QMy problem is shyness. How do I overcome it so that I feel comfortable interacting with people at work, speaking up in meetings and contributing at a higher level?

ABuild inner confidence and take gradual steps to show more self-assurance in your interactions.

The inner game

The most important part of dealing with shyness is internal. Set aside some time to focus without distraction.

Get comfortable and take some deep breaths to get grounded.

If you're feeling anxious about anything, use your breathing to release the anxiety and bring yourself completely into the present.

Then think about your talents and strengths. Make as long a list as you can, including professional skills and personal characteristics.

Now describe each of the items on your list. If you feel self-conscious about bragging, even internally, imagine that you're describing your best friend's characteristics, building a feeling of enthusiasm about each.

Then acknowledge these items as integral aspects of yourself. Taking ownership of your own gifts will lay the groundwork for increasing your confidence.

Next, think about situations in which your strengths have (or would have made) a difference. For example, if you're good at seeing multiple perspectives and resolving conflict, consider situations in which that skill is needed.

Likewise, if you are an analytical thinker and can quickly gain insights when looking at multiple data sources, notice when that might be needed.

Finally, envision yourself bringing these strengths forward. Imagine more confident body language and tone of voice along with words and actions.

If you slip into picturing a timid or shy self, catch yourself and gently ease back into the confident visualization. Then take some deep breaths to anchor that image.

Beware of any temptation to revisit the past. You won't benefit from dwelling on the behavior you'd like to change.

The outer game

Now it's time to let your more confident self show. Start small and start safe. Pick a low-risk setting, say, a team meeting with just a few people and a topic that you're knowledgeable about.

Planning ahead, identify some key points that need to be considered and a few opinions you'd like to share. Have them ready so that you won't have to think on your feet.

Consider lining up an ally you can practice with and who'll invite you to contribute. For example: "We were talking about this just yesterday. Jane, what were you saying?"

Don't feel that you need to make a full speech; just use this to ease in.

If you start to freeze, ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" You might stammer, blush, or forget what you're saying -- all of these things are survivable. Take a breath and try again. Practice will help you move forward.

If you have a Toastmasters or other speaking club in your area, give that a try. You'll be with people with a common goal in a very supportive setting.

And, for each accomplishment, no matter how small, give yourself a cheer. Every try is worth acknowledging.

The last word

It takes courage to overcome shyness, and when you do, you'll be better able to share your gifts with those around you.

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 liz@deliverchange.com.