Managing with Social Anxiety in a Collaborative Workplace

work management

The classic work environment used to be everyone in their cubicle, shut away from everyone else. In the last few years, however, collaborative workplaces have become more common as companies look for ways to encourage natural interactions. They have found that ideas which are discussed, reality tested, and created with collaboration are more robust and likely to survive in a competitive marketplace.

Which is fantastic, unless you have social anxiety disorder.

Let’s be clear: social anxiety isn’t about being “nervous” around people, or feeling intimidated about standing up in front of a crowd. Social anxiety is a full phobia, which means that people can become paralyzed by fear, experience panic attacks, or become unable to fully function in social situations. If someone tells you that they have social anxiety, don’t belittle them, or tell them that they should “just get used to it;” this is insensitive and unhelpful.

If you have social anxiety, and your job involves a collaborative workplace, what can you do?

Know your triggers

Social anxiety manifests differently in different people. You might feel fine talking to your colleagues face to face, but choke up if it’s time to have a conference call. Giving a report at a meeting might be fine, but having to speak one-on-one could be intimidating. Talking about work-related matters might be a cinch, but when the conversation veers towards life outside of work, you might experience the beginnings of a panic attack.

The more you know about what triggers your anxiety, the better equipped you will be to talk yourself through difficult situations, or excuse yourself if necessary. You may also be able to come up with strategies that will help you manage your anxiety in the moment, such as having a list of topics to discuss regarding the project at hand, or practicing scripts that take the focus off your weekend and put it back on your co-workers.

Take time to recharge

If your workday involves a lot of social interaction, you may find it helpful to take breaks during the day. Take a few extra minutes in the bathroom to breathe and relax, go for a quick walk around the block on an “errand”, or make sure that your lunch is eaten away from everyone else, in a quiet place. It may feel like your colleagues are noticing your absence, but they’ll appreciate your focus and relaxation when you return.

Talk to your supervisor

Your boss should be focused on making sure that the workplace is functional for everyone, and many supervisors are becoming more aware of the idea that face to face collaboration, especially in groups, does not inherently work for all employees. It’s a good idea to go to your meeting with your boss equipped with solutions.

You may not feel comfortable speaking up in a meeting, but what about answering when your boss asks if anyone has thoughts? For conference calls, would a system where you can ask questions in text instead of interrupting the speaker be more useful?

When you bring solutions to the table, your boss is much more likely to go along with them, whereas when you sit down and just explain all of your problems, they might feel less like they can help in any meaningful way.

Work with a professional

Ultimately, if social anxiety is making your life harder than it needs to be, the best thing to do is to speak to a professional therapist. There are medications that can help in some situations, and an experienced therapist may be able to help people find strategies to manage the symptoms of social anxiety.

In some situations, depending on what the underlying causes are for the anxiety, a therapist may even help mitigate the cause and ease the difficulties throughout a person’s life.

Many people excuse their social anxiety by saying that they’re just introverted, they’re not fond of people, or they’re uncomfortable in groups without ever really examining why. If these aren’t your favorite things, but you can cope with them, that’s one thing; if you find yourself actively avoiding them, choosing jobs that don’t put you face to face with people at all.

Refusing positive career moves because you would need to interact more with your coworkers, speaking to someone who can help you get to the root of your fears and anxieties may be a positive choice.

Overall, it’s important to know you’re not alone. Around 7% of adults experience social anxiety disorder for at least a twelve-month period, and thirteen percent of adults are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime.

What have you done to help manage your social anxiety at work?


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