Seizing New Opportunities When You Are Shy

Beware of your pattern of logic

Posted Apr 17, 2012

Read the three sentences below. What is your first thought about it?

    “The Accepted Wisdom of success says face-to-face social networking is the best way to find new opportunities. I am bad at it. In other words, to be successful means I must be someone other than me!”


Have you ever thought this way?

According to Dr. Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University, 40 percent of American adults would endorse the proposition, "I consider myself a shy person."   

It's not you. It's your logic pattern.

Zimbardo found that shy people have a cognitive framework different from their more extroverted peers. Not better. Not worse. Different.

For example:

Two-year-old Jennifer goes with her mother to visit one of mother's friends. Jennifer is hugging mother's skirts and avoiding eye contact with the friend. Mother says to her friend, "I'm sorry but Jennifer is shy."

This explanation is an example of generalized logic. It extrapolates behavior from one situation and then predicts similar behavior in nearly all situations. For better or worse, many shy people have a cognitive framework biased in the direction of this kind of generalized logic.

Now let’s revisit the same situation with Jennifer and her mother.  This time, let’s have mother say the following:  

"I'm sorry but Jennifer tends to be shy when first meeting strangers. I'm sure she will act differently once she gets to know you."

This cognitive framework is situational.  It avoids generalization and puts a focus on external environmental factors rather than the daughter’s overall personality. It explicitly states that a change in conditions would change Jennifer’s behavior. The first explanation offers no hope of change.

How shy people use generalized logic to justify not taking action

A recruiter tells an outgoing CFO about an opportunity that would require relocation from Boston to Tulsa, Oklahoma. This CFO might employ situational logic in the following manner: "the job interview itself is worth my time, if only for interview practice. I am not interested in moving to Tulsa. But, who knows? Perhaps the firm will have an opportunity that is too good to pass up. I’ve never been to Tulsa.  I should not judge it until I see it. I will never know unless give it a try. After all, it is only a job interview. My family might enjoy a change of scenery or they might not. Let’s cross that bridge if we need to cross it.” 

A shy CFO might react to the same opportunity with the following pattern of logic:

“If I accept the interview, what happens if I get an offer? Take the Tulsa job or be unemployed, perhaps forever. My spouse would never move to Tulsa. My children will be angry at me. I will alienate my children and my spouse will divorce me. I will end up living alone in a cheap motel in Tulsa.”

Generalized logic patterns can be useful

Generalized logic is a great skill to have because it assumes that lessons from one event are easily transferred to other events. Attorneys use generalization logic when looking to apply case law to new situations. Physicians use this logic pattern in applying previous practice to new situations. 

The downside of generalization logic becomes clear when searching for opportunities:

         “If I wasted one evening with social networking, I will end up wasting all evenings with social networking.”

Your pattern of logic: the source of your past success and your future problems

Our shy job clients are often successful professionals. And they are shy. They have utilized generalization logic with great success.

And now that same pattern of logic is crippling their efforts at finding new opportunities in the future.

If your logic pattern is hampering your search for opportunities, below are two recommendations:

Ask for a coach with a more situational logic framework

If you are seeking a coach to assist you in moving to the next level, beware of selecting someone whose logic framework is similar to yours.

Working with a consultant whose logic is similar to yours will reinforce your view of the world. That may be comfortable but it may not be very effective.

You want someone to push you.

The problem is not you. The problem is your logic. And that pattern of logic worked well for you….until now.

If you do not have a career consultant to assist you, find a buddy with a more situational oriented logic pattern of thought. The buddy will derive value from your ability to generalize and the buddy will keep your tendency to generalize in check. 

At this time, you don't need someone who will reinforce your view of the world.