Book Review: Quiet, The Power of Introverts
One sentence summary of “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”: This book praises the many qualities of the introverted in a society that favours extroversion to excess; there is an overview of current theories on introversion, many tips on how to be happier as an introvert and some ideas on how to find a harmonious balance between introverted and extroverted.
By Susan Cain, 2012, 339 pages
Note: This chronicle is a guest chronicle written by Julien of the blog Un monde pour les introvertis.
Chronicle and summary of “Quiet, the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.
Being an introvert is not a flaw, but a character trait like any other, and it should be respected as such. And yet, this truth is far from universally known! Many people blame themselves for being introverted, or are unaware that they are introverted and believe themselves to be shy more than anything else. Almost one out of every two people is introverted: so you are more likely to be introverted than you think!
One day, I discovered that I was an introvert, and it improved my life tremendously. Since then, I became hugely interested in the subject and I have been sharing my discoveries and my experiences on my blog.
I discover this theme through Susan Cain’s book, the one which I am going to write about here. This fascinating book will help you to find out if you or one of your loved ones are introverted.
Finally and most importantly, it is a genuine call to give back its full value to this character trait which often hides many qualities that are less visible than those of extraverts.
“The North and South of Temperament”
The book begins with the story of Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus, at a time when such an act could lead to imprisonment (1955). This act triggered a great movement of non-violent protest led by Martin Luther King.
Rosa Parks was a quiet, reserved person. King, on the contrary, was a speaker capable of galvanizing crowds. One would not have succeeded without the other. Rosa Parks would never have known how to say “I have a dream,” and Dr King would probably not have received so much admiration without the impressive gesture of this discreet woman.
The extrovert needs the introvert, and vice versa. These two forces complement each other, and are very different from one another.
The Introversion — Extroversion axis is the most important one in our personality: “The North and South of Temperament” Almost as important as our sex or our background.
The Ideal Extrovert
It would appear that in our society there are between 30 and 50 per cent of introverts. Surprising? Not really… Society mostly prefers extrovert personalities. The introverted therefore play a part, in order to be like everyone else. Susan Cain likes to say that we live in a society where the “extrovert ideal” reigns.
Why do we admire an extroverted person? Because s/he is comfortable in society, is good at conversation, likes to work as part of a group, etc.
We associate all the woes of the world with the introvert: shy, unsociable, a dreamer, solitary…
For Susan Cain, “introverts living in the world of the extrovert ideal are like women in a man’s world”.
And yet, without the introverted, an endless list of discoveries, works of art, or even large companies (such as Google or Apple) would never have seen the light of day. Historic milestones are the result of the actions of introverted people (Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt).
The Forgotten Qualities of the Extroverted
The experiences of the introverted are often difficult: as children, they were told to “come out of their shell”; as adults, they must survive in open-plan offices, with managers who prefer those who know how to put themselves forward.
Their self-esteem often suffers, until the day when they discover that they are introverted, and that it’s perfectly normal. This discovery changes their life.
What precisely is introversion?
They like reflection and concentration, in contrast to extroverts who prefer action and adrenaline.
They’re not necessarily shy. At least no more than extroverts.
NOTE: To find out if you are an introvert or an extrovert, I invite you to read the following article on my blog: Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Chapter 1: The Extrovert Ideal
1. The Rise of the “Highly Likeable Fellow”
Chapter Summary: society was profoundly changed by industrialisation followed by urban immigration. We have moved from a culture of character (relatively favourable to introverts) to a culture of personality (favourable to extroverts).
The culture of character
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the admired man was a man of integrity, with values that he maintained throughout his life. This man lived mostly in small provincial towns, where he knew his neighbours, and where everybody knew him. His actions were important for his social recognition. There was talk of honour and morals.
The culture of personality
With the arrival of industrialisation and hard capitalism, society needed people who knew how to sell. What’s more, the man of the twenties found himself in big cities where he did not know anyone. It became important to make a good impression.
All aspects of American society switched to this culture: a company now only hires employees with a gift when it comes to giving a presentation, personal development handbooks only talk about public speaking and appearance, advertising advocates drugs that eliminate anxiety.
