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Managing Social Anxiety Disorder at Work


Updated July 07, 2012

Managing social anxiety disorder (SAD) at work can be difficult. If you have been diagnosed with SAD, you are probably concerned about the day-to-day impact of the disorder on your career.

The good news is that receiving a diagnosis and entering treatment is the first step toward managing your anxiety symptoms. However, there are many specific problems that people with SAD will face in the workplace, including the inability to network effectively, fear of attending business social events, problems developing relationships with coworkers, lack of self-confidence, and difficulty speaking up in meetings.

Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Indiana University, head of the Shyness Research Institute, and author of Shyness: A Bold New Approach and The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk, argues that when shyness is properly managed, there is no limit to the achievement of shy people in the business world. Carducci points to the success of notably shy Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, one of the world’s richest and most successful people, and also a shy person.

A similar success story is that of Alfred Chuang, one of the original co-founders of BEA systems, an internet software company. Chuang moved from computer programmer to eventually becoming CEO -– a role involving endless social responsibilities. In order to overcome his shyness, Chuang took a year of stand-up comedy classes. What do shy people who succeed professionally have in common, according to Carducci? They are in control of their shyness instead of it controlling them.

Carducci offers a number of ideas for managing shyness in the workplace. For people already diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and undergoing treatment these tips may be very useful.

Business Meetings

If you feel uncomfortable in meetings, Carducci advises arriving 10 to 15 minutes early so that you can meet people as they arrive. This is the opposite of what most shy people do -- they tend to show up late so that they don’t have to engage in small talk with others in the meeting. This has the unintended effect of making you feel more isolated.

During the meeting, remember that others also may feel uncomfortable about speaking up. Carducci notes that up to 45% of people are shy, meaning that nearly half the people in your meeting are also nervous about voicing their opinion. Usually they will be relieved if you are the first to speak and will admire you for doing so.

Read more about coping with business meetings:

Business Meetings

Speaking to Supervisors

If you find speaking with a supervisor anxiety provoking, it is best to plan ahead. See if you can make an appointment to speak with your supervisor and practice what you are going to say in advance. This way, she is prepared to listen to you and you will be more at ease.

Business Social Functions

Depending on your place of employment, there may be an endless array of social functions that you are expected to attend; the company picnic, the annual Christmas party, retirement gatherings, and business lunches, for example.

Carducci’s advice? Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Make sure that you have something to talk about. Read the newspaper, visit an online news source, or read current magazines.

Above all, avoid using alcohol to overcome your inhibitions. Often just the passage of time will have the same effect on reducing inhibitions as consuming alcohol. The next time you are at a social event, notice how your anxiety level decreases over time even when not drinking.

Read more about dealing with business social functions:

Job Duties

Some aspects of work itself can be challenging for those with social anxiety. Anything from cold calling clients to attending business conferences can trigger fear.

Below are some resources to cope with these aspects of your career:

Daily Interactions

Networking is an important part of being successful in your career. If you aren’t able to build relationships with the people that you work with, it will be much more difficult to advance at work. In addition, since you spend most of your waking hours at work, wouldn’t you like to have friends there?

To become more comfortable with coworkers, constantly strive to expand your comfort zones. Engage in small talk with people that you see throughout the day -- in the lunchroom, in the elevator, and even as cliché as it may sound -- at the water cooler. Greet people with general comments or compliments and start brief conversations. Gradually other people will see that you are the kind of person that is approachable and easily talks with a variety of people.

Looking for work

If you are new to the workforce or looking for work after a long period of unemployment or time spent in the same job, the prospect of going on job interviews can be intimidating. Although job interviews can be more challenging for those SAD, with proper preparation and use of coping strategies, there isn't any reason why you can't land that job.

Below are some resources to help you get there:

In the end, it is important to remember that you don’t need to change who you are. However, if you are in a competitive workplace and feel that your anxiety is interfering with your career advancement, or if you simply want to feel more comfortable in the workplace, it is worth investing some time in developing a comfort level with the social aspects of work.


Carducci BJ. Shyness: A bold new approach. New York: Harper Collins; 2000.

Carducci BJ. Pocket guide to making successful small talk: How to talk to anyone anytime, anywhere about anything. New York: Pocket Guide Publications; 1999.

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