Susan Cain has written a book that just might become standard reading for introverts or parents of introverted children. It provides theories on how extroversion became the "ideal" in society (at least in the U.S.), and why introverts should focus on their unique gifts and specialties rather than on looking at their introversion as a negative personality trait. As an introvert myself, I found this very encouraging.
The Author's Background
Cain, an introvert herself, shares the insights she gained about introversion in her position as a corporation lawyer. Her tendency to shut her office door and focus on work, as well as listen closely to her clients, served her well in her position. This brings up a good point in that introverts can shine and be very fulfilled when placed in the right job. Introverted people are wise to think about specific elements of a job and the work environment before deciding if it's right for them. This might sound like common sense, but in reality many introverts grow up to believe they have to "overcome" their desire for quiet, and as a result take positions that are ill-suited to them because they believe that they have no other choice.
The Impact of Introverts on Society
Cain says that "at least one-third of the people we know are introverts" and goes on to highlight what they might look like to someone who is unfamiliar with the term: "They are the ones 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."
As if there was any question on the impact introverts make on society, Cain starts off the book with a list of achievements that were created by introverts, such as: the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, Chopin's nocturnes, Google, Harry Potter, The Cat in the Hat, and more. The statement sets the tone for the book, which continues to underscore the important contributions that introverts make. If you're someone that grew up believing that your quietness was an issue that meant there was "something wrong with you" then this type of cheerleading will be a comfort to you. Defending the creativity and intellect of introverts is a running theme in Quiet.
Extroverts in the Office
Cain describes the trend in today's office environment toward more collaborative thinking and even open-plan offices, two situations in which introverts will likely struggle. She makes it clear that managers who encourage employees to brainstorm aren't getting the best ideas, but rather the ones uttered by the loudest voices.
The trend that I've seen in offices is that managers do not try to understand the strengths of the introverts under their leadership, but rather expect them to conform to the office norm of group meetings and brainstorming. After all, the majority of their employees are mostly likely extroverted, and it would make sense to manage according to the whole of the office rather than a few. I think this is why some introverts feel left out or underutilized at work.
Lacking Concrete Tips
One negative in the book was the advice that introverts can "act like extroverts" occasionally until people get to know and understand them in the office. This is unrealistic, and I can personally attest to the fact that it does not work. Anytime someone tries to be something they are not there are bound to be problems. I found that when doing this in my early working years, I came across much different than I really was, all in an effort to "fit in" with my more extraverted coworkers. I think you are who you are, and you can show your value in the work that you do rather than in trying to be like someone else.
Introverts tend to perform better when they have the opportunity to think clearly before speaking, and as a result would not be able to be "heard" with their ideas as much as extroverts. Cain says that introverts are perhaps more creative, in part because "of their capacity for quiet." She goes on to say that "introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments, while extroverts favor competitive ones."
While this is true, it doesn't do much in the form of constructive information that will help an introvert get the most out of their work environment. The concepts were there, but the book lacked concrete tips that would change an introverts work or home environment.
Validation for Introverts
Quiet will, however, give introverts validation, and this alone may prompt them to either seek out positions that are more suited to them, give them courage to talk to their manager, or give them inspiration to make the best out of their situation. Sometimes an introvert needs to recognize his or her own contribution because they aren't as vocal as the extraverts they work with, and as a result will get skipped over in terms of credit or acknowledgements.
Book Details for Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
- Publisher: Crown (January 24, 2012)
- Available in Hardcover (352 pages), Kindle, and Audiobook
- ISBN-10: 0307352145
- ISBN-13: 978-0307352149
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.