The role of psychologists and education
In the 1920s, psychologists considered shyness to be a flaw that needed to be corrected. The parents of introverts are convinced that they have to help their children overcome their shyness and talk about it with their teachers. Also, to enter a prestigious university, you have to know how to sell yourself.
What is the situation today?
Now more than ever, the culture of personality is in full swing. The proportion of Americans who consider themselves to be shy has increased significantly over the past few decades, reflecting the fact that introverted people feel increasingly out of place in a society that is more and more extroverted.
This is the question that Susan Cain asks: “Is the ultimate goal to become so comfortable that we can fool everyone without them suspecting a thing?”
2. The Myth of Charismatic Leadership
Chapter summary: society adores extroverts and encourages their ascension; however, introverts often hold key positions, and use their qualities as introverts to gain respect.
There is a sales genius who is adulated in the United States: Tony Robbins
Many people pay thousands of dollars to see him. He is the champion of personal development in the United States. He has advised hundreds of political figures and major business bosses.
His message? Smile, be confident and full of energy, be as outgoing as possible to get what you want. He is pretty hyperactive himself: during his show, he jumps around and is full of enthusiasm. The crowds in the audience follow him with cries of admiration. Apparently, we should emulate Tony to be a good leader.
Harvard Business School (HBS), where introversion is a factor in failure.
This school is one of the best schools in the world. Many political leaders or company directors went there. Therefore, the influence of this school on society is important.
Everything there is organised to promote extroversion: if you don’t speak up enough during the term you get a bad grade; the students who succeed are those who organise the most eccentric and extracurricular evenings and events.
By following extroverts too closely, you lose in terms of quality
In theory, introverts have just as many good ideas as extroverts. And yet in general, people follow the ideas of the extroverts. Why? Because they know how to persuade with their banter. Many good ideas have been lost this way, because nobody is listening.
And yet many company bosses are introverts. And they have many qualities.
Many large companies have an introvert at their helm. Their qualities?
They are more likely to promote the development of their business than that of their ego;
They encourage initiative-taking among their employees and subordinates; in particular, they have them participate in decision making.
Thanks to these two qualities, they tend to make better decisions.
Note! The goal is not to say that introverts are better than extroverts, but to give them back their deserved place in society, with their own style of management, and their own way of being, on an equal footing with extroverts.
3. When Collaboration Kills Creativity
Chapter summary: how the ideal of group work was born and has permeated all strata of society, while studies show that there is more creativity in working alone. In fact, introverts are instinctively aware of this!
Working alone is creative
Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple) invented his computer working alone in his home, not by participating in work groups. Most artists, musicians and creative people will also tell you that it is when they work alone that they make the most progress.
The cult of group work
What company, what team manager does not believe blindly in the benefits of encouraging team work to increase performance?
The life of big companies is “stuck” on team work: offices without partitions, sharing of electronic calendars, meetings from morning until evening.
Readers of this article also read: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway
“Open Space” kills productivity
Many studies have shown this: the absence of a private space in which to work alone and relax in peace creates stress and fatigue among employees, and reduces their productivity. And yet, only a few firms have begun to take note of this and to reorganise their work space, in particular by creating flexible spaces, providing opportunities for solitude or encounters.
The myth of brainstorming
Once again, the studies are formal: if we give 10 people some time to reflect on their own, and then ask them to compare their results, the results will be better than if they were asked to throw out random ideas in front of a group. Their results will also be more authentic and less influenced by the group.
We don’t need to stop collaborating, because collaboration also has its good points. But we must leave some space for solitary work.
Chapter 2: Your Biology, Your Self?
4. Is Temperament Destiny?
Chapter summary: introversion has important genetic roots, but these genetic roots do not explain everything. Life experiences are important too, of course. Introverts are often shyer than extroverts because they are more sensitive to the experiences that they have lived in their childhood.
