Posted August 1, 2013 by Yakima Melton 

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

One of three people is an introvert according to the research of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking; however, the ideal in America today is an extrovert who is "gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight." Quiet shows how dramatically and unknowingly we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in the process.

The book is divided into four distinct sections that provide an intellectual journey flowing from the Harvard Business School, to a Tony Robbins seminar, and to an evangelical mega-church. The book is full of researched case studies as well as insightful interviews and site visits conducted by Cain in which she charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects.

Throughout the book, Cain highlights (and disputes) the many myths about introverts, making a point first to distinguish between those who are shy and those who are introverts. The shy person may fear social disapproval, while the introvert simply prefers environments that are free of over-stimulation. A good portion of the book’s in-depth research focuses on the differences between extroverts and introverts. Extroverts get energized by meeting people. Introverts need quiet time to recharge after a day of meeting people. Introverts need less of outside stimulation to function well, be it lesser number of people or quieter workplaces. Extroverts prefer to be with more people as they find it energizing. Extroverts tackle assignments quickly and make fast decisions while introverts have higher powers of concentration and work slowly and deliberately. Even in social styles, introverts express themselves better in writing than talking. Introverts will indulge in small talk after they have discussed something in-depth while extroverts actually start with the small talk.

The author also coins the term "groupthink" to describe a new emphasis in businesses and schools to emphasize small group activity over individuality and brainstorming/collaboration over individual effort. In all of this, introverts are undervalued and extroverts over-prized. Quiet teaches us that we don’t need giant personalities to transform institutions. This is particularly important in the area of student affairs, where the most extroverted and animated staff member is often the most celebrated and acknowledged.

But the power of the introvert is undeniable according to Cain, as she cites the numerous contributions that introverts make to our organizations. In addition to being strong listeners and problem-solvers, introverted leaders have the ability to be more effective with proactive employees or initiative takers. They hear and implement new suggestions because they have a natural inclination to listen to others and possess a lack of interest in dominating social situations. Having benefited from the talents of their followers, introverts are likely to continue to motivate them to be even more proactive, creating a virtuous circle of proactivity.

Quiet
also challenges readers to think about the relationship between culture and the extrovert ideal, with chapters examining a cross-cultural look at Western culture which is organized around the individual. In contrast, most Eastern cultures view individuals as part of a greater whole, where value is placed on harmony within the group. While certain parts of this chapter are debatable and some would argue controversial, Cain provides an important insight into the way students from Eastern countries learn and relate to their Western counterparts which could be very useful for higher education professionals who work with members of this constituency.

One of the main points made by Cain that I appreciated the most was that introversion is not something to be cured or fixed. It is a temperament. She encourages introverts to stop viewing their personality trait as defective and provides manageable advice that includes situating themselves in environments favorable to their own personality  to feel more energetic and fulfilled. Introverts would also be better served to trust their gut and share their ideas as powerfully as they can by honoring their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by the prevailing norms.

Being a self-described introvert myself, who ironically has a close circle of extroverted friends and colleagues (apparently a common occurrence among introverts), I took many lessons from Quiet. As we look around our offices and campuses, we’re sure to identify at least a handful of introverts. They don’t always jump for joy during team bonding events, feel the need to secure the most vocal air time at meetings, or feel the need to develop a committee comprised of multiple people for every project. Cain shows that an introvert’s need for solitude can actually be a catalyst to innovation. If what Cain states is true and solitude is an important key to creativity, then this part of the introvert should be embraced. This is not to say that collaboration has no value or benefit. The key to collaboration suggested by Cain is to refine it where leadership and other tasks are divided according to natural strengths and temperaments. The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts as well as many leadership structures.

There were few things that I did not enjoy or appreciate about Cain’s work. The book is superbly researched, well written, and the personal self-reflections provided by the author allow the reader to relate to the material she presents on a personal level as well. This is an excellent read for supervisors (particularly those who are extroverted) who need to learn or revisit how to work with their introverted followers. They just may gain a better understanding of their introverted staff members and how to engage them while at the same time allowing them to thrive in a manner that works best for them, even if this manner is completely contradictory to the norm of the office. Introverts would also find benefit from this work as they continue to find and define their own voice, a task considered quite daunting “in a world that can’t stop talking.”

Yakima Melton

Yakima Melton is the Assistant Director, Livingston Student Center at Rutgers University.

Originally from Buffalo, NY, Yakima has been at the College of New Jersey since 2009. Yakima has responsibilities in assisting with the daily operations of the Student Center, in addition to serving as an event liaison for student groups and supervising a team of student employees. She is also a staff adviser to two student organizations.

Comments

From one introvert to another, bravo Yakima! I will put this book on my list of must reads. I am so glad that you pointed out being shy versus being introverted as people frequently associate one with the other. I can certainly put myself out there, but I thrive in the small group environment and need that solitude to often recharge from large events.
Giancarlo Brugnolo
giancarlo@temple.edu
Comment posted 08/05/2013 9:36 AM
Thanks for this review. I've gone back and forth about reading this book since a friend of mine had trouble finishing it. I'm most intrigued by the statement "She encourages introverts to stop viewing their personality trait as defective and provides manageable advice that includes situating themselves in environments favorable to their own personality to feel more energetic and fulfilled." As an introvert I oftentimes wonder, "did I choose the right profession?" After reading your review I realize it is not about the right profession. Rather it is about the environment and more specifically experiences. One can certainly craft experiences in most any environment that meet their individual needs. Thank you for sharing your review Yakima!
Comment posted 08/07/2013 5:01 PM
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