Tech & Work

If you were shy in the first grade, will you always be shy?

A new study indicates that the people we were in the first grade are basically the people we stay into adulthood. If so, how can some "undesirable" traits be overcome?

You've probably seen the results of this study-it's been all over the web: personality traits observed in children as young as first graders are a strong predictor of adult behavior.

The study author, Christopher Nave, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Riverside, says, "We remain recognizably the same person. This speaks to the importance of understanding personality because it does follow us wherever we go across time and contexts."

When I first saw this I said to myself, "Hey, that's why I still want to take a nap in the afternoons!" But, of course, that doesn't hold water since napping isn't a personality trait as much as it is a behavior that is drilled into us by rote and then cruelly stripped away when we need it most. But I'm not bitter.

This prompted me to get out one of my first-grade report cards to see what was written in the teacher's comment section to see how this theory holds up in my case. It said:

"Toni is very smart but too bashful for her own good."

(First of all, don't wear yourself out on the details, Mrs. Carningan.) Using the logic of the study, I would picture me now as a scientist holed up in a lonely lab with a few beakers and singularly unattractive assistant with a posture problem. It's pretty ironic that I'm actually now in the business of communications. But here's where it gets complicated. I believe that deep down I am still shy, but I've learned to overcome the outward manifestations of it. Part of that came from conscious efforts but part came from life events that made me grow up quickly and sort of be forced to let go of the luxury, if you will, of staying within myself. So there we go into the whole nature vs. nurture thing.

If my email is any indication, shyness is a personality trait that is very common among the TechRepublic audience. It's what I hear most when I recommend networking as the best tool in a job search. It's simply not easy to do for a good number of people.

But my adult self can attest to the fact that learning to network and communicate effectively are skills that can be learned. It won't feel natural, and it can be downright unpleasant for some, but think of it as any skill you train for and it might be easier.

Here are some quick tips by Roger Elliott, author of a Confidence Course that might prove useful:

  • Practice becoming fascinated by other people. Ask them about themselves, and concentrate when they answer you. Remember what they tell you about themselves so you can talk about it later, or on another occasion.
  • Great socializers make other people feel comfortable and interesting. How do they do that? By being really, genuinely interested in other people. If you are talking to someone and you feel boring or inferior, ask why that is. Is it really all your fault?
  • Practice using fewer "personal pronouns" when you talk about things. Sentences beginning with "I" are not only a turn-off for the listener, they also keep the focus of attention on you, which increases shyness. (Note: Of course, part of friendship is giving away things about yourself, but only when you feel it is appropriate to do so.)
  • Remember that the way to overcome shyness is to focus elsewhere. Like on imagining what it will be like to really enjoy the social event, on how it will feel to be full of energy, or to be having a great conversation with someone.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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