One possible genetic origin for introversion is the sensitivity of the amygdala
Jerome Kagan, a Professor of Psychology born in 1929, carried out a study on 500 children from their birth to adulthood. He identified two types of babies: those with “low reactivity” and those with “high reactivity”.
The latter were much more sensitive to what was happening around them, were more agitated and cried more. They have an amygdala that is more sensitive than that of others. The amygdala is that part of our brain in which the “fight or flight” reflex originates.
Are social anxiety and shyness linked to introversion?
Yes and no. Introverted children are more likely to become painfully shy than others. But introverted children are not predisposed towards shyness.
In fact, introverted children are more sensitive to the way in which they are educated than other children. So, if a “high reactivity” child is raised in an environment that is unfavourable (violent, loveless…), s/he will be more likely to develop social anxiety than a “low reactivity” child. The same child raised in a more conducive setting will be more likely to succeed in life than a child with low reactivity.
Why? Because these children observe and analyse a lot, and draw lessons. If they are given the time, and if they are encouraged in this reflection, then they can develop and grow into adults that are completely in phase with themselves, pleasant company, open to listening to others, etc.
Are introverts afraid to speak in public?
Many introverts are no more afraid of speaking in public than others.
(Photo: Susan Cain speaking at a TED talk. Susan Cain presents herself as being very introverted).
Fear of public speaking has its roots in “animal” fear, drawn from the dawn of time, of the threatening look of an enemy in the jungle (a wild animal or a hunter from a neighbouring tribe). This fear affects both extroverts and introverts. This fear is also often linked to childhood experiences.
NOTE: You can also find an article on my blog that is a good illustration of the genetic origin of introversion: Are we born introverted? (Sommes-nous né introverti?)
5. Beyond Temperament
Chapter summary: can we influence our temperament over the course of our life? Yes, to a certain extent. We can train ourselves to leave our comfort zone, but an introverted person will never become a totally extroverted person. You must find your balance to live a happy life.
The high reactivity of our amygdala will stay with us forever, but we can learn to control it.
It has been possible to show with the help of brain imaging that individuals born with a highly reactive amygdala kept the same characteristics into adulthood. However, many of these children became adults who were perfectly capable of giving a presentation to a sizeable public, and were not shy.
How is this possible? These are people who have learned to take control of their amygdala, using their frontal cortex. This part of our brain is used to control emotions. In other words, to explain to the amygdala that it must calm down, that there is nothing to fear.
Our temperament is like an elastic band. We need to know how to stretch it and then return it to a resting position.
Knowing this is extremely powerful, because in this way we can organise our lives in such a way as to stretch the elastic band in certain circumstances, to make progress in our careers, or in our personal lives. We will be more likely to succeed if we plan for periods of rest and a return of the elastic to a neutral position (by preparing for the conference in peace at home, taking a short walk alone during a break, etc.).
Listen carefully to your sensitivity to stimulation
Introverts are generally more sensitive to external stimuli than extroverts. For example, for an identical level of efficiency at work, extroverts will prefer to listen to their music more loudly than introverts. This explains why introverts often feel a sense of great fatigue when they are in a room that is filled with noise (noisy conversations or music at full blast), while extroverts feel fine.
By finding our point of ideal balance, we can therefore considerably improve our quality of life.
6. “Franklin Was a Politician, But Eleanor Spoke Out of Conscience”.
Chapter summary: there need to be two temperaments to make a world. Each temperament has its qualities and its defects and what it can contribute to society.
The story of the Roosevelts is a beautiful example of complementarity of temperaments.
He became President of the United States in 1933 and had a typical extrovert profile. He was particularly attracted to going out and meeting the people and had abundant energy. She was reserved. However, she had an all-consuming desire to help the poor. Throughout their life together, they complemented each other. He acted and she opened his eyes to the reality of the country.
The discoveries of Dr. Elaine Aron: birth of the concept of hypersensitivity
Dr Elaine Aron, an American psychotherapist, continued Kagan’s work from a new angle. Kagan’s “high reactivity” became hypersensitivity. She demonstrated that 70% of hypersensitive people are introverts. She also demonstrated that hypersensitive individuals think in a more complex way than the average, and have a strong empathy for others.
