5 ideas on how to get shy people involved

Dec 01, 2015 by Brendan Jack

There are always those folk that are shy to talk. Perhaps they lack confidence, perhaps they’re just not sure of how to express themselves. One thing’s for sure, if you don’t help nurture their voices you will never know if you have the next Einstein hiding in your boardroom.

Never laugh at their expense

Sure it’s not always easy to lead (we are not too crazy about that word “manage”, but you know what we mean) introverts, but never take it personally. And don’t surprise them with a ‘come up here and say something’ – their blood will run cold and they’ll clam up like a, well, clam.

At school, the shy kids never wanted to be called upon to speak in front of the class. Never call attention to them in a ‘look at Barry, he never says a word’ way. Try making fun of yourself, not them. It’ll lighten the tone in the room and make them more comfortable with you. It tells them that they can participate and the only person getting laughed at is probably you. Consider an icebreaker to lighten the mood.

Never humiliate. If you don’t like their contribution, don’t make fun of them in front of others.

Money is also a great motivator, but not in the way you’re thinking. Try our money gag, where you hand out a bill and say, “Here’s some cash, now you can laugh at my expense.”

Share stories

Tell stories and encourage others to share their stories. Even if it involves a few sentences or paragraphs to make the task seem less intimidating.

Building relationships is not all about talking, but also about listening. Encourage shy people to speak by using a light touch, such as Lemon Aid or Pen Palette. You could also showed them your little mouse friend – this always captures imaginations and gets people animated.

Be vulnerable, show them that you’re human. Showing vulnerability cuts through small talk, which is often what introverts are trying to avoid.

If you’re dealing with a super-shy person, perhaps get them to write down or e-mail their thoughts or ideas on a subject and read it out for them. Make sure you give them credit for their input.

Ask questions

Don’t cut people off or finish their sentences. Rather be interested than interesting. Ask lots of questions, but don’t humour them with questions that are not sincere.

The thing with introverts is that they’re listening more than talking, so a lot of the time they’ll probably have better, more informed input than some of the blabbermouths around the office.

To paraphrase Plato, wise people speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.

Group effort

If you’re in a group, then go around the group, one by one, and get everyone to contribute. Offer introverts the opportunity to not contribute at first (if they’d prefer not to). Bullying them into speaking will have long-term negative effects on their contributing in future. Perhaps they’ll be more comfortable to open up after a few rounds.

After meetings, write stuff down, circulate the ideas and input from everyone – again, the shy folk will appreciate that you acknowledged them. Sometimes a bit of affirmation can go a long way to getting people to come out of their shells.

Offer praise for input to the group as a whole, so that they’re not singled out.

Respect their need for quietness or space. Perhaps offer them a quieter spot in the office if an open plan circus isn’t going to get the best out of them.


If you identify an introvert in your midst, then try to spend some one-on-one time with them. If they feel comfortable with you, they can talk more freely, possibly helping them to feel more at ease talking in a group.

Summing up

The world is made up of all kinds of people, from unspeaking wallflowers to loud chatterboxes. Not everyone who talks non-stop has something valuable to say, but perhaps some do. And a shy person may have a lot to add, or they may not. But if you never encourage them to speak, you will never know.

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