Quiet by Susan Cain

Subtitled “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, Cain’s book delves into the one-third of the would who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” introverts are responsible for many of the great contributions to society – from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Cain charts the rise of the “Extrovert Ideal” – that is, the valuation of people who can self-promote and sell over those who quietly innovate – in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects from the classroom where Asian-American students feel alienated to the boardroom where social networking skills are valued above all to evangelical megachurches where people who can proselyte are seen as better Christians than those who live out their faith.

About fifty percent of my immediate family is introverted and the other fifty percent pass themselves off as “pseudo-extroverts”, which is why my mother recommended Cain’s book to me a few months ago. I call my family a bunch of “turtles” because while we can function well in social settings, every single one of us needs time to crawl back into our shells where we don’t have to put on our “work faces”.

My biggest takeaway from Cain’s book is how introverts surround themselves with extroverts because I struggle with making sure that my friends – all of whom are extroverts – understand that my insistence with short interactions centered around activities are not a reflection of my desire to spend time with them but rather with my need for time to relax. Cain maintains that the way extroverts relax is to surround themselves with people while introverts need time to be alone completing solitary activities such as reading. After nine straight hours of interaction at work, all I want to do is go home, draw a bath, and read a book, and it was lovely to have the validation that I’m not alone or weird for these feelings.

But I also appreciated Cain’s questioning of the Extrovert Ideal as it has manifested itself into the workplace. I am horrible at self-championing making job interviewing a rather excruciating task for which I must practice over and over again, and Cain discusses how this can often causes companies to hire extroverts who cannot complete tasks rather than introverts who can or promote extroverts into leadership positions more often than introverts. Worse, the construct of the office space today prioritizes the extrovert over the introvert with large, open floor plans where forced collaboration crushes innovation and employees worry about the ever vigilant eye of big brother.

You can see my own computer screen from across the office, and twice now I’ve had people zero in on the error message my scripts have outputted because they are reading over my shoulder. It is rather off-putting even though I know I’m trying a new programming language and errors are to be expected. Thus, I do think some of the studies she cited make a lot of sense because they mirror the antidotal evidence of my own life.

I was, however, put off by the way she looks down on extroverts as being too easily swayed by emotion or too eager to think their ideas are the best. I’ve had introverted and extroverted bosses as well as project partners in college and grad school and both groups exhibit a willingness to run with their ideas rather than self-criticism. I think such attitudes are more about valuing your team, and such a claim that extroverts are too willing to value their ideas flies in the face of her assertion that they want to interact constantly. After all, if you constantly ignore the input of others, no one will want to interact with you. At the end of the book, Cain also states that her use of the word “introvert” includes people who are open to experiences, conscientious, and/or neurotic – personality traits that could also fall under the label “extroverts” and could be the reason why some of her arguments and assertions didn’t ring true to me.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012. Print. 352 pgs. ISBN: 9780307352149. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Crown. Retrieved: August 5, 2014.
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