Ask Anthony: How do I improve my communication skills if I am a shy person?

A civil engineer recently asked me the following question, and I thought it might be helpful to answer it here in the Ask Anthony series: How do I improve my communication skills if I am a shy person?

This is an interesting question and one that doesn’t have a very straightforward answer, like an engineering equation might – which I know might make engineers nervous. However, I think we can tackle this question together by approaching it with a few different actions.

1. Focus on your conversational skills.

Just because you are a shy person doesn’t mean you can’t engage in meaningful conversation. However, sometimes it may be harder for you to initiate a conversation. Create a list of questions that you can use to start and maintain engaging conversations. For example, instead of saying, “Good morning” or “How are you,” considering leading with “What’s on your mind lately?” Think about the difference in responses well-thought-out questions will yield. By being more intentional in your conversations, you will become a better communicator.

2. Present as often as possible.

Public speaking is such an important action for one to take in their career because the benefits of it are numerous. Through presentations, you can inform large groups of people, gain project approvals, secure new business for your firm, and so on. However, public speaking also makes you a better communicator, because it forces you to really think through how your present concepts sound.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “How can I become comfortable presenting as a shy person?” There is only one answer to that question. YOU HAVE TO DO IT, AND AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. Regardless of how uncomfortable it is, you will only improve through speaking in front of actual people, not in front of a mirror.

You might also consider seeking help on this one by joining a public speaking group like Toastmasters International. When I started speaking, I was both terrified and a terrible speaker. I joined Toastmasters, and since then I’ve spoken in over 35 U.S. states for various engineering organizations.

3. Build your confidence.

Yes, being shy can hold you back in your communication efforts. But increasing confidence can help you overcome the fear or anxiety that your shy nature creates. You can build confidence by taking steps one and two outlined above, especially number two. The more you get out there and communicate, the better you will feel about doing it again. I have found that lack of confidence, more than anything (even being shy), is what truly holds people back in their careers and lives. It is imperative that you build yours.

I hope these actions will help you to improve your communication skills as a shy engineering professional.

Please leave comments or question on this topic below.

Anthony Fasano, P.E., F.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Management Institute, which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. Through his work at EMI, he has also recently launched the Civil Engineering Collective as well as a weekly news show for civil engineers called This Week in Civil Engineering.

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  1. Anthony,

    As one who THINKS before he speaks, instead of blathering every stream of consciousness random thought ad nauseum, I resent the work “Shy”. Introverts are powerful. We think with our mind, instead of out mouth! “Shy” implies inhibition, fear. The fact is, pensiveness is powerful. Don’t you want your dialog to be meaningful and insightful?

    Anyone who doesn’t understand this needs to read Susan Cain’s “The Power Of Introverts”. You can start with her TED Talk.

    That this “shy” person uses the word “shy”, suggests to me a lack of self-confidence. Suggestion might include working on self-confidence, learn your strength, take stock in your ability. The rest will follow. Learn the Power of Introverts.

    “But He who weigheth—While the Rest
    Expend their furthest pound
    Of this Man—I am wary
    I fear that He is Grand”
    -Emily Dickenson


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