Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2012: How many introverts do you know? The real answer will probably surprise you. In our culture, which emphasizes group work from elementary school through the business world, everything seems geared toward extroverts. Luckily, introverts everywhere have a new spokesperson: Susan Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert who’s taken it upon herself to better understand the place of introverts in culture and society. With Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Cain explores introversion through psychological research old and new, personal experiences, and even brain chemistry, in an engaging and highly-readable fashion. By delving into introversion, Cain also seeks to find ways for introverts and extroverts to better understand one another--and for introverts to understand their own contradictions, such as the ability to act like extroverts in certain situations. Highly accessible and uplifting for any introvert--and any extrovert who knows an introvert (and over one-third of us are introverts)--Quiet has the potential to revolutionize the “extrovert ideal.” –Malissa Kent
Amazon Exclusive: Q & A with Author Susan Cain
Q: Why did you write the book?
A: For the same reason that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Introverts are to extroverts what women were to men at that time--second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.
Q: What personal significance does the subject have for you?
A: When I was in my twenties, I started practicing corporate law on Wall Street. At first I thought I was taking on an enormous challenge, because in my mind, the successful lawyer was comfortable in the spotlight, whereas I was introverted and occasionally shy. But I soon realized that my nature had a lot of advantages: I was good at building loyal alliances, one-on-one, behind the scenes; I could close my door, concentrate, and get the work done well; and like many introverts, I tended to ask a lot of questions and listen intently to the answers, which is an invaluable tool in negotiation. I started to realize that there’s a lot more going on here than the cultural stereotype of the introvert-as-unfortunate would have you believe. I had to know more, so I spent the past five years researching the powers of introversion.
Q: Was there ever a time when American society valued introverts more highly?
A: In the nation’s earlier years it was easier for introverts to earn respect. America once embodied what the cultural historian Warren Susman called a “Culture of Character,” which valued inner strength, integrity, and the good deeds you performed when no one was looking. You could cut an impressive figure by being quiet, reserved, and dignified. Abraham Lincoln was revered as a man who did not “offend by superiority,” as Emerson put it.
Q: You discuss how we can better embrace introverts in the workplace. Can you explain?
A: Introverts thrive in environments that are not overstimulating—surroundings in which they can think (deeply) before they speak. This has many implications. Here are two to consider: (1) Introverts perform best in quiet, private workspaces—but unfortunately we’re trending in precisely the opposite direction, toward open-plan offices. (2) If you want to get the best of all your employees’ brains, don’t simply throw them into a meeting and assume you’re hearing everyone’s ideas. You’re not; you’re hearing from the most vocally assertive people. Ask people to put their ideas in writing before the meeting, and make sure you give everyone time to speak.
Q: Quiet offers some terrific insights for the parents of introverted children. What environment do introverted kids need in order to thrive, whether it’s at home or at school?
A: The best thing parents and teachers can do for introverted kids is to treasure them for who they are, and encourage their passions. This means: (1) Giving them the space they need. If they need to recharge alone in their room after school instead of plunging into extracurricular activities, that’s okay. (2) Letting them master new skills at their own pace. If they’re not learning to swim in group settings, for example, teach them privately. (3) Not calling them “shy”--they’ll believe the label and experience their nervousness as a fixed trait rather than an emotion they can learn to control.
Q: What are the advantages to being an introvert?
A: There are too many to list in this short space, but here are two seemingly contradictory qualities that benefit introverts: introverts like to be alone--and introverts enjoy being cooperative. Studies suggest that many of the most creative people are introverts, and this is partly because of their capacity for quiet. Introverts are careful, reflective thinkers who can tolerate the solitude that idea-generation requires. On the other hand, implementing good ideas requires cooperation, and introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments, while extroverts favor competitive ones.
A Reader’s Guide for Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
By Susan Cain
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.
Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Based on the quiz in the book, do you think you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert? Are you an introvert in some situations and an extrovert in others?
2. What about the important people in your lives—your partner, your friends, your kids?
3. Which parts of QUIET resonated most strongly with you? Were there parts you disagreed with—and if so, why?
4. Can you think of a time in your life when being an introvert proved to be an advantage?
5. Who are your favorite introverted role models?
6. Do you agree with the author that introverts can be good leaders? What role do you think charisma plays in leadership? Can introverts be charismatic?
7. If you’re an introvert, what do you find most challenging about working with extroverts?
8. If you’re an extrovert, what do you find most challenging about working with introverts?
9. QUIET explains how Western society evolved from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality. Are there enclaves in our society where a Culture of Character still holds sway? What would a twenty-first-century Culture of Character look like?
10. QUIET talks about the New Groupthink, the value system holding that creativity and productivity emerge from group work rather than individual thought. Have you experienced this in your own workplace?
11. Do you think your job suits your temperament? If not, what could you do to change things?
12. If you have children, how does your temperament compare to theirs? How do you handle areas in which you’re not temperamentally compatible?
13. If you’re in a relationship, how does your temperament compare to that of your partner? How do you handle areas in which you’re not compatible?
14. Do you enjoy social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and do you think this has something to do with your temperament?
15. QUIET talks about “restorative niches,” the places introverts go or the things they do to recharge their batteries. What are your favorite restorative niches?
16. Susan Cain calls for a Quiet Revolution. Would you like to see this kind of a movement take place, and if so, what is the number-one change you’d like to see happen?