Quiet

Susan Cain

As someone who has consistently been described as quiet, I felt obligated to read this book, though I didn’t expect to be blown away by it. I would say Quiet seems most useful for people who never realized they are introverted or extroverted people who just don’t get people who fall on the other side of the spectrum. Cain draws on a fair amount of psychology and biology research to break down introversion on a scientific level and describes ways that more introspective people can be effective in leadership positions, despite the Western preference for extroversion.

The chapter looking at cultural differences in introversion and extroversion felt highly simplified, comparing white Western norms to those in Asian countries, including some experiences of first- and second-generation Asian immigrants to the US. I assume there is a lot more to explore in terms of cultures around the world, though perhaps there wasn’t enough research for Cain to draw on to make further comparisons and connections.

While US culture does seem decidedly in favor of extroversion overall, I was intrigued to find when I mentioned this book to friends, a few who seem to be quite clear extroverts to me described feeling like secret introverts. Cain discusses people who develop extroverted masks, but this seemed to be a different level. In the case of one friend, I got to the chapter about sensitive people, a quality that often overlaps introversion but also shows up in extroverted people, and that seemed to describe what she meant. In addition to being a spectrum, introversion/extroversion can be influenced by other traits.

I think what’s most frustrating to me as a quiet person is feeling like it’s almost always pathologized. Often people use the word “shy,” although I only experience true shyness (in terms of feeling anxious or fearful of speaking up) rarely. Even then, I’m not sure why it’s expected that everyone be confident and unflappable in every scenario. Most times my quietness is due to not thinking quickly enough to participate in a group discussion or running out of energy to stay present.

My extroverted friends who claim introversion anecdotally suggest there is some aspiration toward more introspective mannerisms. But then this sarcastic Toast piece indicates a backlash to the idea that introverts could be in some ways superior to extroverts, so the battle continues.