Learn how to harness your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.
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Life can be hard for timid, reserved women who are looking for corporate success. If you feel like someone greased the rungs of your corporate ladder, you’re not alone. There are plenty of women out there who feel the same — women who feel like they have no place in the workplace, who feel like their natural tendencies are letting them down.
That’s not true. You can climb the ladder. You can create a better future for your career — and it’s not that hard.
1. Realize your built-in advantages.
If you’re on the more introverted side of the spectrum — or even someone more extroverted, but too shy due to your life experiences to lean into it — you have an advantage you might not even recognize. Most people who are more timid and reserved have a better self-awareness and understanding of people than those who are more forward.
It makes sense, right? You’ve spent more time observing than talking, using the old axiom about having “two ears and one mouth.” Some studies indicate that those who are constantly self-promoting are completely unaware of how annoying they can be. That’s not something you’re likely to deal with.
Your more reserved nature also means that when you speak, people are more likely to listen to what you have to say. After all, it doesn’t happen that often. It doesn’t mean you can’t work on speaking out a little more, but only speaking when you have something to say can actually be a good thing.
2. Build a network of collaborators.
One of the best ways to avoid the pitfalls of shyness and timidity is to build a network of people that can help you. Networking is hard, especially if you’re shy, but your emotional observation skills can help you here.
Work on having a quick opener for any conversation. Start with something about the situation you’re currently in, like “This line is pretty long, isn’t it?” or “Man, this is the nicest weather we’ve had in a long time!” and then introduce yourself. If you’re having trouble coming up with conversation topics, try the FORD method: Family, Occupation, Recreation and Dreams.
If you can build a good network of people that are favorably disposed to you, you’ll do better climbing the ladder. To quote Marissa Meyer, former CEO of Yahoo!, “Find the smartest people you can and surround yourself with them.”
3. Create a “victory log.”
Judy Robinett, author of How to Be a Power Connector, came up with this solution when she went into the corporate world and found that her more reserved nature left her behind. Other teammates would get promotions even though they might not be working any harder. She used a variety of methods to break through the barriers that lay in front of her, but one of the most effective was the “victory log.”
A victory log is a list of things you’ve accomplished, one that you can review weekly or pull out when you don’t think you’re good enough. It’s a centering mechanism that helps you battle through those moments of self-doubt and frustration.
According to Robinett, “These are things that can boost your self-esteem and prove to yourself that you’re the kind of person who takes action.” Use it to help you overcome when you feel like you can’t.
4. Choose discussions, not arguments.
Shy and reserved women can be very uncomfortable in a male-dominated workplace where many of the conversations can be argumentative.
If you’ve been building a network of people already and working on your confidence with a victory log, you can have more confidence in group meetings to shape the conversation.
To quote Nicole Glaros, partner and chief product officer at Techstars, “Learn how to phrase your views in a constructive way … Write your viewpoint down, get feedback on it from multiple sources, and craft it in such a way that encourages open and honest discussion, rather than argument.”
If you know you’re going into a situation where you’re disagreeing with someone, especially as a more timid woman, use the chance ahead of time to hash out your points so you don’t blank out. Then use those points to have a collaborative conversation; you’re actually better equipped for this than some of your more combative workmates. Harness what you’re good at.
Related: Women, It’s Time to Take Control
5. Connect with mentors.
Take a look at your individual struggles, then do some research and find someone who’s gone along a similar path to the one you want to take.
Maybe you know someone already. Reach out to them and ask them for help — people want to be helpful, and women who’ve been successful entrepreneurially are often extremely willing to help the more timid, reserved ladies who’ve had a hard time slogging through the male-dominated workforce.
6. Level the playing field in your mind.
Finally, the biggest thing: Stop stopping yourself. The biggest reason you aren’t successful is because you don’t think you can be successful. More than any other barrier, if you’re a shy and reserved woman, you have to focus on the fact that you are able to do what you set out to accomplish.
In a 2015 study about why men and women entrepreneurs had different levels of success, one of the biggest things that stuck out is that the men didn’t let failure stop them — they’d try over and over again until something stuck, they got funded and their company became successful. Women were less likely to do that, but those who did had the same measure of success. You are what you believe you are.
To quote Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, “Aerodynamically, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.”
So, what’s standing in your way?