Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Monday, April 9, 2012

Title: Quiet
Subtitle: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Pages: 271 (+ notes)
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (Random House)
Pub. Date: January 24, 2012

With a few exceptions, I consider myself the quintessential introvert.  It's a characteristic I've learned to understand about myself over the years and have finally come to accept. But it wasn't easy, especially because in our culture it's considered a weakness and often just "weird". In Quiet, Susan Cain does a thorough and fantastic job of fleshing out the different components of the introverted personality, how this fits (and doesn't fit) into our world, and how this differs from (or is similar to) shyness and sensitivity.

It's hard to believe that the content of this book is under 300 pages because there was such a large amount of research and information provided in this book. While the topic was fascinating, I would probably only recommend this to those who are already intrigued by this topic. The large amount of research discussed might turn away readers who have little investment in the topic. Otherwise, however, I would highly recommend this book.

For this review, I'm going to point out some various parts that I related to. Right from the beginning on page 4., Cain describes a common struggle for introverted individuals, one that I wholly relate to.
Introversion--along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness--is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
She follows it up be describing how our country moved from a culture of character to a culture of personality; there was a time when a person's character -- for example, the ways in which a person reacts to a situation and doesn't necessarily ask for credit -- was valued. Now, however, the gregarious people-person personality is valued more than a person's character. Cain quotes author, Guy Kawasaki, when he tweeted, "You may find this hard to believe, but I am an introvert. I have a 'role' to play, but I fundamentally am a loner." (p. 63). This reminded me of pretty much every job I've ever had in which I have had a "role" to play. I wanted to include one experience of this. In college, I waited tables at a couple well-known restaurants. I noticed a certain quality in some of the servers who made more money than me, so I experimented. I played the role of a more extroverted, almost brash, person and found that my tips were always higher. I concluded my non-scientific experiment by noting that people preferred the outgoing personality even if the service was the same. But, of course, I was not able to keep up that type of personality because it took so much energy out of me!

A few pages later, Cain talks about this personality style and the church. One example is the routine, in church, of having to greet others near the beginning of the service -- turn to your neighbor, shake hands, etc. I strongly dislike this part and loved that it was included in the book. There's also inclusion about how evangelicalism values extroversion -- "if you don't love Jesus out loud, it must not be real love." (p. 69).

Cain argues that group work, which our schools and companies value and force upon students and employees, can actually be counterproductive. There is something to be said about working alone, engaging in what is referred to as "Deliberate Practice".
"Deliberate practice is best conducted alone for several reasons. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated. But most important, it involves working on the task that's most challenging to you personally. Only when you're alone, [Ericsson says], can you 'go directly to the part that's challenging to you. If you want to improve what you're doing, you have to be the one who generates the move. Imagine a group class--you're the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time."

I related to this for sure... I don't know if I ever joined a study group when I was in college (undergrad or graduate). I regretted that I missed out on the social interaction, but studying in a group has always been something I was so not interested in... unless it was me and a friend in the same room each studying our own subjects. And like the deliberate practice points out, I considered group study a waste of my time because how would the group know what I needed to work on the most? I've always worked best on my own.

Quiet also contains a large amount of information specifically about how the brain works. In fact, studies have shown that even infants show specific characteristics that can identify if they will be introverted or extroverted. What I found really fascinating was the way in which we can utilize other parts of our brain to overcome that emotional reaction that starts in our amygdala. But when we're stressed or that other part of our brain has other things to focus on, we are less able to hide the amygdalic reaction.

Anyway, there is so much more in this book. There's even a section on the Asian culture and its "soft power", or the way in which that culture differs from the western culture as it pertains to the introvert/extrovert spectrum. There is so much to think or talk about after reading this. Overall, Quiet shows how introversion is normal, how our brain processes contribute to it, the strengths of introversion (and how it complements extroversion), and the consequences of living in a culture that discredits it. But most of all, Quiet is a testament to introverted individuals and is the acknowledgement that there is nothing wrong with having an introverted personality.


Heather @ Book Addiction said...

Hmm, this does sound interesting. I used to be an extreme introvert, incredibly shy, even suffered from social anxiety. I still would consider myself an introvert, but I've gotten a lot better at "playing the role" as you call it, to the point that now it's almost natural when I'm in a social setting or at my job to act more extroverted than I really would like to be. I think the whole social thing is an aquired skill for some of us, something for me personally that became easier with practice. But if I had to choose between spending time with a large group or just hanging out at home with my hubby, I would take staying home at least 90% of the time!

Zibilee said...

Though I am talkative and animated in social settings, and people would probably consider me an extrovert, I am much more comfortable being quiet and alone. I think I also play a role when it comes to interacting with people, and would consider myself an introvert. I can relate to you when you say that being extroverted takes a lot out of you. Often, when I have had a very social week (like this last week at church) I need to retreat and recharge myself and just be quiet for a few days.

I bought this book for me and my husband to listen to on audio. He is a very big introvert, as are our children. I would have to say that I am the most social one in the house, but it comes at a price, you know what I mean?

There are some people who are just naturally extroverted, and I always admire them for their ability to be "on" all the time, but for me that just doesn't work.

Fantastic review today. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one. I can't wait to see what I think of it as well.

softdrink said...

When I was a teacher I learned how to "play a role." People always think teachers are naturally outgoing and love to be in front of a crowd. Hah! I always describe myself as an introvert, just because I prefer to be quiet. I have this book on my shelf and am looking forward to reading it, especially after reading your thoughts on the book!

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I confess...I never joined a study group either...I was never interested in it.

Jenners said...

I've been hearing good things about this book. I think I am an introvert as too much socializing leaves me drained. I need lots of quiet and alone time to recharge.

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