Are You Successfully Shy?

Shy woman peeking through covered face

I like to refer to myself as a functioning shy girl. While I still experience bouts with shyness occasionally, I’m still bolder than I have ever been in my life. As I begin to love and appreciate me and this journey I’m on, I’ve also been curious about what’s held me back so many years. This is one of the reasons I was so excited to stumble across the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University and Bernardo J. Carducci, P.D., Professor of Psychology and Director of the Institute. You can learn more by visiting and caught up with him recently and he allowed me to pick his brain regarding all things shyness and I’m anxious to share what I learned with you.  Here’s a little from our conversation.

The Bolder Sister:  Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. First thing I’m wondering is why did you find this research necessary or what drew you to shyness as a research project?

Professor Carducci: When people find out I know something about shyness, that’s typically the first question that they ask me. You are right on point. I was a really shy kid. I had lots of friends. I had gone to a neighborhood elementary school. These kids I went to high school with I’d known probably most of my life at that point. I just couldn’t talk to these girls, so I read an article on shyness. I said, “Oh my God, that’s me.” I started to do what the article recommended and it worked. I tell people I consider myself what I refer to as successfully shy, that is a shy person who continues to work on his shyness on a daily basis. Every day I try to do something or do more to work on my shyness.

The Bolder Sister:  I’m the same way too, and that’s why I started the blog, because as I was discovering ways to be bold and feeling more confident, I felt like there were other women out there who were like me. I’m like, let me share my journey with the hopes that it would encourage someone else. I’m wondering what you find the connection to be between introvert and shyness. Is there a connection?

Professor Carducci: Actually, shyness has more to do with extroversion than it does introversion. Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. They may look very similar. For example, if you see a shy person and an introvert at a party, let’s say, they’re both standing against the wall. The introvert is standing against that wall because they prefer to be there. Introverts simply find social stimulation and stimulation in general a bit loud, so what they do is they move away from others to minimize the arousal. It would be like if you’re standing near a speaker that’s really, really loud, you’re going to step away from that speaker to minimize the amount of noise. Introverts have a nervous system that’s a little bit more sensitive, so throughout life they move away from stimulation to keep that volume down.

On the other hand, the shy person is standing against that wall not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. They don’t know what to do. They want to be social, they just don’t know what to do. Like extroverts, shy people want to be social. They don’t know what to do, so we tell them shyness has more to do with extroversion than it does introversion.

The Bolder Sister: Interesting. Have you also, professor, found that age factors in? Are you finding some people, the older I get the more confident I become?

Professor Carducci: Shyness is something that seems to manifest itself to a similar degree across age groups, so when we talk about shyness, shyness is facilitated by transition. Any time there is transition, shyness can become a concern. It’s most intense during adolescence because adolescence is a tremendous period of transition, not only within the body but also socially as well. We find the same thing occurs in other life transitions, so going from high school to college, going from college to a new job, going to a new city, these sorts of things; going through a life change, so a spouse dies, you get divorced, these kinds of things. Any time there is change there’s transition, and shyness seems to be facilitated by that.

What tends to happen in old age, people say you get more comfortable, you get more bold when you get older. The confound of that is as you get older you stay in the same situation more. You find your comfort zone. You have a set of friends. You have a job, but when that sense of stability changes, that’s when we can see the experience of shyness again. It doesn’t seem to change over age. The dynamics are the same. The dynamics are the same across cultures. Shyness is shyness is shyness.

The Bolder Sister: That’s so interesting. The moment I turned 40 I was connecting it with I’m 40 now so I’m feeling more confident. I’m thinking it’s because I’m over 40 that I’m not as nervous or I’m not as shy when I’m around people. I’m feeling more confident, and I thought that it came with just me getting older. You hit the nail on the head because my circle of friends is stable. I hang out with the same group. When you said that they tend to stay in the same situation, I’m like, ah, that’s why I feel most confident and comfortable because …

Professor Carducci: The same thing is true. Again, shy people have a limited comfort zone, so they have friends but they have fewer friends. They do things, but they tend to do the same thing again and again and again and again. That’s just what you said. You have a stable marriage. You have a stable group of friends, so you found your comfort zone. What’s going to be critical for you is what happens when your book takes off. What happens when you now start having to do media appearances, these kinds of things, so when you have to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people on a very, very, very regular basis. That notion of comfort zone and transition is extremely important, and that’s one of the things for me that really helps me to understand the nature and the dynamics of shyness.

