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

QuietQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Susan Cain
2012, U.S.

Like many book bloggers, I am an Introvert. A top-notch one, in fact–there’s been time I’ve thought I’d make a good hermit. Although I perhaps like to talk too much… (which I admit, doesn’t sound particularly introverted, but let’s keep in mind it’s not that introverts don’t like talking, it’s the small talk, the pointless stuff, that we have trouble with–focusing way too much on a specific topic is much more in line with our inclinations). So I was intrigued when Susan Cain’s book on the topic came out, even if I didn’t rush to read it right away.

I’ve seen a lot of bloggers state things to the effect that they found affirmation in this book, that it let them believe that they could be who they truly are. Although I had a lot of “oh, that explains it!” moments while reading this, I never really felt that sort of affirmation–but then again, I have just enough of a “who cares” attitude that being an introvert in an extroverted world hasn’t much bothered me. Sure, there’ve been times I wished I was more outgoing–it certainly can make certain social situations much easier, but outside of my previous job, I’d never felt that I was out of place. (Regarding that previous job there seemed to have been too much emphasis on personality rather than competence–which, no, didn’t really work for them in the big picture.)

There were two things that surprised me about reading Quiet. First, I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed reading this sort of thing. I’m not really sure, but I believe it could be classified as “popular psychology,” and AP psychology was one of my (many) favorite classes in high school. We read several selections from Forty Studies That Changed Psychology: Explorations into the History of Psychological Research as part of our required summer reading, selections I enjoyed so much I read several of the others.  Second, I was surprised to find myself at times dismayed by some of the consequences of favoring extroversion, that is the “Extrovert Ideal.” I don’t just mean making introverts feel sidelined or out-of-step, but actual negative consequences:

  • The cult of personality that developed in the U.S. in the first part of the 20th century appears to have led in part to high rates of use of anti-anxiety medications
  • The extrovert ideal has led to developments in both classrooms and the workplace that favor teams and “team building”–while teamwork is not necessarily bad (and on big projects may be downright necessary–see: all those work deadlines of late), it leads to “group think”–team brainstorming has been shown to be less creative than individual brainstorming.
  • Extroverts are far more likely to take big risks. Although we’ve all heard the phrase “high risk, high reward,” risk-taking can go much too far: ignoring clear warnings in favor of going for the big win. At least one expert believes it was the extrovert ideal (which pushed introverts in finance to behave like extroverts) that led to the 2008 financial crash.

Then there’s this interesting exchange Cain had:

 “We want to attract creative people,” the director of human resources at a major media company told me. When I asked what she meant by “creative,” she answered without missing a beat. “You have to be outgoing, fun, and jazzed up to work here.” (Chapter 3)

Yeah. That’s the definition of creative.

That isn’t to say that introversion = good; extroversion = bad. Not at all. Rather, each has their place, but we (in the U.S. at least, perhaps the Western culture in general) seem to be skewed out of balance  at the moment. Cain provided an example of balance–and the need for both introversion and extroversion–in Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parks, an introvert could sit on a bus and show up to civil rights events, but she wasn’t a speaker. The extroverted King could use Parks as an example to rally the crowds. Both were needed, in balance.

Some other, random thoughts:

  • I hadn’t made the connection between extroversion and the contemporary-style worship service. Here I’d thought my discomfort was related to music preferences, or, in some instances, a sense of “falseness” to the whole thing. But as a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, it makes sense I don’t like this style of worship. (And I still don’t like any song, religious or secular, that primarily consists of the same few words over and over and over again.)
  • I was appalled by the section on the Harvard School of Business. If they are truly teaching their students “Don’t think about the perfect answer. It’s better to get out there and say something than to never get your voice in,” (Chapter 2) it is no wonder that we have so many lousy CEOs. Sure, aggression may win points in battle, but studies that shown that introverts make more effective leaders. Probably because they know how to listen!
  • I was kind of surprised to learn that people think that those who talk more are more intelligent. Has no one ever heard “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”?

All in all a rather fascinating book, and probably a good choice for extroverts wishing to better understand introverts. In some ways, I almost feel it should be required reading–it certainly seems a greater acceptance of introversion could make life better for introverts and extroverts alike. As with so many things, a balance.

(If you are curious, Cain presented a TED talk in 2012.)

10 thoughts on “Completed: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

  1. I really love your review. I’m probably going to come back and read it over again!

    The definition of creative. LOL! I think about my music colleagues (classical scene) and it’s funny… we’re performing so often but I’d say, most of us are not extroverts.

    For me, the “who cares” attitude about being introverted in an extroverted world has kind of come about during my 30’s. I think it bothered me more when I was younger, you know?

    Great post!

    1. Thank you! I think my “who cares” has become stronger as I’ve gotten older, but through whatever combination things, I really wasn’t bothered much when I was in school. It was mostly at my first job where personality was such an important thing that I felt uncomfortable as an introvert in an extroverted world–and the worst was, I didn’t realize at the time, that at least some of it was introvert/extrovert conflict.

  2. It has never bothered me that I’m an introvert. I guess where I am it really doesn’t matter. It has been enough for me to know that when I need to speak I can rise to the occassion reasonably well. I’m not afraid to talk, neither am I shy. I just prefer to think and to listen. That said, I do tend to talk nineteen to the dozen when I’m with close friends. 😀

    This is an interesting review, Amanda. And though I don’t read books of this kind, this review had an eye opener for me ….the whole contemporary praise and worship. It makes sense now. I’ve never felt comfortable with that particular scene. I’ve always preferred, what we call here, the ” traditional” kind of worship. I love hymns. They quieten the mind and soul and truly prepare me for worship and listening to the Word of God.

    Nice one! 🙂

    1. Thanks! I don’t know about India, but at least some of the Asian countries are more introverted than the U.S.–I almost have to wonder if I’d fit in better in Asia? 🙂

      I prefer “traditional” worship services too. It just never occurred to me that perhaps this is related to introversion/extroversion, but apparently it is!

  3. I’m one of those readers who felt really validated by this book. As someone who has always been self-conscious of my introversion, it felt really good to read about all the ways being an introvert can be a good thing. It helped me see some of my strengths in a new way.

    I really enjoyed reading your perspective on this book!

    1. Thanks! I remember reading your review, Leah–it was one that helped me decide to read Quiet. I think part of the reason I wasn’t so struck by a feeling of validation was because I had actually read in various blog posts all about the parts of the book that touched on that. On the other hand, some of the downsides of the extrovert culture were a surprise to me–at least as to how far we’ve taken it. It’s interesting, though, to see how the same book can strike different people in different ways.

  4. Like you, I love talking, but don’t get me into a small-talk conversation. I started university last week and I didn’t know any of the new students, so I tried to get to meet them (at least their names). Oh, Amanda, you can’t imagine! They talk about things and their private life and everyday things and you know all I can talk about? My studies, my books, my PhD. And now I read your post and understand it. When I arrive before lessons start, I sit in silence and open my book and that makes me happy, happier than talking to any of my fellow students… And I’ve decided that’s OK. I’m happy, this is who I am.

    Thank you SO, SO MUCH for this post! I’m so happy we bookish bloggers understand each other so well…

    1. I’m glad the post helped you, Elena. I think the important thing is learning when it’s okay to sit with the book rather than talking and when it’s better to participate in the conversation. Not easy!

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