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Can Shy People Be Team Players?

Updated on January 28, 2015
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Timothy Arends is a writer, graphic artist, webmaster and entertainer. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Berea College (Kentucky).

You can learn from my own experience

How do you participate in a workgroup? How are you evaluated by others? What if you are shy? Can you still be a "team player?"

These were all questions that came up for me during an embarrassing and humbling experience I had as a student, but one that can be instructive for those who are struggling with shyness and wish to fit in with a workgroup situation or other team effort.

In a sociology class back when I was in college, one of the assignments was for class members to be divided up into small workgroups of about five or six people to investigate a certain problem.

The assignment involved going to the library as a group to do research. At the end of the assignment, students would evaluate the other members of their team and enter this into the computer. Afterwards, group members would be able to check the computer and see what everyone else thought of them!

Sound mortifying? It was, especially for a shy person such as myself.

It's a fact of life - You need to work with others!

The fact is that all of us will be required to participate in teams or workgroups throughout our lives, both as students and as professionals. Being an effective member of a team is an essential skill, but one in which shy and unassertive people can be at a distinct disadvantage.

Although we might wish to believe that shy people are viewed positively as demure, modest and unassuming, the reality is that shy people can be seen as snobbish, unfriendly, uninterested, unintelligent and other negative adjectives.

If this is true in social situations, how much more true is it when one is a member of a workgroup? A job that requires participation in such a group will require quite a bit of effort on the part of a shy person to fit in and be seen as a productive member of the group.

This was the case with my own experience.

The first problem was I didn't fully understand the class assignment. I thought the other students in my group would "pick up the slack" at first and I could get my bearings as we went along.

Big mistake! My failure to clarify the assignment when I had the chance meant that I started the project at a disadvantage and was constantly trying to catch up with the rest of the group. I should have asked the professor to clarify what was expected of the group but I was afraid of appearing dumb. I should also have taken copious notes.

When my workgroup convened at the library to discuss the project, I did not participate as much as I might have In the discussion. A couple of the members of the group immediately became the leaders with their "take charge" attitude and did most of the organizing for the project.

You WILL be judged based on your personality!

I also remember one student who attempted to be funny and inject humor into the discussion, and perhaps he tried a bit too hard! At least he made an earnest effort to participate in the discussion and to provide the best input he could.

When the assignment was over, the students were required to grade and rate the other members of their workgroup on the computer. About a week later they were able to check their evaluations by the other students. The grades each student gave to the others was anonymous, but the grade each received from the group was viewable by all members of his or her group.

What were the results of this experiment? The two most active participants of my group, not surprisingly, received the highest rating. The quieter members of the group were in the middle and I was dead last!

Yes, I got the lowest rating of all. The fellow who tried to be a wit? He was second to last!

What can you learn from this?

All in all, the results were not too surprising. Being "the silent type" is not appreciated in a workgroup, but trying too hard to be funny is not appreciated either! "Take charge" types, even though they could be seen as pushy or domineering, generally receive the best evaluations.

Another revelation is that personality type, not just how much you participate, determines how you are evaluated by others in the workgroup. The fellow who tried to be witty, for example, even though he participated and made every effort to be helpful, received a very poor evaluation.

I was at the opposite extreme. I didn't try to be witty, and in fact I didn't say a lot one way or the other. Yet the two of us, with our two widely different personality types, were ranked at the bottom.

My experience as part of this experiment was painful, but the lessons for shy people are many:

1. In a team effort, one is expected to participate fully in order to receive a good evaluation by others. Wallflowers are not appreciated in a work setting.

2. Make sure you understand the assignment fully before setting off to meet with your team. Ask questions beforehand. If you are fuzzy about what you are expected to do, you will fall behind and won't be able to keep up and fully participate with the rest of the group.

3. Take copious notes if this helps you to understand and remember what you are expected to do.

4. The most assertive types are the ones who will tend to get the best evaluation by others in a workgroup setting. You must speak up if you want to be heard and recognized by the rest of the group (but make sure you have something to say).

5. You probably shouldn't try to be humorous if it doesn't come naturally for you.

6. The most unforgivable sin is to remain too quiet. It will be necessary for shy people to overcome quite a bit of shyness if their job requires them to participate in a team effort. "Take charge" types are definitely the ones who are most appreciated here and are rewarded.

The simple fact of life is that not everyone can be a leader. "Take charge types"are the ones who will fall into that role and the rest must be content to be followers. (The leaders are probably also the ones who will become the bosses and supervisors later on and will make the most money.) Another fact is that shy people will often have the hardest time participating in a team project, and so they must try harder.

Nevertheless, although not everyone is the leader type, you can greatly improve your chances of receiving a favorable evaluation from others by the way you participate in a group project. This is how you are seen as a team player.

Follow the tips above and you will have a greater chance of being viewed as a valuable and productive member of the group.

Videos: What to do if you are shy and starting a new job

Video: Why you shouldn't talk about your personal life with co-workers

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