Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

quiet-cover

There’s a reason “Quiet” is a New York Times bestseller and Carnegie Medal finalist: Susan Cain makes a powerful argument for rethinking the way most Americans view introverts in an accessible, engaging style.

Cain starts from the premise that at least one-third of us are introverts, a style of temperament that likely evolved to counterbalance the impulses of those who sit at the other end of the spectrum. According to Cain, the two groups diverge as follows:

Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking. They enjoy “the thrill of the chase” for rewards like money and status. Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration [and persistence]. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame….

Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say. They’re comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.… [I]ntroverts prefer to work independently [and tend to be conflict-avoiders] ….

Extroverts tend to like movement, stimulation, collaborative work. Introverts prefer lectures, downtime, and independent projects….

Because they tend to speak less loudly, quickly, and often in a society that has embraced “the culture of personality,” introverts get treated as if they’re less intelligent, creative, and capable of leadership than extroverts—even though social science research disproves these notions. In response, Cain says, some introverts “act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama.”

Recognizing truths like “solitude can be a catalyst to innovation,” Cain says, can help us move away from “think[ing] of introversion as something that needs to be cured.” Instead, we’d do well to respect introverts as much as extroverts and question corporate culture that blindly values “quick and assertive answers over quiet, slow decision-making.” We should give both students and employees more privacy and autonomy than do the fads of open-plan offices, teamwork, and group learning in large classrooms, Cain says, as well as “actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people’s natural strengths and temperaments.”

Cain illustrates each of these observations—as well as explaining various other psychological concepts like “high sensitivity,” reward sensitivity, flow, self-monitoring, and “person-environment fit”—with attention-holders like the following:

If Abraham Lincoln was the embodiment of virtue during the Culture of Character, then Tony Robbins is his counterpart during the Culture of Personality.

During the 1988–89 basketball season, for example, two NCAA basketball teams played eleven games without any spectators, owing to a measles outbreak that led their schools to quarantine all students. Both teams played much better (higher free-throw percentages, for example) without any fans, even adoring home-team fans ….

Most importantly, Cain chooses an approach that works for every personality type: “None of this,” she writes, “is to denigrate those who forge ahead quickly, or to blindly glorify the reflective and careful. The point is that we tend to overvalue [the one] and discount the [other]: we need to find a balance ….” Cain certainly strikes a good one in this fascinating, well-written read.

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