“… I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert.”
Susan Cain, author of Quiet
If there’s a book that I keep returning to –
If there is one book that compels me to turn the next page –
If there is one book that turned on the tap –
If there is one book where it seems like the author is sitting beside me, describing me –
If there is one book that helped me to make sense of myself and my daughter –
If there is one book that I love, love, love …
… it is Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Published in 2012, I first heard about Quiet years ago at an online forum where mothers discussed social issues plaguing their children. The book was recommended as an insightful read. At that time, I filed it away in my wishlist … where it stayed until last December when I went Christmas shopping.
So what finally pushed me to buy it?
My daughter. The only girl in my brood of four, her being onion-skinned was getting on my nerves. The times when I needed to cuddle her and reassure her after an innocent remark by her brothers had sent her crawling to the bedroom were getting to be more frequent. And. Short of showing my irritation, I knew I had to do something other than pray. And introspect. Was her sensitivity inherited? I know I am overly sensitive to people and what they say (or not say) in words and in facial expressions – not so much to situation and things – but had I passed it on to her? She’s homeschooled and though I’ve asked her thousand of times whether she wants to go to school to have more friends, she’s content with her chickens.
Is she like me, an introvert who always has to mentally prepare oneself prior to meeting a roomful of people? I don’t sweat when meeting people I know but there is an uneasiness so that preparing questions beforehand is a must. “Are you vacationing back home?” sounds lame when it’s the only question you ask each time you meet someone.
In Asian cultures, there’s often a subtle way to get what you want. It’s not always aggressive, but it can be very determined and very skillful. In the end, much is achieved because of it. Aggressive power beats you up; soft power wins you over.”
Preston Ni, communications professor
In the book, Cain speaks of her dread of public speaking, a fear that one would never have guessed if one watched her TED Talk prior to reading her story. Now that spoke to me. There was a time when, driving to a party, I confided my trepidation at meeting people I barely know to my husband. He glanced at me briefly, took note of my made-up face, heels and attire, then blurted out “It sure doesn’t look like it.” If only he knew.
It’s a good thing the book is an excellent read, otherwise I would have felt let down after waiting that long. Still, it is not easy to digest, peppered as it is with technical explanations of social research by the likes of developmental psychologist Jerry Kagan, psychologist Solomon Asch, neuroscientist Gregory Berns, neuroscientist/psychiatrist Janice Dorn, and many others.
What makes the book so interesting is Cain’s foray into self-help: she enrolled in a day-long class “Communications Success for Foreign-Born Professionals” and even participated in Tony Robbins’ $895 “Unleash the Power Within” in her quest to understand society’s extrovert ideal. The latter propelled her to investigate the link between extroversion and leadership, and how we humans are wired to equate extroversion with superior leadership performance.
Interspersed with Cain’s research into, among others, the link between brain chemistry and personality are profiles of introverts such as Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Professor Brian Little, and Eleanor Roosevelt. It seems there are many introverts out there who have been mistaken for extroverts because they have successfully faked it.
So. What, exactly, did I learn?
First, shyness does not equate to introversion. Not all introverts are shy. Most overcome their tendency to keep to themselves when working on something they are passionate about. “Shyness is fear of social judgment.“
Second, leaders who are introverts deliver better results than extroverted leaders because they allow the ideas of people working under them to rise up and be applied. However, their performance is often overlooked because they are overshadowed by extroverted leaders who, alas, often make more noise. Recall the 2008 financial crisis?
Third, introverts are more likely to open up digitally, according to Cain who spent ten years researching her book. Now this was something that posed a conflict for me. Truly. I love writing and yet, there have been times I stopped myself from writing because doing so exposed the Me that I hide from even close friends. Reading Cain’s finding was, thus, a relief. It was a comfort to know that I am not alone in opening up to strangers in a digital landscape.
There’s more but you’ll have to read Cain’s book to get them all. With a TED talk and the book plus a sequel, Cain has – in her quiet way – revolutionized the way introverts are seen and hopefully, how organizations have adapted to either accommodate introversion among their employees or maximize the potential of introverts among their rank.
As for me, Jerry Kagan’s finding that high-reactive babies grow up to be serious, sensitive individuals was a revelation. It explained my eldest’s transformation from being an infant who was aroused from sleep by the slightest noise to this quiet individual who prefers the company of only a few people. He’s not a gregarious person at all. When I think about it, introversion runs deeply in my children.
Thank you, Susan Cain, for sharing what you learned from your journey into understanding introverts. It provided telling glimpses into our psyche. 🙂
Verdict: ***** A Good Buy