Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

I only review books that have blown my mind, helped me grow and taught me things I couldn’t possibly have figured out for myself.

My reviews are bulleted for easy consumption. Scroll down for my top 10 quotes from the book.

Susan Cain – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

10 Things I Learnt fromQuiet:

Introversion / Extroversion is a scale. I am far less extroverted than I thought. If you know me socially / through business you’ll know I am very over-excitable in a crowd of people. But, this level of enthuasism tends to exhaust me. Of course, the very definition of introversion / extroversion is whether we draw energy from being alone, or being in a group / crowd. And the reverse is true too; introverts find groups / crowds exhausting, and extroverts tend to get drained being alone. More and more, I seek out and demand long periods of absolute solitude between my bouts of socialising, and this book helped me to understand why. 

My introverted traits are not personality flaws to work on—they are parts of who I am and should be embraced, not denied. If like me you can relate to avoiding the telephone like the plague, being very sensitive, having many fears, disliking being unable to control your environment, and having very high levels of guilt and empathy, then Quiet is a wonderful manual for why we feel this way and how to embrace these traits. 

Wherever we are on the scale, a great approach is to understand our sweet spot and build our lives around it. When we understand what lights a fire in us and what exhausts us, we can structure our days, and choose our careers and employers, to establish a rhythm that suits us. 

Sensitivity is a gift. I’ve always struggled with over-empathising / obsessing over other people’s struggles, but at the same time, I’ve always found myself moved to tears by everything from sunsets to cherry blossom. I always assumed this was how everyone felt. Apparently, it’s not. Quiet explains that sensitivity can be a huge blessing, and how to manage it when it threatens to derail us. Overall, it’s made me feel more grateful for this gift and more confident that I can handle the darker side of it. Interestingly, sensitive people tend to be bigger people-pleasers because they are highly aware of hurting or inconveniencing others. I had always assumed my people-pleasing was born of insecurity so it was helpful to understand that a strong desire to protect others is also a driver. 

Our sensitive children will flourish with the right parenting. My daughter Tilly is highly sensitive and always has been. She has sensory issues galore and her emotional stance can be thrown off balance so easily. I’ve always found this a challenge to deal with (understatement). But at the age of 7, the positive side of her sensitive nature is gloriously apparently: she is kind, empathetic and compassionate. That said, I know her dark side is near the surface that she suffers more than less sensitive children. Cain spends a great deal of time exploring how we can nurture the gifts that sensitivity offers children, and how we can gently teach them to expand their worldview without upsetting their boundaries.

Brainstorming / groupthink is not necessarily the best way. Cain takes great issue with the prevalent culture of open-plan office space and group-work. She throws a lot of scientific evidence out there to show that we actually operate better alone (or in very small, safe groups) than we do when we brainstorm in groups and subject ourselves to groupthink. Working alone allows to engage in ‘deliberate practice’, where we can push ourselves to perfect tasks or knowledge that are just out of reach – working alone is how we grow.

Extroverts need to stop talking over introverts. In social situations, I behave like an extrovert and this includes talking over others who are more reticent to share their views. This is something I actively try to improve on because I’d be far wiser if I listened to what these people had to say, not to mention more polite. There is an embarrassing number of examples listed in Quiet to show how badly things can go wrong when we listen to the loudest or most compelling voice, rather than the wisest voices.

Introversion / extroversion can explain some conflicts within relationships. If you’re an introvert and your partner is a raging extrovert, or vice-versa, then this may explain why you disagree on how much to socialise, or it may also explain why your communication styles don’t match up. Cain offers advice on how to discuss and strategise around these issues, but the first steps are realising that you may both lie on different parts of the scale and talking about your needs openly. 

Understanding our reward-sensitivity can help us in business. Here’s another area where I’m a raging extrovert – I tend to be highly reward-driven (I’m choosing this as a preferential character-trait over greedy). Cain says, “some scientists are starting to explore the idea that reward-sensitivity is not only an interesting feature of extroversion; it is what makes an extrovert an extrovert. Extroverts, in other words, are characterized by their tendency to seek rewards, from top dog status to sexual highs to cold cash.” We may be more sensitive to dopamine and we get a buzz from chasing and attaining goals that introverts don’t get as much. It follows that we also quit more quickly. I’m assuming that ensuring there’s a good proportion of introverts on teams involving risk-taking, especially in the trading world, is a sensible bet here. 

Self-monitoring doesn’t mean you’re a fake, but make sure you take a break. There are many introverts who learn instinctively why, how and when they should behave like extroverts -getting involved with the PTA or the office party when they really would rather not, making small talk at these events when it exhausts them. Rather than being devious or fake, this can be seen as an act of modesty – accommodating oneself to situational norms, rather than “grinding down everything to one’s own needs and concerns.” However, it’s important that you keep sacred your ‘restorative niche’, in which to decompress when the process of accommodating society’s needs over your own becomes too exhausting. This reminds me of the many times I came home from the trading floor and crawled into the womb-like space of my unlit bathroom, pouring bath and wine in tandem. 

My Top 10 Quotes:

“We often marvel at how introverted, geeky kids “blossom” into secure and happy adults. We liken it to a metamorphosis. However, maybe it’s not the children who change but their environments. As adults, they get to select the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit them. They don’t have to live in whatever culture they’re plunked into.”

“Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway. But accept that they’re difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you’re done.”

“Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.”

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.” “A reward-sensitive person is highly motivated to seek rewards—from a promotion to a lottery jackpot to an enjoyable evening out with friends. Reward sensitivity motivates us to pursue goals like sex and money, social status and influence. It prompts us to climb ladders and reach for faraway branches in order to gather life’s choicest fruits.”

“It’s not that I’m so smart,” said Einstein, who was a consummate introvert. “It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

“One of the best things you can do for an introverted child is to work with him on his reaction to novelty. Remember that introverts react not only to new people, but also to new places and events.”

“Introverts often have one or two deep interests that are not necessarily shared by their peers. Sometimes they’re made to feel freaky for the force of these passions, when in fact studies show that this sort of intensity is a prerequisite to talent development.”

“Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory.” “we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead.”

You can purchase Quiet on Amazon here.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Jelleke Vanooteghem

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