In the West, especially the US, a lot of people equate being extroverted with being a leader and a successful person in society. Introverts, people who are reserved and less outgoing, are seen as lacking confidence, weak, and weird. Quiet – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain seeks to dispel this common notion by explaining how introverts not only should be respected and understood but do make leaders and valuable members of society. It is an appealing message for me, since I can be introverted in social settings such as when I’m around unfamiliar people or large groups.
First, being extroverted and introverted is often natural and an essential aspect of one’s character or temperament. However, societies like the US favor extroverts, people who can make themselves heard and are charming and sociable. This means a lot of emphasis is placed on image rather than character. But when it comes to teamwork, not everyone can be an extrovert otherwise you’d have a lot of talkers and nobody listening. Also, extroverted settings like teamwork and open offices can even harm creativity by hampering work and causing people to be more prone to groupthink or interruptions. Cain describes experiments where people come up with more ideas by themselves rather than in teams.
Another fascinating bit of information is that introverts sometimes are not averse to talking or socializing but are more affected by different things such as being in an unfamiliar place or seeing strangers. Cain describes an experiment where high-reactive babies who reacted strongly to strange sounds grew up to be introverted while the babies that reacted less or coolly to strange sensations became extroverted.
While the ideal of a leader, especially in the corporate world, is a bold, confident and outgoing person, there are leaders such as Al Gore, Mahatma Gandhi or Warren Buffett who are actually introverted. Also, the very ideal of extroverted leaders has resulted in leaders with excellent people skills but weak leadership and management skills.
Not surprisingly, Asians are the focus of one chapter because of the common, and not always inaccurate, perception that they are more reserved and introverted than Western cultures. Asian-Americans can suffer from this such as when they get passed over for work promotions for instance, and Cain interviews a guy who offers workshops to Asian-Americans to help them speak up more. There are some positives with Asian culture (a generalization though Cain cites Chinese, Indian and Japanese examples) such as quiet persistence and conviction that are beneficial for work.
On the other hand, introverts can also work on adapting to social situations more by getting used and even mastering social skills, because we can’t just stay in our comfort zones forever and be scared of new situations. Introverts still need to have a little bit of extroversion. Self-monitoring, where one modifies his/her behavior to different social situations, is a good method to cope and even excel.
Quiet is an excellent book that has a clear message backed up by studies and examples. Introverts have a role in this world and it is not just being quiet.