The Bolder Sister: Yeah, really good point. I was curious too as I looked at your research, the shyness quizzes  posted, how many people typically complete those? Then how do you use those responses?

Professor Carducci: Over the years we’ve had thousands of people complete these things. For example, let me see if I can find one here. This is something I just got yesterday. This kind of stuff happens to me all the time. Here’s somebody who took our little shyness quiz, or the shyness survey, and it says, describe how your shyness … “I get nervous when I’m in a large group of people. It doesn’t matter if it’s family or strangers or from work, church, whatever.” Describe what you have tried to do to overcome your shyness. “I try to overcome my fears by just doing it.” That’s what shy people typically do. They just think, I’m going to try to do something.

It’s not just doing something. You have to do things that are going to work for you and not against you. This guys says, “I meditate. I listen to audiotapes.” That’s fine, but how do those things fit into the nature and the dynamics of your shyness? This person says, “I used to be a drug addict and I stopped that.” Okay, but if it still is painful, he said he used drugs to deal with his shyness. Again, that’s something that we see in what we call the shy alcoholic. Lots of people deal with their shyness by thinking, okay, if I drink I’m going to be social; I’m going to be more outgoing. If you have to drink to be social, you have a problem with shyness and you have a problem with alcohol. We try to point these things out to people. We get people responding to these surveys because like your blog.

I can tell you that if you give people the opportunity to write back to you after talking about shyness, they will. Because shy people, what they tell me is nobody listens. Thank you for taking the time to listen, to make this your work. We do listen. When people read my books on shyness, the most frequent response I get is, “When I was reading your book it was like you were talking to me.” I tell them, “That’s because I’ve talked to thousands of people just like you.” Every shy person thinks they’re the only one who is shy because you’re suffering in silence.

The Bolder Sister: Yes.

Professor Carducci: But we try to point out that one of the most empowering pieces of information we give is that approximately 40% of the people we’ve surveyed over the years, so this has been 30 years plus, report being shy. That’s almost half. We said, if you’re in class, if you’re at a party, if you’re at a nightclub, look to your left, look to your right, and chances are pretty good that one of those individuals is shy. If you’re shy, you’re not alone. The best way to deal with your shyness is find somebody who is standing by themselves there and go talk to them. Help somebody with their shyness. That’s the best way to help you with your shyness.

The Bolder Sister: That’s a really great suggestion. Were there any differences between women and men?

Professor Carducci: No. That’s the other thing, shyness is shyness is shyness. Both men and women experience shyness to the same degree, but shyness tends to be more of a problem for males than it is for women. Because in our culture men are supposedly the social aggressors, so if you’re an attractive woman, men will come and talk to you. You don’t have to take that initial step. If you’re a guy, you’re the one that’s supposed to go out and talk to these women. Again, although it’s not as big of a problem for women as it is for men, shy women tell me that a problem that they have is because they tend to be passive in nature, the guys that come to talk to them are the guys that they’re not really attracted to. They have these bold, loud guys coming to them, and so we tell guys, okay, what they’re saying is, come and talk to me. Don’t just sit back and wait for them to ask you to talk. Go talk to them.

The same thing with women; we say, if you’re at a social function, what you want to do is engage in quick talk. Have brief conversations with lots of different guys so that it doesn’t look like you’re showing interest in one particular individual. For men a problem is when a woman talks to you, they read more into that than is really there, so we say if you talk to lots of different kinds of guys in a social situation, what that shows is you’re the kind of person who can talk to lots of different kinds of individuals and lots of different kinds of individuals will enjoy talking to you. If you do that, what begins to start to happen is people come to you because you seem like you’re someone easy to talk to.

