance. I have been told by a few people on my team that I do a fantastic job and that the team really likes me. To increase my chances of being hired permanently (they want to hire recent graduates and my department is growing), my co-workers say I should talk to the few people I don’t do a lot of intern work for, so they can get to know me and my abilities.

I am not necessarily shy, and my friends say I’m outgoing. However, when it comes to interacting with co-workers, I clam up, intimidated. I know I am smart and do a good job, but I need a way to get out of my shell and improve my network skills. Do you have any suggestions for integrating myself with the rest of the team in a non-awkward, manageable way?

ANSWER

Thankfully, making conversation at work is immensely easier to do than during those other awkward social activities we’re forced to take part in, such as weddings, family reunions, and dating. At work, you automatically have something in common to talk about: work. That’s one big hurdle out the way. Nevertheless, easy conversations with people of higher positional power are a problem many struggle with, especially when they are students or starting their careers.

The easiest ways to take part in any conversation are to ask questions and show genuine interest in others. Get them to talk. Take the opportunity to learn from these people and forget about any political machinations that networking is supposed to advance.

Your intern status is an advantage because it’s expected that you will ask varied questions to help your work and career. This also takes the pressure off you if you think you need to be witty or make Aaron Sorkin-esque speeches. If they are people who have accomplished notable things (Google them), compliment them – but only if you are sincere – and it can be a launching pad to discuss a topic of mutual interest.

If you want to initiate contact with people, ask your co-workers for suggestions about who to talk to and, if possible, have them introduce you. But even an e-mail, asking the person for a meeting to get his or her advice, can work well.

And read Dale Carnegie.

[Article originally published in the Globe and Mail, Nine to Five column. I (GCY) was one of the two “experts.” Only my answer is reproduced here.]

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