Quiet by Susan Cain

When I first saw some promotion for the book Quiet by Susan Cain I was cautiously optimistic.  The subtitle, “The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking” was intriguing.  As an introvert and as someone who has taught on personality differences and communication I hoped that this would be more than a bit of fluff.

I was pleased to see that the book sparked so much interest and I really enjoyed Cain’s talk at TED.  However, I held back on reading the book because, well, 6 months of unemployment is hard on the pocketbook.  I would read it eventually.

Then I started my new job and discovered that my boss is an introvert.  Then that same boss mentioned Quiet three times in a two week period and particularly in regards to management style.  Clearly, reading this book went up my list of priorities, so I bought it.

I loved this book.  While I initially bought it to understand what my boss was reading and agreeing with (and it was very useful on that front), I found it tremendously helpful for me.  I’ve known I was an introvert for years, but I didn’t know about highly sensitive people (which I clearly am – watch me cringe when a phone rings).  And I hadn’t given much thought to the way introverts have been pushed out of so many mainstream activities.  I just assumed you adapted.  I hadn’t given any thought to how the evangelical church forces people to ‘act extroverted’ and how some other areas of the church are more comfortable with a contemplative model.  Given that I had just been put on a church leadership development team, the book couldn’t have come at a better time.

The book also made me think a lot about how I (and others) have made that adaption to an extroverted world.  I remember being in junior high (a hellish environment for anyone, let alone an introvert) and deciding that I wanted to be a journalist.  Someone pointed out to me that you couldn’t be a journalist if you were afraid to talk to people.  So I, in my usual goal oriented way, joined the school debating club and signed up for every public speaking opportunity available.  I learned to speak well in public.  I learned to speak off the top of my head.  I learned to research carefully and form a well thought out argument.  And I found out that there was a whole other personality lurking under my skin that I could pull out when I was safely on a stage and behind a microphone.  That personality was a great speaker, able to engage people, make eye contact and communicate a message.

What was interesting to me as I read the book was that developing those abilities was instinctive to me.  I knew what I needed to do to succeed and I did it.  But then that survival tactic masked some of my natural introversion.  No, I don’t shy away from public speaking opportunities.  No, I’m not afraid to share an opinion.  I love to teach and be at the front of a classroom.  However, I really am an extreme introvert and each time I do those things there is a cost in terms of energy.

As an introvert I found this book extremely helpful.  It helped me understand myself and why I do things the way I do.  It also helped me understand others around me, particularly those who did not go to such extreme measures to develop a mask of extroversion.

I really think that extroverts would enjoy this book as well.  It gives a lot of insight into you introverted kids, neighbors, family members, spouses, co-workers and friends.  It will help you as you communicate with people that may be a mystery to you.  And it will help you create situations where people who aren’t like you are able to be comfortable.

I think every teacher, pastor, friend, parent….  hmmmm, this is a long list.  I think everyone would benefit from reading this book and I think an honest discussion is necessary.  Why must the pendulum swing from quiet reading in schools to big group projects?  Why do people assume open plan offices are a good idea?  Why do we all assume that people aren’t like us are flawed?  How can we create learning, working, worshiping, social and family environments that are supportive to both introverts and extroverts?

Read the book.  Let me know what you think?

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