The Bolder Sister: Another thing I found interesting in your research, we aren’t born shy. I was thinking that I must’ve been born with it because it started as far back as I could remember. I remember feeling just kind of overwhelmed or feeling that shyness or insecure, lacking self-confidence. I felt like I had always been that way.

Professor Carducci: Again, there is a biological component to shyness, but that’s more inhibition. That seems to be a critical factor early, early, early on. There’s more of a biological component to introversion than there is to shyness. Shyness, again, it’s like anything else. There are things that you can do to deal with any kind of feelings of inhibition or shyness that you have, so it’s not destiny. We’ve made it a point to say regardless of the cause of your shyness, what you think caused shyness, if you think you’re born shy or family or whatever, there are still things that you can do to work with it instead of working against it. That’s what we call being successfully shy. The successfully shy person is somebody who knows they’re shy, tries to understand their shyness, and then does things to work with their shyness instead of working against it.

A simple example that we give is that if you’re a shy person, you get invited to a social function, typically what happens is the social event starts at 9 o’clock or whatever. You think, okay the thing starts at 9:00, but I’m going to get there at 10:30 so that there’ll be lots of people there and I can just blend in. No one will notice me. I won’t feel as self-conscious. Everything about that situation is going to work against you because when you show up at 10:30, people have already started to form groups. They’ve already started to generate conversations, collections of individuals. The noise level at that function is going to be really loud because it’s already been going on for an hour and a half.

When you walk in there late, that level of arousal is going to be really, really high for you because you’re going in there a little nervous anyway. Now you expose yourself to this high level of arousal, and when you show up late like that it’s very hard, particularly for shy people, to break into a conversation to join a group. Everything about that situation works against the underlying dynamics of shyness, so we say if you get invited to a social function and that thing says it starts at 9:00, you get there at 9:00 so that as the noise level increases you can adjust to that noise level as well. You acclimate to it as it increases so it’s not a shock to your system.

When you show up early like that, what you have is you can introduce yourself to people as they come in so it’s an easier one to one interaction than to break into a group of people who have already been talking for an hour and a half. When you meet people one on one early like that, you can then become the social facilitator, so you start a conversation with somebody. Then as somebody new comes in, what you do is you bring that new person into the conversation. I’ve been talking to you, and I said, “Oh,” and then somebody new comes in, “Hey Ralph, I’m Bernie and this is Tiya, and we were just talking about … ” whatever the party’s about or whatever the topic of conversation is. You introduce yourself to this person. You give them help with what the conversation is so they’re not coming into this thing cold, and people appreciate that.

You do that enough times, and then people think, okay, this is a nice person. This is a kind person. This person is easy to talk to. Then they start coming to you. Then when they start coming to you, you are the social facilitator. We do these shyness and dating workshops. If you’re a guy, that’s incredibly attractive to women because what that shows is you’re kind, you’re considerate, you’ll talk to lots of different kinds of people, and you make it easy for these people to talk to you. You be the social facilitator. You introduce people to each other. You make things happen and you’re the host. Again, when you’re the host at your party, it’s not about you having a good time, it’s about your guests having a good time. You want to be what I call the host to humanity.

The Bolder Sister: I also train adults, and sometimes shyness is an issue.

Professor Carducci: This is something that we encourage people to do is to understand the nature and the dynamics of your shyness. What makes you feel shy and then what can you do to overcome it? With shy people the other thing that you have to remember is you can’t just tell them what to do. What you have to do is you have to show them how to do it and you have to provide them with the opportunity to practice. It’s like golf or basketball or anything else, you can’t just tell people, “Oh, go out and practice, go out and shoot baskets.” You have to show them, here’s the proper technique for a golf swing; here’s the proper technique for shooting a free throw. Now let’s practice these techniques again and again and again. Now that we’ve got them here together, let’s practice them with other people. Let’s practice them in different situations, that kind of stuff.

The Bolder Sister: Got it. That makes so much sense. How we can find out more about you; how can we purchase your book?

