Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking

Image of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Release Date: 
January 24, 2012
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“One measure of an extraordinary book is that it prompts the reader to reframe his or her view of the world, to recognize and reaffirm patterns, to consider implications that might not have previously been entertained. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking is this type of extraordinary book.”

Are you—or do you know someone who is—a member of the third of the population who cringe at the bombastic conference speaker’s insistence that attendees introduce themselves to strangers, and then engage in the exchange of personal perspectives? Many speakers mistakenly—and fatally as far as connecting with much of the audience—presume people are the same. They are not.

Consider the following pairings:

External, Action, Interaction / Internal, Contemplative, Reflection
Quick, Impulsive, Bold / Deliberate, Considered, Cautious
Doing, Bombastic, Center Stage / Bookish, Cerebral, Off in the Corner
Fast, Dominance, Controlling / Slow, Empathy, Kindness
Public Space, Social, Outer Directed / Private space, Downtime, Inner Directed
Easily Bored, Assertive, Pushy / Imaginative, Sensitive, Reserved
Glib, Outgoing, Thick Skinned / Reserved, Shy, Thin Skinned

The first column describes the extrovert who can’t stop talking. The second, the introvert who needs quiet. For the introvert—more drawn to, comfortable with, and characterized by the attributes of the second column—being forced into interpersonal interactions reflecting the first column can cause cacophonous, stressful, and dissonant experiences.

Susan Cain’s extraordinary must-read, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explores the important, little recognized, and largely underappreciated role of introverts in contemporary culture.

Author Cain’s Quiet message has profound implications for every interpersonal interaction and every decision involving people—love and learning, finance and leadership, governance and decision making, advertising and capital market function—even which research project is backed and funded.

Significantly, renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asserts that those who favor the quiet, reflective life are more likely to find “flow,” than are those whose lives are consumed by loud business.

Among the many engaging stories that Susan Cain relates in Quiet, is the negotiation between a mother, Joyce, a naturally “out there” extrovert, and her daughter, Isabelle, a wise beyond her years introvert. While seven years old, Isabelle’s best school friend likes to sit at the “crazy table”—whose girls are “loud, talking all of the time . . . ugh!”— whereas Isabelle is more comfortable sitting with the girls at the “more relaxed and chill table.” She reconciles this conflict with a telling insight: “Maybe every now and then I’ll sit with Amanda, but I do like being quieter and taking a break at lunch from everything.”

While Joyce is predisposed to have her daughter heavily scheduled, recognizing her own need for quiet time, Isabelle does not want her mother scheduling play dates.

As Isabelle explains to the author, “I need a break after school. School is hard because a lot of people are in the room, so you get tired. I freak out if my mom plans a play date without telling me, because I don’t want to hurt my friend’s feelings. But I’d rather stay home. At a friend’s house you have to do the things other people want to do. I like hanging out with my mom after school because I can learn from her. She’s been alive longer than me. We have thoughtful conversations. I like having thoughtful conversations because they make people happy.” Yes, Isabelle is seven years old!

Joyce recognizes that, “Before, I would have had Isabelle going out and seeing people all of the time, packing her time after school full of activities. Now, I understand that it’s very stressful for her to be in school, so we figure out together how much socializing makes sense and when it should happen.”

The very structure of education, early schooling, socialization processes through adolescence, society’s propensity to recognize and celebrate the gregarious and vivacious, the cultural disregard for kindness and still waters that run deep, conspire to make the introvert’s path difficult, daunting, even discouraging. In time, however, just as was so entertainingly captured in the celebrated motion picture, The Revenge of the Nerds, circumstances change, as canonized in the Biblical teaching: “He who is last becomes first.”

Ms. Cain observes, “those who live the most fully realized lives . . . tend to find meaning in their obstacles.” But the very process of overcoming the challenges of being an introvert in a world that can’t stop talking is the path to the good life, for as Ms. Cain astutely observes, “Where we stumble is where our treasure lies.”

This lesson follows her chronicling, in the prior 257 pages, of the numerous obstacles, conflicts, and difficulties that introverts confront in a “world that can’t stop talking.” Because introverts must overcome so many obstacles in order to make a meaningful, rewarding, and fully realized life, necessarily Ms. Cain and many other introverts—ranging from Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and Eleanor Roosevelt to Google’s Larry Page, Rosa Parks, Dale Carnegie, Warren Buffet, and Charles Darwin—have innate, albeit largely unrecognized fundamental advantages over extroverts.

If you could choose, would you rather your child be an introvert or an extrovert? Conventional society, of course, favors the latter. Practically speaking, while some may be positioned to either extreme end of the spectrum, most everyone is a combination of the two, in different situation, settings, and circumstances favoring more one or the other.

Truth told, to function effectively in contemporary society, one needs to possess the strengths of both. Natural extroverts may do far better if they can master and employ certain of the innate gifts of the introvert. And, the introvert must necessarily develop some of the extroverts’ exuberance. Just as yin is balanced by yang, the successful personal strategy combines and judiciously pairs the two very contrary styles.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking is a book to be read deliberately, slowly, reflected upon, reread, meditated upon, quietly considered. Employing the attributes of introversion to read about the implications of introversion may yield far higher payoffs than the fast skimming, hurry up, soundbyte, quick-read style of the extrovert.

Those extroverts who can will themselves to slow down, to channel their inner introvert in reading Quiet can learn much about themselves, and about the introverts with whom they interact, work with and live with, need to understand and seek to persuade.

It has been said that if you encounter a few or even one worthwhile idea, useful story or statistic, or actionable insight then the lecture or course or book is well worth the time and the investment. By this measure, Quiet is worth a entire library as it is so brimming with insights stacked on evocative stories, substantiated by authoritative research, and supported by telling explanations.

One measure of an extraordinary book is that it prompts the reader to reframe his or her view of the world, to recognize and reaffirm patterns, to consider implications that might not have previously been entertained. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking is this type of extraordinary book.