Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2012. 368 pp)

Susan Cain’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, The Oprah Magazine, Time.com, and PsychologyToday.com. Her TED Talk has been viewed more than five million times. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons.

Cut to the Heart

Can you recall the last time someone struck at the heart of who you are? Perhaps it was the observation of a close friend—“She is the queen of understatement.” Maybe your dad made the comment—“He often relies on the voices of others to inform his opinions.” If not a person, could it have been a test you took? Myers-Briggs has been astonishingly accurate for many over the years. I’m an INTP in case you were wondering.

Isn’t it fascinating how often we learn the most about ourselves from the assessment of others?

Susan Cain’s Quiet offered many similar revelations about who I am.

Introversion Manifesto

Simply put, Quiet is a manifesto for all the introverted people out there. In case you haven’t noticed, American culture seems to put a premium on sociable, life-of-the-party types of people. Whether it’s a grade based on classroom participation, a new client gained strictly from the power of a persuasive presentation, the persistence of religious organizations toward proselytizing, or the demonization of “shy” as an adjective, it seems as if people with quieter personalities have a much more difficult path toward success.

Cain defines this orientation as “the Extrovert Ideal,” stating,

“It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight” (4).

Given these aspects of culture, what is an introvert to do? For starters, it’s important to define introversion.

Introversion Defined

For many, introversion means a withdrawal from society—a sort of hermit life. This definition couldn’t be farther from the truth. While an introvert might live a hermit lifestyle, the need for human connection for introverts remains strong. The main difference between an introvert and an extrovert resides in the way each expresses relationship.

While the extrovert prefers larger groups of people and more surface-level conversations, the introvert desires deeper connection with a smaller group of people. The issues that arise between introverts and extroverts are not, then, the difference between one person wanting to be around people and the other wanting solitude. It might have more to do with whether or not the main topic of conversation is the weather.

Additionally, introverts and extroverts are both equally capable of holding their own in large groups of people; the main difference sits with how a person gains or expends energy. Where an extrovert receives energy from these group settings, the introvert loses energy, thus requiring a time of recharging in solitude.

Introversion Applied

With Quiet, Cain works diligently to dismantle the myths around the Extrovert Ideal. She points to the lack of efficiency in educational systems and businesses oriented around extroversion as evidence toward the need of balancing collaboration and individual work. Brainstorming?—doesn’t work. An open-floor office plan?—gets everyone more distracted.

These findings do not mean the work place ought to be redesigned so that everyone functions in solitude. In fact, Cain suggests introvert do, and should continue to, mimic extroverts every once in a while.

More pointedly, the importance of one’s calling matters greatly for the success of an introvert. She notes,

“Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly” (209).

In other words, an introvert becomes extroverted when their work matters. If they can sign on the dotted line for company values, you’ve got yourself an eloquent, dedicated worker for the cause.

But don’t expect the introvert to attend every extra-curricular activity. Even if she can stretch herself in the office because she cares deeply about a project, she still needs that time to recharge her batteries. This fact, noted as “Free Trait Agreement” by Cain, defines how we remain true to ourselves no matter how much we value our work.

“A Free Trait Agreement acknowledges that we’ll each act out of character some of the time—in exchange for being ourselves the rest of the time” (221).

Let Me Be Me

Cain does a fantastic job of describing introversion and offering applicable advice to help an introvert achieve a higher quality of life. Whether you are looking for meaning in your work or if you need help raising an introverted child, Quiet offers much on which to chew.

For me, the topic intrigues me because the more I experience life; the more I’ve come to understand my introversion. I’m not entirely introverted. In fact, my Myers-Briggs introversion/extroversion score was about 50-50. Yet, I’ve come to find how much I value my solitude, how much it recharges me and allows me to be loquacious when I need it. I’m thankful for Cain’s work and I plan apply it at work and in life. If I could summarize her book in one sentence, I’d use her own words:

“Love is essential; gregariousness is optional” (264).

If you are introverted or have a close relationship with an introvert, Quiet is required reading.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

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