On ‘Quiet’

I’m not shy, but I am an introvert. I recently read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2013) in an attempt to understand my temperament – and those of extroverts – better. I’m interested in the psychology behind introversion and how I can communicate, work and empathise with others more effectively.

The book brings together Cain’s experience as an introvert with her research on the topic. Drawing on psychology, biology and sociology, it disputes extroversion’s status as the cultural ideal and demonstrates how introversion can be just as beneficial in our work and personal lives.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter called ‘When should you act more extroverted than you really are?’ Cain tells the story of Professor Brian Little, a former Harvard lecturer ‘described as a cross between Robin Williams and Albert Einstein’. At work, he is eloquent, affable, confident and committed, but he needs quiet time to recover. As Cain notes, Little pioneered Free Trait Theory, which proposes that ‘introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly’. This explains how I can be introverted but also very talkative in particular social settings – I genuinely want to know how people are, learn more about them and work together.

My main takeaway from the book links to this chapter. Professor Little highlights the importance of ‘restorative niches’, which, Cain emphasises, can be physical (think green spaces or bodies of water) or temporal, ‘like the quiet breaks you plan between sales calls’. I’ve realised that I feel mentally and socially tired after a few hours of meetings or seminars, so I now try to factor in regular breaks. This can mean switching off completely over lunch or focusing on a more solitary task, such as website editing.

I also appreciated the chapter on the communication gap between introverts and extroverts. Cain writes: ‘It can be hard for extroverts to understand how badly introverts need to recharge at the end of a busy day’, but ‘[i]t’s also hard for introverts to understand just how hurtful their silence can be’. Preserving energy to give to relationships and conversations outside of work is important too.

Reading Quiet has reminded me that it is fine to need more time to recharge than other people do. It has made me reflect on how my preference for deep conversations with one or a few people (as opposed to socialising in large groups) can enhance relationships. It has also shown me that putting on an extroverted face can be useful and rewarding, but there is no need to do it all the time.

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