Singaporeans with social anxiety are at greater risk of missing out on life's valuable opportunities.
Social anxiety is not just a cause of awkwardness and stress. At its peak, shyness makes it hard to approach others, and handle the resulting interaction.
The good news is that today, there are many avenues of help for Singaporeans with social anxiety. Mild cases can be overcome with the help of friends, while therapists can deal with more severe cases.
The bad news is that, until it’s overcome, shyness can cost you valuable opportunities:
Why is Social Anxiety in Singapore a Money Issue?
Singaporeans with social anxiety have a problem approaching others and experience distress during social interactions. This is problematic, because many of life’s opportunities require social skills to seize. Some ways that shyness costs money are:
- Preventing you from taking credit you deserve
- Selling or pitching becomes difficult
- Shy people seem to lack initiative
- Getting excluded you from social networks
- Making you pay for desired or needed social connection
1. Preventing You From Taking Credit You Deserve
Shy people don’t stand out in the office, and prefer it that way. Unfortunately, this means it is easy to take credit for their work. And if you have social anxiety, chances are you will not make an issue of it.
For example, who would you credit with the invention of the lightbulb?
If you ask most people, they would name Thomas Edison. In reality, the lightbulb was invented in 1874 by Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans. Humphrey Davey created an even earlier version in 1806.
However, Edison was an excellent marketer, who knew how to position himself as a pioneer. Most of the early inventors, engineers, and scientists - whose work he often claimed as his own - simply didn’t have his flair. As such, Edison gets to go down in history as a famous inventor (who also got rich off his “creations”), while the rest of them got nothing.
This still happens today - the “underrated genius” is practically a stereotype. When someone keeps missing the praise they are due, it is often due to shyness. This leads to being passed over for promotions, or even having ideas flat out stolen and capitalised on by others.
The more you fear awkward conversations, the easier it is to take what should be yours.
2. Selling or Pitching Becomes Difficult
It is nearly impossible to have social anxiety and be a good salesperson. If you are self-conscious or insecure when approaching others, you will never be convincing.
Furthermore, shy people expend more energy in making a sales pitch than other people (they are working twice as hard to contain their panic). It is improbable that they will have the stamina to make 20 or 30 sales calls in a single day, or maintain the same level of energy when pitching themselves to their 10th prospective employer.
Shyness creates fatigue with every social interaction, and compromises your ability to work in sales. It drains your energy in the middle of a presentation or public speech, making it hard for you to impress or engage the audience. Both are impediments to an entrepreneur, so a shy person running a start-up is less likely to succeed (although it’s not impossible).
3. Shy People Seem to Lack Initiative
When you sit in a corner of the room without saying anything, many people will assume you don’t want to participate. There is no surer way of obtaining a negative performance review.
When your boss sees you as “reluctant”, you will not be the one to get the next available raise or promotion.
Even worse, some superiors may perceive shyness as a lack of intelligence or initiative. They may assume a shy person is quiet because that person has no useful input, or cannot understand the complexity of the issue.
Think back to school, when a teacher called on someone who was shy to answer a question: the stammering and silence were probably not due to ignorance, but stress. If it was tough for shy people then, then the workplace is worse: it’s a much more demanding environment than a classroom, and understanding is much harder to come by.
4. Getting Excluded From Social Networks
When you are shy, you tend to know fewer people. This means fewer recommendations when you need a job, or fewer sources of expertise when you need help. The smaller your social networks, the more limited your opportunities.
The size of your social networks also contributed indirectly to your finances. This is why bloggers or celebrities can make so much money off a single Tweet: they have massive social networks, and what they recommend (or denounce) can impact the saleability of a product or service.
Influence and income and almost inextricably intertwined in today’s society. The simple fact that a lot of people take your advice, for example, is sufficient grounds to sell your services as a consultant.
Shyness gets in the way of earning potential, by cutting you off from the social networks that are so vital.
5. Making You Pay for Desired or Needed Social Connections
If you need to meet someone, because they are potential employer or customer, how do you do it if you can't approach people? The answer is to have someone refer you.
Unfortunately, if you have few friends, the referral will often be made via a paid service. This is why people with big social networks can be referred to a job for free, whereas shy people will probably have to pay a recruiter to find them an employer.
It even affects aspects of your social life. Consider how professional dating agencies now charge in excess of S$2,500 per person (we won’t mention their names), and still manage to be popular services. They can do it because there are shy people out there, who do not want to handle the anxiety of approaching a stranger to say “Hello”.
Make no mistake, if you are shy there are services out there to connect you. But they will charge an arm and a leg, for something you could do for free.
How Can Singaporeans Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety?
If yours is a particularly severe case of social anxiety, it is important to see a therapist. While this does cost time and money, it is far less expensive than the opportunities and quality of life that shyness will deprive you of. Getting a counsellor to make you more outgoing and confident will be one of the best investments you ever make.
For others, shyness is mild or stems from a conservative culture. That’s many Singaporeans, by the way. Most of us would rather swim naked with sharks than approach our boss for a raise, or speak to a stranger on a bus.
For these cases, there are a few free things you can practice to overcome shyness and mild social anxiety:
Practice the Five-Second Rule
For more details on this, look up television host and speaker Mel Robbins. The five-second rule is based on the observation (some of it scientific) that the human brain is inclined to resist change. If you do not take action within five seconds of conceiving a difficult idea, you will formulate an excuse not to do it.
For example, if you are thinking you really should go to the gym, you are likely to do it if you get up and go right away. If you wait longer than five seconds, you will end up inventing reasons why you should not (e.g. I have to work early tomorrow and can’t be too sore, I need to go and do some reading instead)
The same applies, however, to approaching people. If you get the idea to approach your boss about something, or to pitch an idea to your company director, get to it right away. If you wait for five seconds or more, you will develop excuses to not do it (He looks busy today, I better not…)
Initiate Conversation Upon Eye Contact
This takes practice, but gets easier all the time. Impose a rule that, if you make eye contact with someone, you will immediately walk over and say hello. This is useful in situations such as parties and networking events, and it causes you to appear confident.
As an aside, it ensures you are also following the five-second rule. It does not allow you sufficient time to devise an excuse for not talking.
If you are in a line of work such as sales, retail, or hosting, this is a vital skill to practice.
Do Not Pause Between Social Interactions
Need to sell something, or speak to more than one executive at once about your team’s project? The key is to not stop. Once you start speaking to one, quickly move on to another after you’re done. Do not “pause to recharge” in a corner.
Once you are already in talking mode, be sure to keep going. It will take you time and energy to work yourself back into that state, if you retreat for 10 minutes or more. Don’t give your shyness time to reassert itself.
Expose Yourself to Regular Social Interactions
A good way to overcome shyness is through exposure. Simply commit to saying “hi” to one stranger every day, until you get used to it. As a bonus, you never know who you may meet; it might be your next prospective client or employer.
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