Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2012: How many
introverts do you know? The real answer will probably surprise
you. In our culture, which emphasizes group work from elementary
school through the business world, everything seems geared toward
extroverts. Luckily, introverts everywhere have a new
spokesperson: Susan Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert who’s taken
it upon herself to better understand the place of introverts in
culture and society. With Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a
World That Can’t Stop Talking, Cain explores introversion through
psychological research old and new, personal experiences, and
even brain chemistry, in an engaging and highly-readable fashion.
By delving into introversion, Cain also seeks to find ways for
introverts and extroverts to better understand one another--and
for introverts to understand their own contradictions, such as
the ability to act like extroverts in certain situations. Highly
accessible and uplifting for any introvert--and any extrovert who
knows an introvert (and over one-third of us are
introverts)--Quiet has the potential to revolutionize the
“extrovert ideal.” –Malissa Kent
Amazon Exclusive: Q & A with Author Susan Cain
Q: Why did you write the book?
A: For the same reason that Betty Friedan published The
Feminine Mystique in 1963. Introverts are to extroverts what
women were to men at that time--second-class citizens with
gigantic amounts of untapped talent. Our schools, workplaces, and
religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many
introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and
that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against
introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and,
ultimately, happiness. Q: What personal significance does the
subject have for you?
A: When I was in my twenties, I started practicing corporate law
on Wall Street. At first I thought I was taking on an enormous
challenge, because in my mind, the successful lawyer was
comfortable in the spotlight, whereas I was introverted and
occasionally shy. But I soon realized that my nature had a lot of
advantages: I was good at building loyal alliances, one-on-one,
behind the scenes; I could close my door, concentrate, and get
the work done well; and like many introverts, I tended to ask a
lot of questions and listen intently to the answers, which is an
invaluable tool in negotiation. I started to realize that there’s
a lot more going on here than the cultural stereotype of the
introvert-as-unfortunate would have you believe. I had to know
more, so I spent the past five years researching the powers of
Q: Was there ever a time when American society valued introverts
A: In the nation’s earlier years it was easier for introverts to
earn respect. America once embodied what the cultural historian
Warren Susman called a “Culture of Character,” which valued inner
strength, integrity, and the good deeds you performed when no one
was looking. You could cut an impressive figure by being quiet,
reserved, and dignified. Abraham Lincoln was revered as a man who
did not “offend by superiority,” as Emerson put it.
Q: You discuss how we can better embrace introverts in the
workplace. Can you explain?
A: Introverts thrive in environments that are not
overstimulating—surroundings in which they can think (deeply)
before they speak. This has many implications. Here are two to
consider: (1) Introverts perform best in quiet, private
workspaces—but unfortunately we’re trending in precisely the
opposite direction, toward open-plan offices. (2) If you want to
get the best of all your employees’ brains, don’t simply throw
them into a meeting and assume you’re hearing everyone’s ideas.
You’re not; you’re hearing from the most vocally assertive
people. Ask people to put their ideas in writing before the
meeting, and make sure you give everyone time to speak.
Q: Quiet offers some terrific insights for the parents of
introverted children. What environment do introverted kids need
in order to thrive, whether it’s at home or at school?
A: The best thing parents and teachers can do for introverted
kids is to treasure them for who they are, and encourage their
passions. This means: (1) Giving them the space they need. If
they need to recharge alone in their room after school instead of
plunging into extracurricular activities, that’s okay. (2)
Letting them master new skills at their own pace. If they’re not
learning to swim in group settings, for example, teach them
privately. (3) Not calling them “shy”--they’ll believe the label
and experience their nervousness as a fixed trait rather than an
emotion they can learn to control.
Q: What are the advantages to being an introvert?
A: There are too many to list in this short space, but here are
two seemingly contradictory qualities that benefit introverts:
introverts like to be alone--and introverts enjoy being
cooperative. Studies suggest that many of the most creative
people are introverts, and this is partly because of their
capacity for quiet. Introverts are careful, reflective thinkers
who can tolerate the solitude that idea-generation requires. On
the other hand, implementing good ideas requires cooperation, and
introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments,
while extroverts favor competitive ones.
A Reader’s Guide for Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World
that Can’t Stop Talking
By Susan Cain
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They
are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to
partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who
favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although
they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe
many of the great contributions to society-from van Gogh’s
sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.
Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with
indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we
undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. This
extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see
introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Based on the quiz in the book, do you think you’re an
introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert? Are you an introvert in
some situations and an extrovert in others?
2. What about the important people in your lives—your partner,
your friends, your kids?
3. Which parts of QUIET resonated most strongly with you? Were
there parts you disagreed with—and if so, why?
4. Can you think of a time in your life when being an introvert
proved to be an advantage?
5. Who are your favorite introverted role models?
6. Do you agree with the author that introverts can be good
leaders? What role do you think charisma plays in leadership? Can
introverts be charismatic?
7. If you’re an introvert, what do you find most challenging
about working with extroverts?
8. If you’re an extrovert, what do you find most challenging
about working with introverts?
9. QUIET explains how Western society evolved from a Culture of
Character to a Culture of Personality. Are there enclaves in our
society where a Culture of Character still holds sway? What would
a twenty-first-century Culture of Character look like?
10. QUIET talks about the New Groupthink, the value system
holding that creativity and productivity emerge from group work
rather than individual thought. Have you experienced this in your
11. Do you think your job suits your temperament? If not, what
could you do to change things?
12. If you have children, how does your temperament compare to
theirs? How do you handle areas in which you’re not
13. If you’re in a relationship, how does your temperament
compare to that of your partner? How do you handle areas in which
you’re not compatible?
14. Do you enjoy social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and
do you think this has something to do with your temperament?
15. QUIET talks about “restorative niches,” the places
introverts go or the things they do to recharge their batteries.
What are your favorite restorative niches?
16. Susan Cain calls for a Quiet Revolution. Would you like to
see this kind of a movement take place, and if so, what is the
number-one change you’d like to see happen?