If you are like me, you are most likely not the life of the party. When you enter the room, the place does not brighten up. Girls (or boys) don’t go crazy when they see you, and people do not say, “Oh my God, you are so funny!” (And no, your imaginary friends, or people you only know online don’t count).
So what’s wrong with that, you ask. You have ten thousand Github check ins. You could write a 3D game using just Assembly and corn syrup. So why do you have to be nice to Linda from accounting?
Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way. As I’ve said before, the corporate world likes assertive people. And so does the startup world, in case you think you are too good to work for Da Man.
Your shyness holds you back
It certainly held me back (and still does). I thought I was doing the right thing- sitting in my computer, banging out code as fast as my hands would allow it. I didn’t have time for all this “being seen” and selling myself. I was writing great code, goddamn it! Great code would reveal itself. My wisdom and excellence would shine, people would be so impressed, they would all fall to their knees….
You get the idea. The whole thing was a fantasy. Nothing of the sort happened. What happened was that people I thought were less talented than me got promoted. Even people who had joined several years after me got promoted. You can’t imagine how humiliating that was.
And then I realised that my nerdy shyness was holding me back. I decided to stop being angry, and do something about it. Here are some tips that worked for me.
Tips to overcome shyness
- Say hello to everyone, at least in your own group, and the person who sit next to you.
Most people (and not just programmers) are shy and reserved. They will happily live in their own world. So you need to be the one to break the ice. I learnt this trick from my friend Joel, who is a top hair stylist, and a friendly person. He says hello to everyone, even people he has just met. I met him at a Yoga class. He was saying hello, but people were ignoring him. The women thought he was hitting on them, and the men thought he was gay. But Joel said hello anyway. I was one of the few people who said hello back, and we got talking. This has led to a five+ year friendship, even though we come from completely different backgrounds. I would normally never have become friends with a hairstylist who collects motorcycles for a hobby, and finds computers confusing (which makes him my exact opposite). Today, I would trust him over many relatives.
You don’t have to suddenly become a care bear; just start saying hello to people around you. You will immediately see people starting to warm up to you.
- Watch your body language. I found that I slumped a lot, spoke slowly. I would laugh nervously when the attention turned to me. It was only when I saw someone else do the exact same thing that I realised how weak I looked.
Stand straight, your arms held back or folded. Stay tall, but relaxed. Speak with a clear voice. If I am in a meeting, I mentally practice what I am going to say, so that I can say it clearly. If you are not sure, practice five minutes in front of the mirror.
The key here to fake being confident, even if you feel terrified. The funny thing is, by acting confident, you will start to feel confident. Your mind is like a reverse dog — the tail can wag the dog, as well as the other way around.
- Make small talk
Talk about the weather. Ask about your colleagues families. Ask them how their car is running. Such small things will make people trust you more, and they will act easy around you, making you feel comfortable too.
- Feel the fear, but do it anyway
No matter how scared you feel, talk to people. Fake it until you start feeling confident. Look in a mirror, and find a pose and a tone of voice that makes you look in control, and just fake it. Remember, the tail can wag the dog. Use the tail, Luke!
- Finally, and most importantly: Stay healthy. If you are feeling strong physically, it will be easier to deal with mental problems.
The worst possible combination is to be depressed and sick. So at least keep the body strong.
Part of the Programmer Masterclass series.