I recently read the book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Typically when I read something that gets all the wires in my head crackling and popping, my entire world starts being seen through its lens; this book was no exception.
Most people close to me would say I’m extroverted, but the truth is, I’ve worked hard to become this way. This book made me question just how much I’ve conformed and molded because of the ‘extroverted ideal’ and which introverted aspects of myself I haven’t allowed space for.
Here is a summary of how “introverts” and “extroverts” are defined in this book (with the caveat that everyone is a combination, but we typically identify more strongly with one type):
Introverts: work more slowly and deliberately, like to focus on one task at a time, possess mighty powers of concentration, can have strong social skills and enjoy parties but after a while will wish they were home in their pajamas, prefer to devote social energies to close friends/family, listen more than they talk, think before they speak, feel they express themselves better in writing than in conversation, dislike small talk but enjoy deep discussions, and have a preference for environments that aren’t overly stimulating
Extroverts: tend to tackle assignments quickly, make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, are comfortable multi-tasking and risk-taking, add life to dinner parties, laugh generously, are assertive, dominant, feel great need for company, think out loud and on their feet, prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say, are comfortable with conflict but not solitude
Below I’ve summarized my favorite ideas from the book (although… you should really read the book):
-First of all, introversion is not the same as shyness. Shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation and is inherently painful, introversion is not.
-‘High reactivity’ is considered a biological basis for introversion (meaning someone who is highly affected by sounds/smells/textures).
– The difference between introverts and extroverts can be boiled down to how much environmental stimulation we prefer. Introverts prefer less stimulating environments (lights, sounds, smells, etc.), and extroverts prefer more stimulating environments.
-Many introverts are also “highly sensitive” (someone who is more apt than the average person to feel pleasantly overwhelmed by music or an act of kindness, quicker to feel sickened by violence, etc.).
-Western society has a reverence for “alpha status” and sees extroversion as “ideal.” As a result, many people who are more naturally introverted spend a great deal of energy working to appear extroverted and develop extroverted qualities.
-There was a shift from “the culture of character” to “the culture of personality”in the last few decades. This brought a new focus on self-presentation and one’s ability to perform and “sell” (i.e. valuing extroversion more than introversion). This was not always the case, nor is it the case universally.
-There is a cultural assumption that speaking with loud confidence equates intelligence and good ideas. Research shows this to be misguided. Loud and quiet people have roughly the same number of good ideas, but louder more forceful people almost always prevail, which means many bad ideas win out, and many good ones get squashed.
-Many introverted people get passed over for leadership roles because they don’t fit the “ideal,” yet research shows when introverted people ARE in leadership roles, they tend to be extremely effective. There is a tendency for hiring committees to overestimate how much extroversion is required for leadership roles.
-Introverted (quiet) leadership has been found to be more effective when managing an extroverted team, whereas an extroverted leader is found to be more effective when managing an introverted team.
-Several studies suggest that solitude is critical for creativity and innovation and there are many risks associated with “group brainstorming,” despite its popularity.
-Workplaces should provide options conducive to different styles (i.e. open concept will reduce productivity for introverts, cubicles where they can tuck away will be more effective).
-Introverts need to first have deep conversations in order to enjoy small talk. Extroverts need to first ‘small talk’ in order to feel comfortable enough to get into deep conversations.
-In relationships, a balance between the styles is very satisfying. Extroverts can lighten the mood and lift up introverts, introverts can make it safe for extroverts to share hard things and express themselves more deeply without needing to be “on.”
I’ve always been someone who loves to stay inside and read, who prefers small gatherings to large parties, who doesn’t enjoy small talk (and is bad at it). I love 1:1 conversations but I’m really uncomfortable jumping into large group conversations (which can pose a challenge for me when going home to my very extroverted extended family!). I run out of steam after socializing for awhile and just want to be home in bed. In large groups, I strongly dislike being put on the spot to speak without first getting to write and organize my thoughts – it isn’t about being afraid, it’s about wanting to express myself effectively and needing time to do so.
An old boss once told me to ‘speak more in front of the group’ because I was in a leadership position. This made me feel inadequate. It was a workplace where a lot of people really liked to talk; attempting to process everything being said in big meetings usually left me feeling over-stimulated. Figuring out how to say something of value in the moment just wasn’t in my arsenal, and the things I did bring to the table (internalizing what was said, keeping notes and action items, thoughtfully reflecting after the fact, etc.) felt undervalued.
I’ve always considered these aspects of my personality to be weaknesses for me to work on and this book helped me challenge that view. It helped me see some of the ways society reinforces the message that it’s always better to be an extrovert. I’m grateful for increased awareness of this, and a new appreciation for my introverted qualities.
P.S. Corinne – thank you so much for recommending this book to me! ❤