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Team-Building: Including Sufferers of Social Anxiety
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Team-Building: Including Sufferers of Social Anxiety - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Including Sufferers of Social Anxiety

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Including Sufferers of Social Anxiety

Some time ago, we discussed the difficulties of team-building when dealing with standoffish types, emphasizing the understanding that standoffishness is usually a lazy diagnosis for a variety of symptoms. More thoughtful, compassionate observers will understand that what gets mistaken for coolness or snobbery is really the manifestation of shyness, introversion, or even something as clinical as an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder. This time, we’re going to focus specifically on those with anxiety—diagnosed or undiagnosed—and how to include them in your team-building activities. As with most things, all it takes is careful preparation and a heart in the right place.

One response to team members who suffer from such social difficulties is the traditional sink-or-swim approach, a kind of old-school approach to the business world. “It’s a jungle out there, and if you can’t handle the snakes, you’ll find another place to work,” says the old way of thinking. There’s certainly some merit to this thinking, as long as you have no shortage of competent, capable people. On the other hand, people already on your team have proven themselves as valuable or they wouldn’t be there. Is it worth cutting good people loose, possibly to work for your competition, when a little bit of effort can contribute to a more diverse workplace?

An identifying characteristic of the diverse workplace is inclusion. This means not merely excusing people from a team-building event because of their social anxiety, but planning activities that let everyone reap the benefits while giving others the benefit of their participation. This is key: everyone on your team has something personal, professional, and special to offer, which is why diversity (in experience, origin, working style, religion, physical ability, or emotional makeup) is so valued. We know now that same-thinking doesn’t get us anywhere new, and nothing gets better by staying the same.

Keeping in mind that we are all unique, there are some things you can do for your socially anxious team members. The first is to communicate openly. Some people with anxiety may not be comfortable discussing their differences in the workplace, and it’s understandable. For generations, such people have been encouraged to keep their differences to themselves. It takes consistency, sometimes over the long haul, to establish trust with some people. On the other hand, your team members may welcome the chance to speak openly about what they need and in what environments they thrive best.

So preparation becomes very important, not only for you but for the team members who have social anxiety conditions. Tell them what you have in mind, and ask if there is some accommodation that enables them to participate. Don’t settle for comfortable, either. Express (if this is your goal) that you would like people out of comfort zones, but you want everyone to feel safe. Sometimes all it will take is an escape hatch, the option for anyone to say, “I need to participate passively in this part,” or “I would like to contribute but in a different way.”

You may need to schedule several meetings to discuss the plans, depending on how much anxiety your team member has, and to address any anticipated nervousness ahead of time. Be patient! It doesn’t make any sense to you that he or she think everyone will laugh if he or she says something stupid, but it may be a very real problem.

One encouraging aspect of social anxiety is that it’s connected (usually) to a level of comfort. Perhaps this time around, your team member will participate only slightly, but when the others on the team are encouraging and grateful for this contribution, the environment becomes safer, making it possible (perhaps!) that the socially anxious will be able to participate even more actively the next time.

If our key word is “inclusion,” apply it as well to the planning, and you may discover an even better team-building activity than you had in mind, for it will allow a wider range of personality types to bloom where they are planted.


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Team-Building: Including Sufferers of Social Anxiety - Executive Leadership Articles

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