2 Comments on Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Published: 2012
Narrated by: Kathe Mazur
Length: 10:39 (352 pages)

A lot of people seem to assume that introversion is a synonym for shyness and extroversion for sociability, which is an oversimplification. It’s more about how sensitive someone is to being overstimulated by their environment. Introverts are easily overstimulated, by socializing and noise and light, and extroverts are less sensitive to that. As a result, introverts tend to withdraw from that stimulation. Extroverts, on the other hand, can easily become bored without it.

Someone can be introverted and still enjoy speaking publicly or having a night out, but they may find a high level of social interaction will eventually leave them drained of energy. They may do fine in large groups but prefer to be alone or spend time with one or two close friends. They may want to talk for hours on topics that interest them but cower in fear at the thought of small talk.

Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.

Most people fall somewhere between the two extremes. I consider myself to be quite introverted. I can have a great night out, but I am not leaving my condo the next night and you can’t make me. When I am out with friends I tend to always have a blast, but I have to admit I’m much more a fan of a quiet night in. When I was younger, I was constantly out and would feel terrible guilt if I declined an invitation without having a valid excuse, like I was doing something wrong. That’s silly, obviously, but we do live in a society that tends to value extroversion and look down on introversion, and it’s easy to let that sink into your psyche.

You would never write that you work better alone than in groups on a job application. If a child is shy at school or doesn’t thrive in groups, it’s not that the method of teaching isn’t conductive to their personality, it’s that there’s something wrong with them and they need to ‘come out of their shell’. Harvard Business School, a school that produces U.S. presidents and Fortune 500 CEOs, prizes sociability and confidence over academic achievements when accepting students, and gives advice such as “Speak with conviction. Even if you believe something only 55 percent, say it as if you believe it 100 percent”. In those classrooms, the most important lesson is to participate in class discussions, even if your contribution is incorrect or adds nothing of value.

Extroversion is often synonymous with strong leadership and success, but Cain reminds us, through examples, that introverts can and do make great leaders, that their passion and focus often makes them natural leaders when they find themselves in that position.

There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.

Workplaces are becoming much more team-focused as well, tossing offices or even cubicles aside for open-floor plans. Sticking groups of people in a room together to brainstorm on a whiteboard instead of allowing them to work on their own ideas is a very common practice, even though research has shown at many points that this isn’t necessarily the more productive approach. In a study Cain quotes, employees of a company were placed into random groups and asked to brainstorm ideas. They also asked the same number of people to brainstorm alone. In 23 out of 24 cases, the ideas people came up individually were more numerous and of a higher quality.

It’s not that these approaches are wrong. The problem is that we treat everyone the same – either you’re extroverted or you need to fake it – rather than acknowledging that different conditions suite different people. Cain provides recommendations for how to get the most of introverted employees, how to support your introverted child as they go through school, and how to deal with relationships between introverts and extroverts. My girlfriend really gets it, despite being fairly extroverted herself, so I thankfully don’t have to deal with the pitfalls Cain describes in the book.

Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.

If nothing else, this book is a big ego boost for introverts, which is nice for a group that maybe grew up feeling a bit weird. John Cleese recommended it in a couple of interviews I listened to, so I eventually broke down and read it. Recommended for both introverts and those wanting to understand them, although she is such a cheerleader for introversion that extroverts may start to feel a bit picked on by the end.

2 thoughts on “Quiet

  1. james b chester

    This book sounds like it would back up my position on this topic. I may need to read it for ammunition. Where I teach 7th grade the current big push is for project based learning done exclusively in groups. Collaboration is the key. I’m sure you remember working in a group in grade 7 or there about. It’s a mixed bag.

    While I do think students should work in groups some of the time, it’s a reality we all have to learn to deal with, working on your own should be valued, encouraged and taught as well. Why shouldn’t people have time to work on their own? As you, and the author say, this is what’s best for many people. Not something that needs to be cured.

    1. Rob Post author

      A year of exclusive group work sounds like a nightmare. I hope you’re successful if convincing the school. I feel like it could become a year, for some students, of never getting a chance to fully express and explore their own ideas.


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