American activist Rosa Parks is known as the “Mother of the Freedom Movement” and “The First Lady Civil Rights”.
The world knows her as the iconic Black woman who, in 1955, refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man.
With those accolades and that fiery, determined spirit, it’s easy to assume that Parks was loud and proud in her personality.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Parks was actually known for being very shy, soft-spoken and reserved. Her memoir was even titled, Quiet Strength.
In author and lecturer Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she says that Parks’ “flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature. They said she was ‘timid and shy’ but had the ‘courage of a lion.’”
Parks is proof that shyness isn’t some kind of social disability that has to be overcome. Shyness—as long as it isn’t debilitating—can have a plethora of positive qualities and strengths that people tend to overlook.
Here are six such qualities of shy people.
1) People are more apt to find them approachable
Shy people can appear awkward and uncomfortable when they’re around other people.
“Most people who are shy learn to adapt to their surroundings and function in a world that is dominated by more outgoing and extroverted types,” says Arlin Cuncic, M.A. from Very Well Mind.
What’s attractive about a shy person (as long as their shyness isn’t extreme) is that they can appear more approachable to others.
“Shyness, and the modesty and self-effacing nature that go with it, are rarely threatening and may allow people to feel more comfortable around you,” says Cuncic.
“In other words, you don’t have an air of superiority that makes it hard to talk to you.”
Shy people don’t think they’re more important than others, agrees Stephanie Leguichard from Medium.
“In our culture, where self-promotion and unbridled confidence are prized above all else, being humble and unassuming isn’t exactly considered ‘cool’.”
Yet shyness is a quality that most people find very attractive in others, adds Leguichard. “In fact, psychologists have consistently found that both men and women rate humility as one of the most desirable traits in a partner.
And it happens to be that shy people are the ones who are much more likely to have this coveted characteristic.
As the saying goes: how about them apples?
2) They tend to be discreet, making them the best of confidants
A year ago, I collaborated on a book with a Danish fashion designer on the 30th anniversary of her brand.
We had many Zoom meetings over a period of some months while she related her personal and professional journey to me.
In addition to having supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Cara Delevingne walk her fashion runways, this designer is also a close friend to a princess in the Danish royal family.
The designer revealed to me that despite her over-the-top life, she was very shy by nature. She said that her professional life was large but her in her private life she kept her circle small and that her friendships were all decades old.
When I asked her about the things she was most proud of, her response surprised me.
“My discretion,” she said. “I take my confidences very seriously. “This is why I have such an enduring friendship with the Princess, for example. It’s because she knows that whatever we talk about will always stay between us.”
When she explained that, I could see what she meant by it.
She did have a shyness about her that was not only endearing, but also trusting.
After a few Zoom interviews, I found myself opening up to her because she was so easy to talk to, an amazing listener, and someone I knew I could innately trust.
At times, I even forgot that I was the one who was supposed to be interviewing her.
3) They are masters at one-on-one conversations and make lasting impressions
Shy people are amazing at one-on-one conversations.
According to former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, the platform’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg—who created the major social media site—is himself very “shy” and “introverted”.
Despite his shyness, Zuckerberg has built one of the most successful and significant tech companies in the world.
Google career coach Jenny Blake says this is because shy people—aka introverts—or those who don’t naturally seek out group interactions and social settings, may have a key advantage at work.
“Introverts have great one-on-one conversations,” says Blake, which she says is one of the most important soft skills to develop since these “deep relationships” can leave lasting impressions.
“You don’t have to be outgoing to make great connections,” she says.
4) They’re more thoughtful about what they say
Shy people get a bad wrap sometimes. As someone of East Indian heritage who was born and raised in the West, I know first-hand how the same thing can be perceived as the complete opposite, depending on the culture I’m in.
I was shy growing up. While I loved being in plays (probably because I got to be someone other than myself), I was reserved around people I didn’t know well.
So I was dismayed when someone told me that I came across as cold and aloof. I was anything but.
In fact, people from my Indian culture often told me the exact opposite. South Asians tend to see shyness as being thoughtful, sensible, intelligent, as well as good listeners.
They’re also praised for not running their mouths at every opportunity without forethought and taking the time to think before speaking.
Shy people are often deep thinkers, says Lindsay Holmes from the Huffington Post (via the Evolution Psychology Center).
“With shyness comes a tendency to engage in frequent inward reflection. The notion of thinking before one acts is characteristic of many shy individuals.”
Holmes says you won’t often hear a shy person ruminating over a regrettable comment they said at a dinner party.
“Further, their ability to engage in profound, and often intellectual thought leads to maker sounder decisions.”
5) They tend to be more genuine and authentic (something that is also backed by science)
Because shy people are most often introverts, and thus don’t have a desire to be popular and gain social attention, they have no need to be fake and fit in.
This trait goes to how their brains work, says Anna LeMind from Learning Mind. There are scientific studies that show that they are less reliant on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in the brain’s reward centers.
Shy people are often less concerned with gaining approval or validation from others.
“So, an introvert won’t come up with insincere compliments to please their boss or have a nice ‘chitchat’ with the coworker they don’t like just because the unwritten rules of polite behavior require them to.”
6) They’re innately creative
Movie fans who have seen the recently-released film Maestro (nominated for a number of awards this awards season), starring Bradley Cooper, may not know that Leonard Bernstein, the extraordinarily creatively gifted music conductor the film is based on, was extremely shy as a child.
Bernstein had a contentious childhood and found refuge in music.
When he was ten, his Aunt Clara moved out of town and she left her upright piano with the Bernstein household.
The piano fascinated Bernstein, and he learned to play. His health slowly but steadily improved and he gained more confidence bit by bit.
He once said: “There was no question in my mind that my life was about to be about music.”
Susan Cain, says there’s a surprisingly powerful explanation as to why shy people have a creative advantage:
“Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst for innovation.”
So there’s no more need to be shy about being shy.
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