Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a 2012 book by Susan Cain. It is meant either to make all of us introverts feel better about being introverts, or to make the extroverts wise up and realize introverts have something to contribute to society!
You know if you are an introvert if you ever took the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. If you haven’t taken it, then you could also identify as an introvert if you gain energy through quiet time alone, and if you are thoughtful, public speaking scares you, or you much prefer small group conversations over small talk and working the room.
Cain covers the physiology, psychology and environmental factors around introversion. She also covers the history of the social pressure towards extroversion in the US and compares it to other cultures currently. She spends several chapters discussing the virtues of introverts and the benefits of incorporating them into our institutions. She closes with recommendations for both introverts and extroverts, including how to communicate across styles and parenting advice.
The most important things I learned from Quiet include:
- Extroverts should ensure that introverts are valued members of their teams. They need to create environments where introverts voices are heard. This can include providing quiet time for consideration of issues before seeking feedback, being intentional about not valuing the loudest and quickest opinions the most, and keeping group sizes down for meetings.
- Introverts need different things than extroverts. So our work spaces should offer flexibility so introverts can find quiet time, for example. They need different learning environments – individual projects and lecture will be more effective than group projects and brainstorming.
- Introverts have great traits that are some of the most sought after for leaders. These include empathy, caring and cooperation. Introverts are more likely to defend others against bullying, and more likely to stick with something they are passionate about (so more likely to conduct deep practice and become an expert). Introverts have greater conscious and are more ethical (Cain spends a chapter discussing introverts in the financial and business worlds, where extroverts seeking a “rush” and instant gratification helped accelerate the financial crisis).
What does this mean for us?
We should remember that different people react to environments and situations differently – so when someone is quiet in a meeting, be careful about our instant reaction that “Susan needs to speak up” or “I wish John would put himself out there more.” We should partner with introverts to gain synergies – Cain uses the story of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt – where Eleanor served as Franklin’s “conscious” – or allow introverts to challenge our assumptions in business dealings as they will ensure we think longer-term with more reasonable assumptions.
We should be ourselves, so if we are introverted find ways to make your environment and situations fit your personality. Cain recommends, for example, discussing the need for breaks between big group presentations to re-energize. If you are going to be speaking publicly, prepare by seeing the facility and doing extra deep practice of the speech. Introverts should take extra care to do the things they are passionate about so that passion can carry them through situations that might otherwise be stressful.