Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why shouldn't quiet be strong? And what else can quiet do that we don't give it credit for?

I finally got around to reading Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I wanted to learn more about introverts and extroverts. I was intrigued by the idea of outgoing introverts and shy extroverts. I'd seen a number of positive reviews and it's one of those books I kept seeing people reading on the subway, so it seemed like a good choice.

The book opens with a story about a lawyer named Laura. Laura is an introvert and as a typical introvert, she isn't comfortable in confrontational situations. But as a lawyer she's sometimes has to deal with these. She's leading a negotiation for her client and the lawyer she's up against is confrontational. She's loud, she makes demands, and she won't back down. At first Laura thinks she can't do this, but then she remembers her strengths and she's able to remain calm and she's well-prepared, while the other side is blustering and arrogant (and probably kind of stupid, though this is only implied).  Eventually they're able to come to an agreement and everyone is super impressed with Laura. Her clients are very happy with her, the opposing lawyer is so impressed she offers her a job with her firm, and the other clients decided Laura was the best lawyer ever and want HER firm to represent them. See how great introverts are? Then, in a Shymalanian twist, the Laura in this story is actually Susan Cain, author of the book. WHAAAA? I hear you saying. And then I eye-rolled hard. It's not that I disbelieve her (though I'm a bit skeptical with how awesome everyone thought Laura/Susan was) or that this is so untrue cos no one would think this of an introvert. I think it could happen and I do believe an introvert could be powerful and the best person for this job. But maybe if she started it saying this was a story about her. Or if she just kept calling the person Laura and never told me it was her. Whatever the case, that reveal at the end of the intro sort of colored the rest of my reading. Well that, and the extrovert hate.

I think she does a good job pointing out the strengths introverts have, even when the assumption is these features are weaknesses. It talks about how to get the most out of introverted employees, how to best teach introverted students, what you're missing by only working with extroverts, and how even some people you may think are extroverts are actually introverts that have learned to fake it. There are a lot of interesting points, she quotes a lot of studies, and she brings up points that I hadn't considered before. Like the idea that not all introverts are shy (though many are) or that all extroverts are outgoing (though again, many are). She looks at how the emphasis on extroversion is a Western culture thing and with most Eastern cultures the opposite is true, and those that are quiet are more highly thought of.

The focus is on introverts in the US, a society she notes is the most extroverted. Or at least places the most value on extroverts. There are a few mentions of extroversion in Europe and a little bit about introversion in China, although it's told through stories of people that now live in the US.

I think there are a lot of good points about how important it is to not see introversion as a problem to be corrected but just a personality type and how introverts are needed. This is really an introvert's manifesto. And because of this, extroverts are sort of given the short stick. I didn't assume there would be a lot about extroverts, because why should there be. I didn't expect there to be so much focus on how extroverts are shallow, materialistic, and stupid. OK, she didn't come out and call extroverts stupid (though materialistic and shallow do come up multiple times). She just talks about how introverts are "deep thinkers" and how they really pay attention and prepare for things. She doesn't say extroverts don't do this, but the implication is there. I get this is coming from point where we assume extroverts are the awesomest* so there is no need to point out the good things extroverts bring to the table. Therefore she can just focus on the negative aspects. Except this comes off at times as a bit extrovert bashing. I don't think this needs to be a love note to extroverts as it is to introverts, but I think a little more about the positive things both types of people bring to the table would have been nice.**

Oh there was also another bit that irked me. This wasn't Cain, but a study she discussed where a scientist Kagan was testing how babies reacted to different stimuli and how highly reactive infants tended to be more sensitive and introverted, while those that didn't react tended to be more outgoing as adults. This part is fine. The next part, about how Kagan said that his findings even allowed him to identify physical features of introverts vs extroverts and then says introverts were more likely to have blue eyes. Which, I guess, if the only people you're including in your study are white people. Though at least Cain says these physical attribute findings are speculative, but she doesn't point out that they cut out non-white people.

I'm not sure where I stand on the introvert/extrovert scale. Whenever I take those Myers-Briggs personality tests I get a different answer. Probably because I only ever take them online to see which Harry Potter character I'm most like (I apparently fall somewhere between Neville and Ginny, with some Snape thrown in) so I realize this isn't the most scientifically accurate way to see what my personality is, but there you go. I guess I'm somewhere in the middle. I honestly don't mind public speaking all that much, but I'm not great if I got to parties or something where I don't know a lot of people. I stay quite and will talk to one or two people. Given the choice I tend to prefer being with people (I know) than being on my own, but I also hate confrontation. I make Boyfriend+ do most of the talking when we go to look at wedding vendors.

Overall I thought this book was interested, but I would have preferred if it talked a little bit less about all of the awful things extroverts are and all the amazing features introverts have. Maybe something a bit more balanced. But overall it's an interesting read and I do hope this helps people realize the power of introverts.

Oh also, you should check out this video from PBS Idea Channel about introverts. And then you should check out all of the other PBS Idea Channel videos because they're pretty great.

*There are so many words Blogger doesn't recognize as real. Awesomest, however, is acceptable.
**I should point out here that in Laura's review (which is great and you should check out) she got the feeling more that Cain was saying extroverts and introverts are both great and work well together. So I could have just be overly sensitive to this. For reasons I don't really know, since I can't say I think of myself as that extroverted, but there you go. Also I think she may have called me racist for thinking this. THANKS A LOT, LAURA.

Title quote from page 2

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Broadway Books, 2013.