Quiet by Susan Cain: Summary and Review

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I’m an introvert and my husband is an extrovert. For some reason we’ve always felt like ying and yang. But for the longest I always felt in a way inferior to my extroverted counterparts. Like there was something wrong with me for not being as pumped as they were about a weekend full of parties or not immediately knowing what to say in a social setting. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I realized my personality had a lot of other gifts, that being an extrovert wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and that being an introvert wasn’t half bad.

Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, pretty much captures the plight of introverts. The book is amazing at explaining the differences between introverts and extroverts, how we became a society that rewards extroverted tendencies and how introverts can hone in on their gifts and embrace their introverted nature.

Apparently our society was not always extroverted happy. We used to be a country built on rewarding those with value. It wasn’t until the 1920s, when salesmanship became increasingly important, that the extroverted personality became highly sought after.

With several case studies, from Rosa Parks to Rick Warren, Cain describes the differences in management style for extroverts and introverts. Turns out that introverts are just as capable when it comes to rallying people. Whereas extroverts tend to inspire action from those who would otherwise been passive, introverts are more likely to take good ideas from the group and implement them to increase productivity.

Cain then goes to discuss working habits. Creativity, she says is directly related to introversion since creativity requires independent contemplation. Have you ever seen an artistic masterpiece completed from a group? Extroverts prefer group work and introverts prefer independent work. In my own personal opinion this is true. I try to avoid the group work environment as much as possible. Unfortunately that’s near impossible, since most jobs love meetings, group projects, etc. I would be more than happy just doing something on my own.

Groupthink has become an increasingly integrated way of working. Many companies are using groups to get projects done. Groupthink relies on the premise that the ideas of the group are greater than that of the individual. Open floor plan work spaces are becoming the norm. Brainstorming eventually caught on as a way of group thinking without judgment. Cain points out many flaws including social loafing-group laziness, production blocking-only one person can create ideas at a time, and evaluation apprehension- fear of looking stupid.

Quiet then goes on to question whether extroversion and introversion have physiological roots. After looking into many studies, she suspects it does. She also questions whether environment plays a role in this. It does, but only to some degree. I find this to be a relief since I had spent my late teens and early 20s trying to be extroverted to no avail. I became a salesperson as a way to break this ingrained habit. In some ways I became extroverted from this, wanting to meet people and feeling more confident, but I was still introverted and wanting my alone time.

The last few chapters she discusses how an introvert is supposed to survive in this extroverted world. She points out a lot of introverts play extrovert when the occasion calls for it. She reflects on a few clients and friends that would put on a show when they needed to. They relied on social cues and body language to navigate appearing extroverted for the sake of others. She also mentioned that this was optional, there were introverts that opted out of faking it til they made it. She acknowledged that some introverts find acting contrary to their natural inclinations as a lie or a falsehood. This really resonated with me because I felt like I had been playing extrovert for so long. Not only that but I was failing at it. Other times I felt like giving up and that I needed to stop lying about who I was. It’s a relief to read that other people experience the isolation of being an introvert and misunderstandings around it. I spent so long trying to fix my “lack of confidence,” not really understanding I was just very introverted and I had other strengths like self-awareness and empathy.

Chapter 10 really piqued my interest. It discussed how introverts and extroverts get along. Of course my husband and I are the typical introvert/extrovert couple. Everything she said in this chapter had hit the nail on the head for us. Our fights were very much as described, with me pulling away moody and him belligerently trying to fix the problem. It could be a match made in heaven or the relationship from hell. One that could only work for with lots of compromise since the two very different styles of communication often led to some sort of conflict long term.

Overall I found this book to be pretty awesome! It was nice to find out I wasn’t just some unconfident, quiet weirdo that couldn’t socialize. I would say it’s not really a self help book, more like a really well researched informative guide to introversion. Susan Cain really did her research as she cited many case studies, personas and personal experiences that help her get her point across about the introverted persons experience. This is one of the most bought book on Amazon and I can see why, she is the expert on the introverted/extroverted personality discussion. This isn’t a very light book though, like one of those self help books you’d pick up as an afterthought at the airport, but one that is highly intelligent, thought provoking and honest.

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