What Your Shy Coworker REALLY Wants From You

Adobe Stock / Victor Koldunov

Shy woman

Adobe Stock / Victor Koldunov

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Karen Schneider, PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSM®27
Experienced Project/Program Manager
During your career, you'll encounter a variety of people and a mix of personalities that you must learn to navigate and adapt to. The most commonly referred to personality type categories are extroverts and introverts — or, more simply put, outgoing versus shy coworkers.
Extroverts are often seen as bubbly, friendly, and engaging, which can make it easier to get to know and work with them. It can take a little more effort to coax an introvert out of their shell; however, don't write them off as antisocial (or worse) before you learn how to best communicate with them. Many introverts do want to enjoy a level of workplace camaraderie, as well — they just need to be approached differently to get there.
As a self-proclaimed shy girl, here are some tips on how to navigate the needs of your introverted or generally quiet coworkers:

1. Get to know them better.

Make a genuine effort to get to know your coworkers better by scheduling one-on-one meetings each week. Take the opportunity to discuss open projects and address questions and concerns. These meetings are a great opportunity to informally "interview" your coworkers and get to know them on a more personal level. And remember to give them the opportunity to get to know you, too — trust is a two-way street. 
People sum each other up quickly, and first impressions are a one-time deal. Be sure to be your authentic self, and don't push too hard. Genuine working relationships are built over time and take a little work, but they will develop naturally if allowed.

If you're still feeling at a loss for how to connect, remember that no one is likely to turn down a free lunch — go ahead and send that invite! Bonding always seems easier over a good meal. 

2. Help them navigate social conversations and situations to their comfort.

Extroverts prefer face-to-face conversations and enjoy a lot of contact with others. Introverts often need more quiet and space, and prefer emailing or texting over meeting in person. Also, they might not always jump at the invitation to the latest company happy hour. Don't take it personally, and remember that it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't interested in any social activities. Everyone is different and you will discover the comfort level for each as you build your working relationship.

3. Recognize and encourage their strengths.

Sometimes introverts get lost in the crowd when others are quicker to speak up in meetings and share their ideas (and also more comfortable with the attention it brings). If you know your coworker has great ideas about a particular project, speak to them about presenting the idea to management in a different forum and offer your support. By encouraging collaboration, you can create a work environment that helps a quiet co-worker come out of his or her shell, at least professionally. 

4. Give them space and respect their boundaries.

Respecting your coworker's communication preferences and better understanding their boundaries — and especially making the effort to do so — will likely help break the ice with your shy colleague. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, as each person you encounter will have a bevy of different qualities and personal preferences for communication and interaction. However, getting to know them and respecting what is unique about each of your coworkers will serve you well, and may even earn you a great new work friend in the process. 

5. Champion their talents to management. 

Introverts are less likely to speak up and champion themselves during meetings or negotiations. Be an ally to them and bring up their accomplishments in front of your management. For example, if they made a great contribution to a project, let people know. This will score them points in later reviews or negotiations, and will help them progress in the workplace. It will also help you make the workforce more equitable for all personalities. 
Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and has worked in a variety of industries over the span of her career, including digital media, fashion & apparel, and wine & spirits. She is currently a contributor to The Muse and Career Contessa and has been featured on Business Insider and Harvard Business Review for her career advice. She's obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement.