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Breaking Barriers: Combating Shyness and Social Anxiety in Networking

Critical Actions, How-To's, and Tips for Building Meaningful Connections

Networking is a crucial aspect of professional growth, especially in the field of Industrial/Organizational Psychology. However, for individuals who experience shyness or social anxiety, networking events and interactions can be daunting and overwhelming. In this blog, we will explore the impact of shyness and social anxiety on networking opportunities, provide strategies for overcoming barriers, and empower I/O Psychology professionals to build meaningful connections and advance their careers.

Understanding Shyness and Social Anxiety

Shyness and social anxiety are two distinct but related phenomena that can hinder individuals from engaging confidently in social situations. Both shy individuals and those with social anxiety may experience discomfort or unease when interacting with others and may possess a fear of negative evaluation and judgment (Chavira, et al., 2002).

However, there are certain factors that differentiate shyness from social anxiety. Those with social anxiety may experience more frequent avoidant behaviors or impairment symptoms in social situations (Turner et al., 1990). Both shyness and social anxiety can make networking events particularly challenging for I/O Psychology professionals, who rely on effective communication and relationship-building skills.

The Impact of Shyness and Social Anxiety on Networking

For I/O Psychology professionals, networking is essential for career development, job opportunities, and staying informed about industry trends. However, shyness and social anxiety can hinder networking efforts and limit one's access to valuable connections and resources. Individuals who experience these barriers may avoid networking events altogether, miss out on potential mentorship opportunities, and struggle to make meaningful connections with peers and industry leaders.

Overcoming Shyness and Social Anxiety in Networking

1. Recognize Your Worth and Expertise

One of the first steps in overcoming shyness and social anxiety in networking is recognizing your worth and expertise in the field of I/O Psychology. Remind yourself of the knowledge, skills, and experiences you bring to the table, which can help boost your confidence in social settings.

Critical Action: Practice positive self-affirmations and acknowledge your professional achievements to build self-confidence. Research suggests that self-affirmation can be effective in reducing anxious and ruminative thoughts (Koole, et al., 1999).

How-To: Create a list of your accomplishments, expertise, and contributions to the field of I/O Psychology.

Tip: Read through this list before attending networking events to reinforce your sense of worth and expertise.

2. Start Small and Set Realistic Goals

Research indicates that realistic goal-setting can help individuals practice self-regulation (Koch & Nafziger, 2011). When facing shyness or social anxiety in networking, start small and set achievable goals. Instead of aiming to meet numerous people at once, focus on initiating conversations with a few individuals and building rapport gradually.

Critical Action: Begin by setting realistic networking goals, such as initiating a conversation with at least two new individuals at an event.

How-To: Identify potential conversation starters or topics of mutual interest to help ease into networking interactions.

Tip: Celebrate small achievements in networking to build a positive association with social interactions.

3. Seek Networking Opportunities with Supportive Peers

Attending networking events with supportive peers or colleagues can provide a sense of comfort and encouragement. Connect with like-minded individuals who may share similar experiences with shyness or social anxiety and navigate networking events together.

Critical Action: Seek out networking opportunities where you can attend with supportive peers who understand your challenges.

How-To: Coordinate with colleagues or friends who also want to improve their networking skills.

Tip: Lean on each other for support and motivation during networking events.

4. Practice Active Listening and Authenticity

When engaging in networking conversations, practice active listening and authenticity. Focus on what others are saying and ask open-ended questions to encourage meaningful discussions. Being genuine and authentic in your interactions can help build trust and foster genuine connections.

Critical Action: Practice active listening during networking conversations to show genuine interest in others' experiences and perspectives.

How-To: Engage in conversations with a focus on understanding and learning from others.

Tip: Avoid overthinking your responses and instead focus on being present in the conversation.

5. Utilize Technology for Networking

Incorporate technology into your networking strategy to ease the initial discomfort of face-to-face interactions. Connect with professionals on social media platforms like LinkedIn before meeting in person, which can make subsequent interactions feel more familiar and less intimidating.

