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Helping Too Quiet Employees: A Case Study

Jack was concerned about Mary, one of his employees. He knew she had much to share and was very knowledgeable; but she was always quiet in team meetings. In fact, during the last team meeting when a problem was being discussed, and Jack knew that Mary had a few great ideas to solve it, she never spoke up! Jack tried drawing her out, but that only seemed worse. Mary looked really upset! Afterwards, when he tried to talk to her, she accused him of singling her out and embarrassing her in front of co-workers.

Jack decided he needed to do something. After all, Mary really needed to communicate more with her team in order to be effective in her role. And, Jack believed, Mary needed to communicate overall in order to continue to grow professionally. He wanted to help her but realized his approach in the meeting was all wrong.

During their next one-on-one, Jack mentioned to Mary that he realized she was very shy and he wanted to help her. Before she could protest, he asked her just to listen to him, and they can talk later when she felt more comfortable.

Jack told Mary that she was very skilled and had so much to share and teach the others. He discussed the problem that was being discussed in the last team meeting and said that he knew Mary had a few good ideas about it! Mary smiled briefly, and Jack felt encouraged. He asked Mary what her ideas were to solve the problem. Mary paused for a moment, and then tossed out a number of ideas that were perfect! Jack asked if he could share Mary’s ideas at the next meeting. She hesitated a few minutes, and then said it would be OK as long as she didn’t have to talk about them. He promised her she did not.

At the next team meeting, Jack mentioned that he wanted to share a few ideas that Mary had about solving the problem the team was struggling with. He then shared her ideas. Everyone was enthusiastic about the ideas to solve the problem! They started asking a number of questions. Mary was a bit quiet at first, and Jack thought he might have to step in. But then she started responding to the questions! Jack was thrilled! At the end of the meeting, the group agreed on how to move forward to solve the problem, building on Mary’s initial ideas.

Jack decided to push Mary a little bit more. He was going to be hiring a new person in the group and wanted Mary to be the new person’s mentor.

At the next one-on-one meeting, Jack mentioned to Mary that Samantha, a new member of the team, would be starting within a couple of weeks. Samantha was just out of college and needed a mentor. Jack wanted Mary to be Samantha’s mentor. Before Mary could protest, Jack told her that he was going to get her training on how to be a mentor and had a few books on mentoring for her. He told Mary, “You have so much knowledge and are so skilled, Mary! I know that you can really help Samantha get up to speed and guide her in getting around the organization. I would so appreciate it if you could help me out by being Samantha’s mentor.” Mary barely hesitated. She smiled and said, “You know, I would like to be her mentor. I remember how it felt to start with the company and feel alone. She could probably use a friend!”
Jack felt like Mary was on the right track! He was glad to see her come out of her shell. He knew it would still be slow moving, but she was definitely moving in the right direction!


When managing a shy or quieter person, it is important to help draw them out of their shell so they are more engaged and can contribute more within the group. However, it has to be done carefully so they don’t feel singled out and crawl deeper into their shell. Jack did this for Mary by sharing her ideas for her (and giving her credit for them) and asking her to work one-on-one with a new hire – a recent college graduate who isn’t “scary” to Mary.

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