Marketing / Business networking

5 ways shy introverts are cooler than they think

If you combine social anxiety (shyness) with a quiet nature, chances are you struggle when meeting new people. If shy introverts shift their focus from 'making an impression' to 'making a connection', however, magic can happen.

1 November 2016 by

shy introverts

18 months ago I was at a conference. It was exclusive and expensive. The ratio of nine speakers to 50 attendees (combined with the fact that we were all staying together at a beautiful resort) made for an unusual (and excellent) level of access to both speakers and fellow attendees.

The way I saw it, there was only one problem with the whole setup.

The outgoing extroverts.

They were clever, charismatic and so darn cool. Everyone wanted to be in their orbit.

"Oh my God, they’re talking to me. Why are they talking to me? I have nothing too interesting to offer."

Which made things difficult for a shy introverts like me.

Shyness vs introversion

While these two traits are often used interchangeably in conversation, they’re quite different things.

Introversion is an energy thing. (Contrary to popular opinion, introverts do like people, they just tire quickly when interacting with them.)

Shyness, on the other hand, is a social anxiety where a fear of interacting with other people brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and, as a result, usually leads to avoidance1.

Here’s what shyness looks like for me:

Oh hey, there’s that person I’d love to talk to!

*Kelly starts walking over to said person.*

Wait! Just because you want to talk to that person doesn’t mean they want to talk to you! Maybe you should just hover awkwardly one metre away from them. Then, if they talk to you, you’ll know it’s because they want to.

*Person in question starts talking to me*

Oh my God , they’re talking to me. Why are they talking to me? I have nothing to offer them. Say something interesting, Kelly. Add some value to their life. SAY SOMETHING INTERESTING! Oh no, they’re looking over my shoulder. Clearly they can see someone they’d rather be talking to. They’re going to make their excuses any second now. I should get in first. I know, I’ll tell them I need to go to the toilet.

*Kelly takes off for the toilet*

Phew. Crisis averted.


If you’re thinking it’s hard to make good connections at a conference if you spend the whole time in the toilet, you’d be right. Unsurprisingly, I went home from that event feeling quite frustrated.

Time for some honest self-reflection

Why was I frustrated?

It was because I spent all my time angsting about the connections I didn’t make instead of celebrating the ones I did. I was also wasting energy comparing myself to people with different strengths to me (i.e. the outgoing extroverts) instead of leveraging my own.

Happily for me, I got a ‘do-over’. I attended the same conference earlier this year and went in with a new mindset.

I remembered the five ways we shy introverts are ‘cooler’ than we think:

1. We value quality over quantity

When we come across a kindred spirit (usually a fellow quiet person), we’re able to go deep fast. So, while we might make fewer connections, the ones we do make are for life!

2. We notice stuff others don’t

Because we don’t mind a bit of quiet observation (aka standing in a corner holding up the wall), we pick up signals other people miss. We see subtle nuances in conversation and body language that tell us how people are really feeling. So, when we do engage, it’s with a level of sensitivity and understanding that people appreciate.

3. We’re great listeners

The shy introvert likes nothing more than someone else taking control of the conversation and yabbering away. We like to listen. People like to be listened to. It’s a great combination!

4. We’re a puzzle wrapped in an enigma

In a world that is “about quick fixes, instant gratification and speedy convenience … the shy introvert doesn’t deliver that. But for those who have glimpsed the pearl inside the oyster, the shy introvert is a source of intrigue and fascination.” [Thank you Lonerwolf!]

I never realised this until an extrovert friend pointed it out to me – shy introverts often appear mysterious and intriguing to people; a code that is fun to crack!

5. We’ve mastered the long tail of relationships

We might not blow people away when they meet us in person, but we’re really great at interacting online where we have time and space to think, and we can also pick and choose how, where and when we engage depending on our energy levels. This means we can take the briefest conversation from a conference (or anywhere really) and, over time, turn it into a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship.

Bottom line: aim to connect, not impress

While it’s natural to want to be seen and make a great impression when meeting new people, I do believe that’s best left to those for whom this comes naturally. Experience has taught me that when I focus on ‘trying to make an impression’, I just end up looking like I’m trying too hard.

When I shift my focus to making quality connections (over that ‘big impression’), I’m playing to my strengths. And that’s when the things that are ‘cool’ about me get to come to the fore.

Are you a shy introvert? Have you learned to leverage your strengths when meeting new people?

Kelly Exeter

is the Editor of Flying Solo and owner of Swish Design. She’s also an author and her most recent book 20 Simple Shortcuts to Small Business Success was written with fellow soloists and small business owners in mind. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.


  • Interesting article, but I disagree with some of your points. I am a dyed in the wool big-I “Introvert” but I don’t think I’m a special snowflake because of it. It’s taken me a while to overcome a lot of the crippling aspects of introversion, such as self-criticism and self-doubt. I think being a “puzzle wrapped in an enigma” would run counter to developing honest and meaningful relationships. It would frustrate most extroverts, I would assume. We want extroverts to meet us half way, but I think introverts have to start adopting the mindset we should meet them half way, too.

    • I’m not sure extroverts want us to meet them half way. I am also a shy introvert but have been working on stepping outside my comfort zone. I find forming friendships with extroverts is easy as they do all the talking and I can just listen and nod. There’s no frustration as they don’t care about our puzzles they just want the platform to talk. It’s a great pairing actually.

  • Eliza

    Thanks for posting. There are definitely a lot of advantages.
    I am an outgoing introvert. It’s both the best and the worst. I am great in conference situations, but then people think I’m an extrovert and want me to see the sights with them after the conference has finished. Or in a social situation, think our families should go on a weekend away together. When I turn these down, they think I’m uptight. BUT then again I do cherish the connections that I make as you mentioned above. And they are much deeper ones, and I wouldn’t have that any other way!

  • I appreciate that you highlighted the key, usually overlooked, characteristic of introverts – we ‘lose’ energy in other people’s company, as contrasted with extraverts who gain energy in the same setting. Understanding that changed my life.

    I like your idea to pay less attention to making an impression.

    All the best

  • Introvert a person who spends far too much time thinking about what they are going to do. By the time, long winded internal conversations are completed with themselves, introverts are too exhausted to actually do anything. Internal conversations are exactly that, where you are the one directing the words so when another person is in the conversation the self scripted responces are not there.

    life is not predicable or scripted and too many people seem to need this mystery of reality explained. Not once or twice but continuously. Life is for living not sitting around pontificating on how to live.

    As an introvert myself who is very secure and happy to be in my own company I am fortunate to not be burdened down by over intellectual, softly softly rationalisation.

    I come from a very practical background and know that action is what proves thoughts, not another theoretical analysis. So I decided to do live stand up comedy, mind you for some one who could pour out excuses to, as a result of a car accident which some acquired brain injury, and a fair few broken bones and bits. Oh yeah I was okay at stand up too. There were times when I stood up and no-one laughed either and that was not good. I still went out and did it again and again.

    My various broken bits still hurt after 30 plus years since they occurred, sometimes a lot of hurt. Yet I finally found a sport to compete in that only hurt a lot, some of the time. Golf, so with three club handicap championships. gold and silver medals at consecutive Masters games I do okay even with the hurting bits.

    I get tired of seeing angst filled poor me statements. “puzzle wrapped in an enigma” honestly, I just switch off. All that makes me think of is patting a cat until it purrs. If you are an introvert, extrovert who cares except you? Get out and do whatever you want and deal with life. That is how things get done. If you are not purring now, this has been worth writing.

  • Kel, another informative article from you related to introversion. I always feel so much better after reading them. I would love to ‘hold up a wall’ with you one day. 🙂

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