They notice details that others do not see, both in facts and on the faces of other people. They are therefore more likely to recognise emotions in others and to be affected by them. She also confirmed many of Kagan’s discoveries such as the fact that children with hypersensitivities feel a greater degree of guilt when they have made a mistake, and are more sensitive to external stimuli.
How come the hypersensitive survived natural selection during the evolution of the human species?
According to Dr Aron, hypersensitive people have certain qualities that gave them a selective advantage during evolution. These individuals do not travel as far as the others to seek their food, and are less curious than others when a new feature appears in their life.
Each temperament has its advantage: without the intrepid, there would not be enough food, or we would not discover new territories that allow us to develop. Without the “timid” ones, the group would eventually disappear due to excessive risk-taking. The “timid” ones keep things on an even keel.
The same applies to human beings. It is possible that we would be constantly at war if we did not have the calm voices of reason? Without the quiet people reflecting in their corner, perhaps we would have had far fewer inventions and humanity would not be where it is today?
7. Why Did Wall Street Crash and Warren Buffet Prosper?
Chapter summary: Extroverts tend to take more risks than introverts. If there had been more introverts in key positions in finance, maybe we could have avoided the stock market crash of 2008.
Extroverts love “positive agitation” which leads them to rewards
They are often in that state of pleasant excitement and enthusiasm when you know you are going to get a reward. Susan Cain calls this feeling “positive agitation”.
We all know the feeling, but it would appear that extroverts are more familiar with it than introverts. They find it more difficult to keep this small and sometimes unreasonable voice quiet when it tells them to “go on, do it! “.
According to Susan Cain, extroverts are, for example, more likely to take risks in games, to be unfaithful to their partner, and to have unprotected sex.
The advantages and disadvantages of “positive agitation”
This state of excitement of course has an undeniable advantage: it encourages us to push back our limits, to fully engage in projects, to meet other people.
Too much of anything is a bad thing. They are often better traders in the long term: the extrovert trader will want immediate gains, and will take more risks to get them than the introvert trader.
Einstein said: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”.
You have to follow your own pace. And the ideal is to have a profession that suits your personality. Extroverts are generally excellent at managing multiple tasks at once and going quickly. Introverts are much better at continuous tasks that require concentration and perseverance.
Chapter 3: Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal?
8. Soft Power
Chapter summary: some cultures are more extrovert than others. In Asia, introspection and thought are respected far more than words.
Every society has its advantages and its shortcomings, but this shows us that it is also possible to complete great things through softness.
The cultural differences between Asians and Americans
When Asians arrive in the United States, they often encounter a major culture shock.
Asians are often very good students in the United States. But they don’t speak a lot. This creates problems for them throughout their studies, as they are poorly integrated into the community of students, and regarded as too shy by their teachers. Later on, they often have problems getting jobs in management positions.
And yet the same people in Asia would have had much more chance of accessing positions of responsibility for the same qualities that are reproached in the United States: calm, reflection, respect for others.
The calm charismatic leader: the key to success for introverts
In China, in order to be a respected leader, it is not appropriate to talk loudly and strongly. Provided that the ideas are interesting. According to a coach that Susan Cain met, in Asian cultures, we persuade “gently”, and the other is then “conquered”. In our Western cultures we persuade using more aggressive methods, by “stunning” the other person.
An excellent example of a leader who conquered power through softness is Gandhi. He was shy, disliked speaking in public, and his whole life was made up of concessions and submissions in order to get his ideas across better. At the end of the day, his ideas triumphed.
Chapter 4: How to Love, How to Work?
9. When Should You Act More Extroverted than You Are?
Chapter summary: each of us has the opportunity to play a part, but we need to know our comfort zone and return there after acting the part. To play the extrovert if you are an introvert, it is better to be passionate about the subject that pushes you to take on this role.
Do we each have a different personality that we can choose depending on the circumstances?
We play a different role depending on circumstances. Even if we dread crowds, we are capable of enjoying our partner’s birthday party for one evening. So, are there different “me”s?
