Quiet by Susan Cain is not just for introverts.
Of course, if you’re an introvert and want to better understand why you are wired the way you are, how to navigate certain social situations, and how to uncover your hidden strengths, then you should read this book.
But I would also recommend the book to extroverts who want to better understand the introverted people in their lives.
In fact, Quiet may be just as eye-opening to an extroverted spouse with an introverted partner, an extroverted parent to an introverted child, or an extroverted boss to an introverted employee.
It’s clear that a ton of research went into this book.
The message that introverts are highly undervalued in many arenas such as prestigious business schools and top companies is a bold one. But Susan not only backs this up with real examples, she takes it a step further and demonstrates how this ultimately proves to be a disadvantage to these institutions.
The breadth and depth of knowledge that Susan communicates on the subject of introversion is incredible. But what’s even more impressive is that she communicates it in a way that makes the introverted reader feel understood and inspired to take action.
The storytelling is what makes the book great.
Susan’s ability to craft these gripping mini-tales to set the context for each interview and encounter is what I enjoyed the most.
Susan also brings in her own personal stories about her previous cutthroat career in law, attending a Tony Robbins seminar, and taking a public speaking course. These stories add even more flavor to the book and allow all readers to view these extrovert-oriented situations through the lens of an introvert.
The following are 10 of my favorite quotes and key takeaways from the book.
The whole book was excellent, but these were the passages that resonated the most with me. My commentary follows each quote.
Introverts and shyness:
Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.
This is important because many people think that shyness and introversion are the same thing. But the fact is that introverts can be extremely outgoing in certain situations that stimulate them. It all depends on context.
Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the ‘real me’ online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions. They welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.
This struck a chord with me because I think it describes me (and many other bloggers) dead on.
I am a very private person by nature.
My parents know this. Those closest to me know it as well. It was very surprising to my mom that I started writing online when I rarely share anything personal with anyone in real life.
The truth is a part of me is still terrified that someone I know will come across my writing. I’m more comfortable in a lot of ways sharing this type of information with strangers than I am with people I know.
Introverts and learning environment:
Indeed, excessive stimulation seems to impede learning: a recent study found that people learn better after a quiet stroll through the woods than after a noisy walk down a city street. Another study, of 38,000 knowledge workers across different sectors, found that the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity.
This was the first instance I came across of an author attempting to knock the act of multitasking off its undeserved pedestal. Since then, a lot more has been written about this.
People are much more engaged and productive when they achieve a flow state and become one with their task. This cannot be done when they are doing ten things at once. All multitasking does is marginalize all the activities that are being multitasked.
Introverts and genetics:
None of these studies is perfect, but the results have consistently suggested that introversion and extroversion, like other major personality traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness, are about 40 to 50 percent heritable.
Another common misconception about introversion is that it is 100% genetic.
Genetics play a significant role in determining introversion vs. extroversion, for sure. But there is also a component that comes from environment and life experiences.
Introverts and delayed gratification:
Introverts also seem to be better than extroverts at delaying gratification, a crucial life skill associated with everything from higher SAT scores and income to lower body mass index.
Would you rather have $100 now or $200 in six months?
If you chose the $200 then you are delaying gratification. Susan identifies this as a “crucial life skill” which I agree with, although I think it can also be an Achilles heel for introverts to some degree.
We need to learn to make smart decisions that will benefit us in the long-term, but not at the expense of delaying taking action until we have every micro detail figured out. This is definitely something I struggle with as an ISTJ and I’m sure many other introverts do as well.
If you’re an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up. You enjoy relative freedom from the temptations of superficial prizes like money and status. Indeed, your biggest challenge may be to fully harness your strengths. You may be so busy trying to appear like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your own talents, or feel underestimated by those around you. But when you’re focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless.
What Susan is saying in this passage is that by embracing your introverted nature and not worrying about fitting the mold of what you think others want, you will unlock hidden talents that you never knew existed or that have been dormant for a very long time.
Introverts doing extroverted things:
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.
This is so true. I generally dislike doing extroverted things, unless it’s for someone or something that I care about deeply.
I’ll attend events or reach out to people, things I wouldn’t do on my own, if it’s something that will help out my wife or family.
I captained my intramural and city league soccer teams for years.
This involved communicating to my own team, working with league coordinators, scheduling make-ups with other captains, and ordering knock-off English Premier League jerseys from a discount seller in China. These are all things I’d normally prefer not to do, but I love playing recreational soccer, especially with my good friends, so I gladly did it.
Introverts and group work:
Some collaborative work is fine for introverts, even beneficial. But it should take place in small groups – pairs or threesomes – and be carefully structured so that each child knows her role.
Susan has a very interesting outlook on education. Her point is that the system would be more effective if administrators catered to, or at least recognized, the natural differences in temperaments of each student.
You can apply this to group work in the real world as well.
Having worked in the real world for a large corporation, I personally find it much more productive to work in smaller groups of two to three than try to get 20 people equally involved in a project.
I believe there are huge efficiencies gained from keeping teams small and agile and designating very specific roles and responsibilities to team members in the workplace.
Then again, as an introvert, I’m certainly biased towards this type of setup.
Introverts and persistency:
While extroverts are more likely to skate from one hobby or activity to another, introverts often stick with their enthusiasm. This gives them a major advantage as they grow, because true self-esteem comes from competence, not the other way around.
This insight was huge for me because the more I learn and grow, the more I think being “well-rounded” is highly overrated.
Yes, you need to be competent in basic areas. But the people who end up becoming really successful are the ones who took the time to cultivate their craft and build something that only a somewhat-obsessed person would be able to do.
Look at guys like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg.
Or someone like Michael Jordan, who is perhaps the most well-known introverted athlete of all time. He could have played multiple sports. Eventually, he had to choose one to focus on and when he did, he became the best player on the planet.
You rarely, if ever, find people who are world class in more than one arena. This is not a coincidence.
Introverts and self-perception:
Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured…Spend your free the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.
I’ll end with this one.
It’s pretty self-explanatory. We only have one life to live. If you aren’t living in alignment with your true personality and your true values, then you are doing yourself a huge disservice.
So there you have it. 10 of my favorite quotes from Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
I give this book five stars and my highest recommendation.
There aren’t many books that have the power to change millions of lives and society as a whole for the better, but this is one of them.
If you enjoyed some of these insights, then I encourage you to read the book and discover your own favorite passages and key takeaways.