Critical Action: Leverage technology to initiate connections and engage with professionals in your field.

How-To: Send personalized messages to individuals you'd like to connect with on professional platforms.

Tip: Use online networking as a stepping stone to in-person interactions, gradually building confidence.

6. Practice Exposure and Gradual Desensitization

To overcome shyness and social anxiety in networking, practice exposure, and gradual desensitization. Gradually increase your exposure to social situations and networking events, allowing yourself time to acclimate and grow more comfortable. Additionally, it may be helpful to combine a calming stimulus with your networking strategies.

According to Davison (1968), the behavioral changes that occur from systematic desensitization suggest a process of counterconditioning. This is supported by the finding that only participants who mentally connected unpleasant stimuli with the anxiety-reducing response of relaxation saw a significant decrease in avoiding certain behaviors.

Critical Action: Gradually expose yourself to networking situations to build confidence over time.

How-To: Start with smaller gatherings or one-on-one meetings before attending larger networking events.

Tip: Celebrate your progress, even small steps, towards overcoming shyness and social anxiety.

Shyness and social anxiety need not be insurmountable barriers to successful networking for I/O Psychology professionals.

By recognizing your worth, setting realistic goals, seeking supportive peers, practicing active listening and authenticity, utilizing technology, and gradually exposing yourself to networking situations, you can break through these barriers and confidently navigate networking events. Remember that building meaningful connections is a journey, and with practice and perseverance, you can harness the power of networking to advance your career in I/O Psychology.

Gain Additional Networking Tips from "Taking the Work Out of Networking" by Karen Wikre

Karen Wickre's book, "Taking the Work Out of Networking: Your Guide to Making and Keeping Great Connections," offers invaluable insights to enhance networking abilities and turn the process into a fulfilling experience. Drawing from her extensive experience working in Silicon Valley, Wikre presents a refreshing perspective on networking.

Key Concepts from "Taking the Work Out of Networking":

Networking as an empathetic pursuit: Wickre (2018) emphasizes that networking is not just about promoting ourselves but rather about expressing genuine curiosity and empathy towards others. It's an opportunity to learn about what they do and who they are, fostering meaningful connections built on mutual understanding and respect

The Power of the Introvert: Introverts possess unique strengths in networking, as highlighted by Wickre (2018). They may find it easier to inquire about others than talk about themselves, and their natural ability to observe and engage in active listening makes them great conversationalists. Utilizing these inherent skills can lead to more authentic and enjoyable networking experiences.

Stay in "Light Touch" with Your Network: Maintaining connections requires consistent effort (Wickre, 2018). Engage in "light touch" interactions by occasionally checking in or sharing something of interest with your connections. Avoid reaching out only when you need something; instead, cultivate a genuine interest in their well-being and endeavors.

Anticipate Future Needs: Building a network is not just about immediate requirements. As Wikre (2018) advises, start networking even when you don't have an immediate need. Cultivate relationships proactively, understanding that they may become crucial resources in the future.

You Know More People Than You Think: As Wikre (2018) points out, we often underestimate the extent of our existing network. Acknowledging and leveraging these connections can open doors to unexpected opportunities and support.


Chavira, D. A., Stein, M. B., & Malcarne, V. L. (2002). Scrutinizing the relationship between shyness and social phobia. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 16(6), 585–598.

Davison, G. C. (1968). Systematic desensitization as a counterconditioning process. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 73(2), 91.

Koch, A. K., & Nafziger, J. (2011). Self‐regulation through goal setting. Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 113(1), 212-227.

Koole, S. L., Smeets, K., van Knippenberg, A., & Dijksterhuis, A. (1999). The cessation of rumination through self-affirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(1), 111–125.

Turner, S. M., Biedel, D. C., Townsley, R.M. (1990). Social phobia: Relationship to shyness. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 28(6), 497-505.

Wickre, K. (2018). Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert's Guide to Making Connections That Count. Gallery Books


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