The debate is a heated one among the community of psychologists between those who, in the lineage of Jung, believe that every human being has one character for his entire life and should comply with it and those who believe that character is variable and can adapt to situations. The truth is probably somewhere between the two: we are born with and keep a given character for our entire life, but we are able to influence it.
Is it “good” to pretend to be what we are not?
In our culture, you have to be genuine. Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true”;
But is it bad to play a part? Especially if we have to play the extrovert a little to promote a subject that we believe in?
The importance of choosing your career
It is of the utmost importance that introverts choose their career carefully.
On the one hand for the reasons set out above: they will find it a lot easier to leave their comfort zone if they care about a cause.
Susan Cain goes on in this chapter to give some solid advice to introverts on how to think about what they like and their career. For example: What were your dreams when you were little? What activities do you like doing today? What are you jealous of in other people?
Obviously not everyone is cut out to become a writer.
But even if you choose a job that you are not passionate about, pay attention to the fact that this employment offers you conditions that satisfy your needs as an introvert: for example a personal office or the opportunity to work from home, or corporate culture that respects privacy.
10. The Communication Gap
Chapter summary: at first glance, we could say that introverts and extroverts are not made to get along. And yet they are undeniably attracted toward each other. They complement each other. If only they could learn to communicate together, they would have so much to offer each other!
Introverts and extroverts like each other, but often have difficulties communicating
There are many couples or friendships that are introvert/extrovert. They are very different, but irresistibly drawn toward one another. Often they admire each other: one for the other’s capacity to talk, the other for the other’s capacity to listen or to appease.
And yet, very often, they do not understand each other. Susan Cain gives the example of a couple in which the husband (extrovert) wants to organise a social evening in their home every week and his wife refuses.
Things get heated, she feels assaulted by her husband’s criticisms and finally shuts down in silence; he gets even angrier because of what he sees as her indifference, calls her antisocial, and finally slams the door behind him.
In fact, there are two main reasons for this situation:
There is deep mutual incomprehension: he does not understand that she needs to be alone after a tiring day; she does not understand that he does not want to enjoy time together just the two of them.
Are introverts antisocial?
Of course the answer is no. They are sociable differently.
Studies show that extroverts have more friends on average, but that there is no relationship between the degree of extroversion and the quality of those friendships. That depends on kindness, which is divided equally between introverts and extroverts.
Readers of this article also read: Stop being nice, start being real!
Extroverts like to see all their friends together; introverts prefer to see them in small groups. Ideally one on one.
How can these communication problems be resolved?
For extroverts: by learning to manage their anger. There is nothing constructive about giving free rein to anger. On the contrary, the more you give it free rein, the more it feeds the anger.
For introverts: by learning to express what they are thinking. That is why they prefer to keep quiet. But for an extrovert, this silence is much worse than saying the wrong thing.
For both: speak openly about how extroverted they may or may not be and about their preferences. Then seek compromise.
Introverts and extroverts have so much to offer each other! And they don’t realise it…
If only extroverts knew how happy introverts generally feel when they are dragged to a party and into some light and funny conversations!
If only introverts knew how much extroverts appreciate the fact that they can confide in them when they spend an evening together!
So, introverts and extroverts, open the dialogue and learn how to treat others to the benefits of your personality!
11. On Cobblers and Generals
Chapter summary: introverted children don’t always have an easy time. School in particular can be a stressful environment for them. The role of the parents is key: be reassuring, but sometimes push them to get past their fears, and help them to lead a happy life. To do this, parents will have to understand their personality and their needs.
It is crucial that parents understand their child.
The worst thing for an introverted child is to have parents who want to “fix” his introverted temperament. Of course introversion cannot be fixed. On the contrary, in such a case, the child will learn to denigrate his temperament. All of the ingredients come together to suffer from a lack of self-confidence in adulthood.
On the other hand, as introverted children are little inclined to take risks naturally, it is important to push them to get over their fears. This has to be done tactfully. Encourage them, make them want to do something, without forcing them. A good technique can be to say that we were also afraid of something when we were small.
