“Quiet” by Susan Cain is subtitled “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. Cain identifies as an introvert, which she defines as someone who prefers living, socialising and working in quiet environments with little sensory stimulation (e.g. noise, lights, bright colours, lots of people talking etc) and can become stressed and unproductive if those needs aren’t met. The introversion-extroversion facet of personality was first described by Carl Jung, see here for more information and descriptions. Cain writes as an American, but the ideas in this book can be applied here in the UK.
As well as reflection on her own experiences, Cain met numerous experts, introverts, extroverts, university staff, employers and psychologists. She backs up her assertions with science, providing a huge list of references. This is not a ‘fluffy’ book!
Cain believes that the world is set up for extroverts (also sometimes spelled ‘extraverts’). We are bombarded with sensory stimulation and are pushed to ‘sell ourselves’ louder and more boldly than ever before. Schools and workplaces particularly are arranged to encourage big group spaces and group work. Cain believes this is great for extroverts but a nightmare for introverts – and everyone misses out as a result. Introverts can end up overwhelmed, stressed out, and unheard.
In Cain’s opinion, introversion is often pathologised – which means that it is made out to be some kind of illness, or a sign that something is ‘wrong’ with you. This is incorrect! Introversion and extroversion are points on two ends of a spectrum of human behaviour and experience. Neither is ‘wrong’. In her book, Cain shows that introversion is associated with skills and strengths that are easy to overlook – not only by extroverts but by introverts themselves. She suggests various practical ways for introverts, and their friends/relatives/loved ones/bosses/coworkers, to make the most of these skills for the benefit of everyone.
Does that mean Cain dislikes extroverts, and wants everything set up for introverts? No, definitely not! The book is very clear that both extroverts and introverts have valuable skills that complement each other. Both can learn from the other, and balance is key. However, Cain also suggests that introverts may need to occasionally put on an extrovert ‘persona’ occasionally to get things done. She also suggests ways for extroverts to help their introverts friends, loved-ones and colleagues to shine.
I found this book very interesting, and useful. It balances helping introverts to be more accepting of themselves and less self-critical, with advice on how to get on in this world and meet goals. Cain’s advice can help introverts to achieve what they want, without becoming someone they are not.