Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is an interesting and well-researched book about introverts in an essentially extroverted world. By nature, I’m introverted (though consider myself a pretty well-adjusted ambivert) and found this book to be a breath of fresh air.
This book has been widely reviewed, and I want to share some of the range of perspectives on introversion’s value and challenges in our society.
Extroverts are good, but we need introverts too.
The author, a self-confessed introvert, points out how society is biased against the introvert. From childhood, they are taught that to be sociable is to be happy. Introversion is now “somewhere between a disappointment and pathology.” The Power of Introverts is not about extrovert-bashing. Extroversion is good, but we have made it into an “oppressive standard” to which introverts must conform.
A lot of talented, famous people are introverts.
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. 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. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.
Let’s not confuse extroversion with competence.
Extroverts have their place, but things can quickly go haywire when we start confusing assertiveness with competence—the economic meltdown on Wall Street was the most stunning recent example. Had there been a few more conscientious, contemplative introverts in the boardroom (and had they made themselves heard), Cain writes, the country’s fortunes would now be decidedly different. But today’s prevailing susceptibility to “reward sensitivity,” as embodied by alpha-dog Wall Street types, wasn’t always the norm. Cain provides fascinating insight into how the United States shifted from an introvert-leaning “cult of character” to an extrovert-leaning “cult of personality” ruled by the larger-than-life Tony Robbinses of the world.
The best sales people are actually ambiverts.
What holds for actual salespeople holds equally for the quasi-salespeople known as leaders. Extroverts can talk too much and listen too little. They can overwhelm others with the force of their personalities. Sometimes they care too deeply about being liked and not enough about getting tough things done.
But the answer — whether you’re pushing Nissans on a car lot or leading a major nonprofit or corporation — isn’t to lurch to the opposite end of the spectrum. Introverts have their own challenges. They can be too shy to initiate, too skittish to deliver unpleasant news and too timid to close the deal. Ambiverts, though, strike the right balance. They know when to speak up and when to shut up, when to inspect and when to respond, when to push and when to hold back.
Curious where you fall on the introvert – extrovert spectrum? Take Daniel Pink’s assessment.