Professor Carducci: Yes, for those kinds of things, we have a couple of different books, and that book, Shyness: A Bold New Approach, we have a whole chapter on shyness and social relationships in adults. We talk about the whole idea of dating for shy individuals, but they can get more information by going to or they can go to the Shyness Research Institute website, and that’s We have information there on strategies, what you can do, information on shyness, what shyness is. For, I think, much of the stuff that you do, the book that would be most helpful for your coaching and your networking, that kind of stuff, is a little book I wrote called The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk: How to Talk to Anybody Anytime Anywhere About Anything.

The Bolder Sister: Yes, I need that.

Professor Carducci: It’s a little, tiny booklet. It is probably 90 pages long and it’s cut so that you can put it in your pocket or put it in your purse or your briefcase. You’re at a social function, you get a little panicky. You excuse yourself. You go to the bathroom. You pull out the book. You find out what you need to do and go back out there and do it. That would be something that we find would be most helpful. When I do these shyness and dating workshops, we spend most of our time talking about that because the concern that people have about shyness and dating is meeting people.

I remember doing this shyness and dating workshop in New York City. I’m in Midtown. I’m 10 blocks from Times Square, and so in the heart of everything. There’s 75, 80 people in the room, and I asked these people, I said, “What’s the most difficult problem associated with shyness and dating in this city?” They all said the same thing, meeting people. I said, “Are you kidding? This is a city of 7 million people and you can’t meet?” What that tells you is they don’t know how to connect with people. That’s the problem.

In this book we talk about how to start conversation because really if you look at the interpersonal problem with shy people, the biggest problem is meeting people and then connecting with people, making friends. If you look at the progression of relationships and shyness, shyness is a really big problem in the beginning, meeting people, but if you look at people who are in love only 7% of those shy people say that shyness is a problem. The good news is it takes a little longer for shy people to meet people and fall in love, but once they do their shyness disappears. That’s because when you’re in a loving relationship, when you’re connected with people, when you’re in a relationship with people, they are the focus of your attention and your efforts.

Because shy people, they’re very self-conscious. That’s the problem with shyness. When you are concerned with other individuals, your shyness goes away. If you really want to talk about shyness and dating and that sort of stuff, we say, if you want to find a soulmate, the best way to do it is not online because only one in five of those things work. They’ll tell you that if you go. That’s the statistic for these online dating services, one in five. That’s only 20%, so what about the other 80? If you look at the research, the best way to do it still is the old-fashioned way, through friends, family, church organizations. We say, you want find love, you want to find a soulmate? Be a better friend, expand your friendship networks.

The Bolder Sister: That’s how to do it then. Thank you so very much professor.

Professor Carducci: I just want to let you know that on behalf of all the shy people you’re going to help with your blog and your work, I say thank you for them. This is a real source of pleasure for me because I know you’re going to do good work.

The Bolder Sister: Thank you. I so appreciate that. Thank you so much.

To learn more or to purchase Professor’s Carducci’s books, please check them out here:

B. J. Carducci. The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk: How to Talk to Anyone Anytime Anywhere About Anything — an easy-to-use summary of the techniques for mastering the art of conversation

B. J. Carducci. Shyness: A Bold New Approach — a popular-press book offering a deeper understanding and appreciation of shyness and strategies for controlling shyness in adults, teens, and children, which has been translated into eight different languages
B. J. Carducci. The Shyness Workbook: 30 Days To Dealing Effectively With Shyness — a concise, self-directed program for helping shy adults help themselves to develop a personalized plan for understanding and managing their shyness  


2 thoughts on “Are You Successfully Shy?

  1. Wow he really took the time and provided you with a lot of input. I found his explanation on the difference between introvert and shyness very interesting…something people should first consider before they just say ‘I’m really shy’.

    1. Yolonda, that’s what I found interesting too. Also, that we weren’t born shy or that I thought I was getting more confident with age, and it really didn’t have anything to do with that. It was a very interesting conversation. I truly do appreciate the time he took and I’m looking forward to reading his books.

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