In summary: encourage the qualities of the introvert, and push the child gently to adapt little by little to social situations that are initially stressful, to better thrive there afterwards
How can we help a child to avoid becoming shy?
Firstly, never call your child shy! When you attribute a negative quality to a child this way, it has a tendency to stick in his mind for a long time.
Then, “progressive exposure”. Encourage your child to take part social situations that s/he finds stressful at first. For example, encourage your child to recite a poem for three of his or her best friends at home. Then help him or her to prepare a presentation that s/he will have to give in class. After the presentation, talk openly about it. Was it stressful? Why? Defuse the situation and congratulate your child on the accomplishment.
Start as early as possible.
Bad experiences usually create shyness. If you leave your child to have bad experiences at school without your guidance, it may be difficult to recover the situation afterwards.
Teach your child some simple rules of self-confidence: look people in the eyes, smile, stand up straight.
Is school made for introverted children?
Surrounded by other children from morning until evening. Having to answer questions in front of the entire class when there has been no time to prepare. Taking part in work groups where the “loud mouths” do not leave any room for an introverted student to speak up and may even tease her for being silent.
No, school does not appear to be the ideal place for the harmonious development of our introverted children.
In this chapter, Susan Cain gives parents and teachers a number of tips to make school a place that is more suitable for introverted children. For example: organise projects in which the children each work alone on their project, encouraging but not forcing introverted children to participate, or showing the calm of introverted pupils as an example.
Finally, to give your child some self-confidence, suggest that he engage his enthusiasms.
When we practice an activity with enthusiasm, it makes us strong. Offer this gift to your child. This will give him the self-confidence to face other situations in life that are not always pleasant.
In the conclusion to her book, Susan Cain gives a series of tips to the introverted to be happy, to parents to help their children and to business leaders to create a space where everyone can give the best of themselves.
So, to give an overview, here are three quotes from this conclusion:
“Love is essential, sociability secondary”.
“The secret of life is to put yourself in the right light. For some people, these are the projectors in Hollywood, for others the halo of a desk lamp”.
“Discover what you are called to give to the world, and do what it takes to achieve it”.
Conclusion on “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Julien
As this book was the first one I ever read on the theme of introversion, it was a kind of revelation for me. It allowed me to understand a wonderful thing: simply knowing that you are an introvert can change your life. It is in part thanks to this book that the idea for my blog was born.
Thanks to this book, many of you will discover that you are introverted! And this revelation could change many things for you: suddenly, you realize that many aspects of your personality that you previously considered to be faults are in fact of qualities. It will help you to understand how to build your self-confidence on these qualities.
This book is also for the attention of parents of introverted children, for managers with introverts on their team, for spouses of introverted people, etc.
It is also intended for any extroverts who seek to develop, and could learn from the qualities of the introverted.
Who is this book not for?
- Anyone who is already well aware of the subject: the presentations of the various theories could seem a little oversimplified. Having said that, the message about questioning the place of introverts in society is a strong one and could be of interest to people who are already familiar with the subject.
- Those for whom the somewhat “American” style will be annoying: lots of anecdotes and “success stories”. The extreme culture of extroversion is perhaps a little less true in the UK than in the United States… or is it? As I read the book, I often wondered if what it says was applicable in the UK and the answer is often yes. Sometimes to a lesser extent, but all the same in a sufficiently important way for the book to retain all its value.
But I will let you judge for yourself.
Very easy to read, like a novel.
Gives an excellent overview of the current progress in research and the different theories about introversion.
The author pushes the reader to ask questions and to reflect on the society in which we live.
The personality of the author is spellbinding.
Too many anecdotes. They are the reason why the book reads like a novel, but they are sometimes a little too much, and we can lose the thread. But it is true that these stories offer a good representation of what the theories say.
The author is American, so she talks about the society that she knows and gives American examples. She is critical of a society that is too extrovert. Is this also valid for the UK? I think so, at least in part, but there is a lack of arguments for Brits It is up to us to form our own opinion.