Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Sep 19, 2012

Picture this: It is the first night of a weekend family reunion. Mike's older sister has just turned on some music, and its intoxicating beat jumps from the speakers. Immediately family members are drawn to the floor, twisting and sliding and leaping in the sort of carefree abandon that happens when you're happy and with the people you love best. There's a boys vs. girls dance competition; soon after, everyone takes a turn performing a short solo in the center of the circle; that is followed by a rousing game of Follow the Leader. Everyone is breathless and laughing. The energy in the room is tangible. Even I can feel it...from my comfortable spot on the couch.

Why on earth was I sitting on the couch?!?! What about the bouncing and jumping and whirling? How could I possibly contain myself?

Turns out...it's not that hard, if you're an introvert like me.

With that story as background, I guess you can see why I loved Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Recently I was talking to my mother-in-law and a couple of sisters-in-law (I think it may have eve: been the same night as the dance party). I mentioned this book and also that I was a true-blue, through-and-through introvert. Immediately, my mother-in-law rushed to my defense: "Oh, no, Amy! That is not true. You are definitely not an introvert!"

But I am. And listening to this book not only helped me see myself a little more honestly but also be content with what I saw.

The word "introvert" definitely has some negative connotations. Introverts are often seen as hermits, social outcasts, painfully quiet, and awkwardly reclusive. So I guess I should take it as a compliment that my mother-in-law was so adamant against me pinning such a label on myself.  But Susan Cain defined introverts as those who are serious and sensitive (check); work slowly and deliberately (check); dislike small talk but enjoy deep discussions (check); recharge themselves by spending quiet time alone (check).

In the introduction, Cain gave a 20-question quiz to determine your own level of...um...introvertedness. It fit me to a T. (And I laughed out loud when one of the questions was, "I often let calls go through to voice mail." Yes! All the time. I think it struck me as funny because one of my good friends, who is an extrovert, can't believe that I can just let a call go without finding out what it was about.)

So now that I've spent all this time establishing the fact that I am an introvert, what was the book actually about? First she discussed "the extrovert idea," how we live in a society that really caters to the extroverts...from playtime at preschool to open-area work spaces and team projects. I thought it was so interesting to read her research about collaboration and how so many companies insist on working together as a group, but it often decreases productivity. Second, she talked about the nature of introverts: how much of our personality is set in stone? Can an introvert become an extrovert? (Answer: no, but he can do a superb job of faking it.) And finally, if you're an introvert, when should you push yourself, and when should you embrace who you are?

Overall, I thought it was very well-researched. It had an almost Malcolm Gladwell feel to it. She really looked at introverts from every angle. It's one of those books that probably everyone should read because even if you're not an introvert, you know plenty. Fair warning though: Susan Cain is an introvert herself and therefore paints introverts in a very favorable light, sometimes to the disadvantage of the extrovert. This is great for those of us who are introverts, but if you're an extrovert, it might make you seethe a little.

One of the parts of the book that really spoke to me was when she spoke about "restorative niches"--a time and a place where you can relax, take a breath, and regroup your thoughts and feelings before reentering the world. Cain mentioned how important it is for introverts to schedule a restorative niche into their day...especially if they are working in an extroverted environment. You might think that my job as a stay-at-home mom would just be one big restorative niche. But to that I would say, HA! The boys' nap time is practically sacred to me, and if one of them doesn't take a nap, I find myself much more impatient and on edge. Now, I know why...that nap time is my personal restorative niche, a time for me to enjoy the quiet stillness of my house and refocus for the rest of the day.

Occasionally, I felt like the research she cited contradicted itself a bit (I guess that's the nature of research). For example, early in the book, she talked about introverts' sensitive natures and how they can often read a crowd and notice the interest level of an audience and then tweak their own facial expressions, speech, etc. to match the dynamics of the room. But then later on, she explained a study where introverts and extroverts talked on the phone, but in this case, it was the extroverts that (at least in the beginning) read the conversation correctly. Anyway, I felt like some of this conflict in research, while maybe giving a more honest view, actually weakened some of her points.

So let's go back to the dance party: Was I on the couch for the whole evening? No. There were times when I pushed myself onto the floor and other times when I succumbed to a little reckless abandon of my own. As an introvert, I've learned that if I don't push myself a little, I sometimes miss out on some things that I actually will enjoy. But for most of the time, I was happily content on the couch, watching Mike's sisters gracefully and beautifully improvise. It was so much fun. And really, the only thing that made it not fun was the worry that everyone was wondering why I wasn't on the floor making up my own dance moves. In a room full of extroverts, I worried that they'd feel a need to encourage, invite, and include me when I really was just happiest watching from the sidelines.

But that's why this book was so good for me...it validated my personality and made me realize that, yes, I am more comfortable dancing in the kitchen by myself than amidst a large group of people, but that doesn't mean that I dance any less joyfully.


  1. Yes! You hit on what is bothering me so. I am definitely an introvert as well, but I am an odd introvert. I am voluble and have often been called "loud," but in all the other social connective pieces, I am introverted to my core. That said, I remain concerned at how easily she classifies introverts as "cerebral" or "thinkers" (it could be a drinking game, in fact) and uses much less positive words to describe extroverts. One feels compelled to conclude she thinks extroverts are stupid.

  2. This doesn't apply to me at alll. But I have always secretly wished I was introverted. Great review. I love that it made such an impression on you.

  3. If we had been there that night, I would have been on the couch by you. I think I'm a little introvertish myself. Maybe I'll have to read the book!

  4. I guess I would call myself an extroverted. I’m the one who usually gets the conversation going among groups of strangers at parties. It’s hard-work and extremely energy-consuming (especially during work functions). During those occasions, when the crowed is particularly though, I can’t help but envy the introverts, who hang back, listen, and observe (and usually don’t make my job any easier :P). My boyfriend thinks I’m strange because I always take on the responsibility to be the social-smoother and he’s right, there is something strangely compulsive about it.

    Anywhoo, all this to say that I’ve always been curious about these social interactions, so this book seems just the thing. Thanks for flagging.

    1. Based on your description, I'd say you sound more like an introvert but you've learned to act extroverted in certain situations. According to this book, in social situations, extroverts will be energized by all of the social interactions, whereas introverts will feel drained, or as you said, feel like it's hard work and energy-consuming. It's definitely an interesting topic and one that I feel has been misrepresented and misinterpreted for many years. Thanks for coming by!!


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