Getting Shy Fellow Employees Involved in Projects

Everybody's met shy fellow employees, the sort who's great at his or her job but who may require major earth-moving equipment to get them to say more than three words. They simply do not mix in the workplace, and are so withdrawn that they seem to disappear in meetings and conversations.

Some may actually be serial overachievers in their own work, but they don't participate outside their normal roles. If you're a friend, a manager, or a supervisor, you can do a lot to help these people by getting them involved, but doing this requires great sensitivity.

Shy people and their issues

Some people are shy and withdrawn for excellent reasons. They may have experienced serious personal trauma, or other crises which have created this social behavior mode. Some are simply not comfortable in social situations, possibly from prior experience or private issues.

Important: Please note that you are not going to be doing these people a favor by putting them in any situation where they feel threatened, or instinctively make reflexive "fight or flight" negative reactions to a workplace group. That will achieve the exact opposite of participation, or worse, token participation, in name only, proving failure of the original intention. Participation must be voluntary, and must be in a form acceptable to the person concerned.

Participation issues

To persuade a shy person to become part of a group is an exercise in sensitive handling, and respect for the person's feelings. Acknowledge the person's right to manage their own relationships. In the workplace, there are several viable propositions for making participation in group projects appealing to these talented by shy people:

Areas of talent, expertise and interest: If you know an area where this person excels, and can make a good contribution to the project, they're an obvious choice of group member. In some cases they may be the only person able to do the work. That's a meaningful, and honest, approach to participation. The big advantage here is that the person is effectively signing up as the in house expert. This is also an acknowledgment of skills, as well as practical organization.

Challenges and rewards: Genuinely talented people can rarely resist a challenge to their skills. As an expert, the project may get them enthusiastic on several personal and professional levels.

Group mechanics: Adding people to the group who you know are used to working with this person and have a good relationship with them is a particularly effective way of removing obstacles to their participation. The person is much more likely to trust the group environment.

Backup and support issues


Although the person is likely to do well in this environment, those with real social issues may need some built in support on site. The best option is a version of the "buddy system", it just uses more buddies. Because a single buddy may not be always present, a backup buddy or so, including yourself, is a safer option for preventing problems.

Use some of the group who have worked well with the person previously. The built in buddies won't even need to be told they're there as supports. They know the person, know the issues, and will be willing and able to back up if needed.

The shy person will remain shy, but their willingness to participate will be drastically improved, and their confidence built up for future projects.