Q: I'm a pretty shy and quiet person, and as such prefer to deal with people at work via e-mail or instant messaging. My boss is pushing me to call people or stop by their desks instead. Do you think he is being reasonable?
A: Take your boss' advice and broaden your communications skills; it'll serve you well short and long term.
The inner game
Technological tools for communicating are valuable, but need to be used for the right purposes and in concert with more personal methods. Take some time to think more deeply about your communications preferences. Do you find the same pattern in your personal life?
What feelings come up when you're dealing with people more directly? For example, you may be concerned about being put on the spot and falling short (at least in your own mind). To counter this, think about times when you've had enjoyable and productive conversations and consider what made those work for you. Now, take some deep breaths and let the negative feelings you might experience arise, and release them with your breath. Teach yourself to recognize them and not let them control your behavior.
Think about other people's points of view. If you avoid direct communication, you may seem unfriendly or uninterested. Not only does this take a great deal of potential joy out of the day, it can also seriously impede progress on work matters.
Also recognize that personal style plays a part in these preferences, and learn to build skills where you need to. For example, if you're an introvert, you may need more time to think through questions rather than thinking on the fly. If that's the case, spend extra time planning before phoning someone with a question.
The outer game
If you haven't done so, ask your boss about this topic. It may be causing performance issues, or could just be that he's interested in supporting your development. It's worth being clear on his motivations.
In terms of behavior, start practicing the new approach. Start on something easy — if you have a quick question for your co-worker, instead of messaging, walk over and ask (it's good to get up from your desk anyway) or pick up the phone. Set goals for yourself so that you're interacting directly more and more each day. And when you reach these goals, make sure that you have a reward waiting.
Start to notice when e-mail or messaging is counterproductive. When you've gotten into a back and forth exchange to clarify a point or set up a meeting, it's time to call.
Reflect on the change, particularly noting when/if you have anxiety in the interactions, and what the triggers are. It's important to challenge yourself to grow; however, you'll want to do it mindfully so that you increase your chances of success.
Ask your boss for his support, both as someone to strategize with on ways to communicate effectively, and to help hold you accountable for changing your behavior.
The last word
Sometimes it seems easier to avoid people, but you'll be more successful in the end when you build more people skills.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.