When my younger daughter was 2, I took her to the pediatrician for a check-up. The doctor came into the room and started talking to my girl, who refused to say anything. The doctor pressed her to answer, and my daughter refused. When she looked at me for help, I said, "She's feeling shy today." Oh, the hell I had to pay for using that s-word! The doctor lectured me about the words I use to describe my children, how powerful they can be, and how I could easily doom my child to a life of social awkwardness by calling her "shy" at such a tender age.
Not long after that, I switched to a different pediatric practice.
Look, I know that shyness is not valued in our culture. We're supposed to be outgoing and friendly to a fault, and while being introverted has recently become slightly more socially acceptable, being shy is still seen as a problem you should work relentlessly to overcome.
But as an essentially shy person, I honestly believe that shyness can be a huge advantage, if you're willing to embrace it (and if you learn to step out from behind it when it's not getting you where you want to go).
Shy People Are Great Observers
When you're not busy talking and mingling, you have a lot more time for listening and watching. While un-shy colleagues can make more contacts and bring in more donors, shy fundraisers often know better what to do with those donors.
My younger daughter -- the "shy" one -- is aces at reading other people and understanding intuitively what they want. Since fundraising is primarily about understanding what your donors want and how to give it to them, shy people have a great leg up when it comes to cultivating donor loyalty.
Shyness Can Keep You and Your Organization Safe
I loved that my girls were a bit shy. I never had to worry about them wandering off or talking to strangers. My son, however, routinely wandered off to visit neighbors he knew and meet those he didn't. More than once, a stranger showed up at my door, my little red-head in tow, saying, "Is this one yours?"
Direct threats aren't as common for fundraisers, but being shy can keep you from leaping before you look. The natural caution and reticence of shy people make them the perfect people to sit back and say to bolder colleagues, "What if?" -- saving the entire organization from chasing unproductive or damaging ventures.
Bottom Line: "shy" shouldn't be a dirty word.
Although it's easy for shy people to feel like they fade into the background, they can be extremely valuable to your organization -- as observers, as listeners, as an oasis of calm, as a voice of caution.
Make it easy for the shy at your nonprofit to participate.
- Give them space to speak without being interrupted or talked over by more boisterous colleagues.
- Axe the group brainstorming sessions in favor of post-meeting reflections. Allowing shy and introverted people to step back and think over what they've heard will give them a chance to contribute great ideas.
- Try to pull them aside routinely to see if they have any observations that might be helpful or important to your organization.
- Encourage shy people to come out of their shells and to take risks…while encouraging the less shy to listen more and think before they act.
Being shy isn't a disaster -- it's just a different way of being, one that can, and should, be valued in the workplace.