Quiet takes an in-depth look at introversion in an extroverted world, and how we can better understand the way these two personality types work. Susan Cain has spent years researching and learning about what makes introverts tick. For me, as someone who would describe themselves as introverted before reading this book and even more so after, it offered insights into the reasons behind the way I go about things. For example:
Introversion has physiological sources, as well as environmental. Introverts and extroverts not only react to things in different ways, but perceive the world in different ways. The amygdala, a set of neurons deep in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, reacts to stimuli differently. The result of this causes two types of people: high-reactive (introverts) and low-reactive (extroverts). Say you’re at a party. A high-reactive person literally feels overwhelmed and drained by the noise, people and music playing. Trying to hold conversations with multiple people, crack jokes and socialize is psychologically taxing for this person, and you are much more likely to find them in a quiet corner or outside, talking with one or two others. On the flip side, a low-reactive amygdala thrives on that same noise, people and music. They feel bored or the need to do something if things slow down. They will be in the middle of the room, pouring drinks and telling stories until 3 a.m.
These differences play out in the workplace as well. Extroverts are more vocal leaders, better at getting a group of people motivated behind a common cause. Introverts are equally capable of leading, but delegate tasks better and allow for self-motivated workers to flourish. Extroverts do well in think-tank activities; introverts prefer working solo and secluded. Cain warns, however, that more and more workplaces (and schools for that matter) promote extrovert ideals. Open floor plans, large meetings, employee retreats and group brainstorming sessions are all examples. There is also the danger of an introvert not receiving a promotion or raise because their extroverted peers appear to be doing better, or are more adept at “playing office politics” for that reward. This has dangers. Cain references the economic crash of 2008 as a perfect example. Too many extroverted, risk-taking, act-first-ask-later investors and too few cautious, inquisitive, risk-assessing people in position to make a difference. If you’ve seen The Big Short, Christian Bale’s character is the quintessential introvert.
But these traits aren’t set in stone. Of course both introverts and extroverts can share traits of the others. Moreover introverts, because of their high-reactive nature, are able to pick up subtle clues about how their behavior negatively affects others and then change that action. In short, introverts are better at learning how to “play extrovert.” So an introvert at that same party could be able to learn to bounce around, hosting conversation and sharing jokes with the room … but they would need to go home early and recharge the next day with a book and some tea.
I really enjoyed this book. It offered new insight into not only the what but the why and how of introversion. Cain has extensive knowledge and a concise writing style that is easy to pick up and understand. If you’re an introvert I recommend this to better understand yourself and get tips that may change your perception of the outside world. If you’re an extrovert I recommend it to learn about yourself as well, but also to have a better understanding of the introverts around you. You will encounter both types of people every day, everywhere. It can’t hurt to know who you’re talking to.
Thank you for reading,