Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain)

200px-QuietBookCoverAt least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams.  Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so.  This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.

— Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”

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Being an introvert, or quiet, was one of my biggest insecurities when I was a teenager ’til I reached my twenties.  In elementary, I remember I would sit so behaved with my bag on my lap and just listened to teachers.  One teacher commended my behavior that she asked me to stand up in front of the class, gave me a stick, and instructed me to hit my male classmate with it who was misbehaving.  What I did was I just made a light touch to his head with the long stick I was holding.  That’s all I could remember.  I am saying this because while my being quiet in elementary was accepted by my teacher, or by my classmates because I did not experience hostility at all, it was in high school to college and then when I work in an office did I meet some people who are antagonistic towards my quiet behavior, throwing negative remarks my way as if that would encourage me to change my ways.  It did not.  It encouraged me more to hide under my shell.  There were times that I cried in my private moment.  I  pitied myself, that maybe there really was something wrong with me.  And because of this, I came to envy those who are gregarious, talkative, loud, and flamboyant.  Why can’t I be like them, I asked myself.

I don’t know what happened but after working in so many companies, meeting different kinds of people and bosses, after going through hell and back, I’ve learned to become assertive.  I now initiate conversation with a stranger.  I still consider myself an introvert because I get anxiety attack when I’m in a party.  But I no longer cry in my private moment just because I am an introvert and somebody has a problem with it.  Because you know what, I’ve realized that those “gregarious, talkative, loud, and flamboyant” people that I envied before are also annoying people.  In this life, it’s just a matter of choosing the right people to surround yourself with, it’s just a matter of choosing the people who will accept you for who you are. From being passive and quiet, I don’t know what happened but during  certain “events,” I can be confrontational and combative as opposed to my younger self where I would cry privately because of self-pity.  I’ve learned that confronting your enemy is the only way out.

That is why I got so interested when I saw this book by Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, from the package that my older brother sent from abroad.  Though I strongly believe that introverts are talented and gifted just as extroverts are audacious and expressive, I got curious with the other details.

In this book, I met Mike Wei, an Asian-American studying in Stanford University.

“My dorm has four Asians in it, out of fifty kids. So I feel more comfortable around them. There’s this one guy called Brian, and he’s pretty quiet. I can tell he has that Asian quality where you’re kind of shy, and I feel comfortable around him for that reason. I feel like I can be myself around him. I don’t have to do something just to look cool, whereas around a big group of people that aren’t Asian or are just really loud, I feel like I have to play a role.”

Susan Cain has this to share: “Mike told me about a freshman icebreaking event he’d participated in, a scavenger hunt in San Francisco that was supposed to encourage students to step out of their comfort zones. Mike was the only Asian assigned to a rowdy group, some of whom streaked naked down a San Francisco street and cross-dressed in a local department store during the hunt. One girl went to a Victoria’s Secret display and stripped down to her underwear. As Mike recounted these details, I thought he was going to tell me that his group had been over the top, inappropriate. But he wasn’t critical of the other students. He was critical of himself.”

“When people do things like that, there’s a moment where I feel uncomfortable with it. It shows my own limits. Sometimes I feel like they’re better than I am,” confesses Mike.

Susan Cain adds: “Mike was getting similar messages from his professors. A few weeks after the orientation event, his freshman adviser—a professor at Stanford’s medical school—invited a group of students to her house. Mike hoped to make a good impression, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. The other students seemed to have no problem joking around and asking intelligent questions. ‘Mike you were so loud today,’ the professor teased him when finally he said good-bye. ‘You just blew me away.’ He left her house feeling bad about himself. ‘People who don’t talk are seen as weak or lacking,’ he concluded ruefully.”

But Jon Berghoff, an introvert but a successful sales manager thinks otherwise: “A lot of people believe that selling requires being a fast talker, or knowing how to use charisma to persuade. Those things do require an extroverted way of communicating. But in sales there’s a truism that ‘we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionately.’ I believe that what makes someone really good at selling or consulting—the number one thing is they’ve got to really listen well. When I look at the top salespeople in my organization, none of those extroverted qualities are the key to their success.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking took five years for the author to finish. Thank you Ms. Susan Cain.  I love your chapter on “When Should You Act More Extroverted Than You Really Are.” That’s chapter 9.

Susan Cain shares: “You might wonder how a strong introvert like Professor Little manages to speak in public so effectively. The answer, he says, is simple, and it has to do with a new field of psychology that he created almost singlehandedly, called Free Trait Theory. Little believes that fixed traits and free traits coexist. According to a Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits—introversion, for example—but we can and do act out of our character in the service of ‘core personal projects.’

“In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly. Free Trait Theory explains why an introvert might throw his extroverted wife a surprise party or join the PTA at his daughter’s school. It explains how it’s possible for an extroverted scientist to behave with reserve in her laboratory, for an agreeable person to act hard-nosed during a business negotiation, and for a cantankerous uncle to treat his niece tenderly when he takes her out for ice cream. As these examples suggest, Free Trait Theory applies in many different contexts, but it’s especially relevant for introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal.”

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