Last summer, I got really into the Meyers-Brigg personality test. Essentially, it’s a four letter combination that fits you into sixteen different “types.” The first letter is either an I for introvert or E for extrovert. When I took the test, I assumed I would be an introvert, but the reasons why were typical for people who don’t understand what that word means. Introversion is typified as people who are shy, anti-social, and bad at talking to people. But according to both Meyers-Brigg and Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet,” this is all that accurate.
Introversion is the idea that there are people who need to be alone to “recharge” their batteries. So the difference between introversion and extroversion is the question, where do you get your energy? If you are an extrovert, you probably live with a room mate and you feel alone and unfulfilled when you are not around people. Introverts are the exact opposite. They are “in their head” and prefer solace and listening to talking. Extroverts are often times the “life of the party” while introverts tend to be clustered around the outside of a room in deep conversation with one or two people.
The problem is that introverts are often seen as the weaker kind of person. So many seminars and self-help books are about how to meet people, how to socialize better, how to talk to people among others. There is a general disdain for introverts, particularly in this country. You can’t be successful in business or in sales if your an introvert, or so the common ideal goes. But Susan Cain doesn’t believe this. She believes there is a power to introversion that transends convention.
The first part of the book looks at why people are introverts. Cain’s book is well researched with both social and scientific studies. In this section, she talks about how introversion (and extroversion) is actually biological. There was a test done some years ago to introverts where they were lined up and given a squeeze of lemon juice. The introverts of the group experienced a vastly more concentrated reaction than the extroverts. The conclusion of the study was that introverts are more sensitive than their extrovert counter parts. This is not a feelings based sensitivity, but in accordance with our senses (touch, taste, etc.).
Cain moves on to how introverts are seen in the society at large and how they are portrayed negatively. What is of interest is that there is real power to the way an introvert operates. Extroverts are more likely to move without thinking through everything. They are action based and demand results. Introverts are more prone to think through their decisions and weigh the consequences of these decisions. She provides hard evidence coupled with anecdotes that support her position throughout the narrative.
The last section of the book, Cain speaks at length about living with an introvert in relationships and friendships, and gives solutions to mitigating conflict. This was possibly the most practical section of the book. At the work place, Cain postulates that a boss can most effectively utilize his or her introverts by giving them space to think that is away from open spaces typical of an office trying to foster creativity and fresh ideas. In relationships such as girlfriend and boyfriend or husband and wife, both partners need to be open to the other person’s needs. An introvert needs his space while the extrovert needs to go out and be with people. This can cause a lot of tension. Knowing your tendencies and coming to compromises is possibly one of the best things you can do to avoid conflict. The last section is on parenting. Understanding if your child is an introvert and what to do if they are is of concern. Our school systems, as well as our work and our culture as a whole, is built on top of a discussion based, extrovert world. Introverts may be seen as not participating and may lose points in school because of their introversion. Some parents are also alarmed because their child is perceived as “anti-social.” Again, these should not be alarms for concern. Understanding and using your child’s introversion can actually be more helpful than harmful.
In all, I think this is a really interesting book. It is good for the extrovert who doesn’t understand the introvert and good for the introvert who doesn’t understand themselves.