Keeping Quiet: The Power of Introverts

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m quiet. I’ve never been very accomplished at the mindless chit-chat that rules at business conferences or social gatherings. Although I should disclose that I’ve noticed in recent years that my tongue tends to loosen in direct relationship to the number of double Jamesons I’ve quaffed. And then I tend to say something offensive. So why bother?

I digress.

Actually, what got me started down this road is a book by Susan Cain, “Quiet,” that has been climbing the best-selling lists. Here’s from a NYT review by Judith Warner, “Inside Intelligence: Susan Cain’s Quiet Argues for the Power of Introverts“:

My neighbor, a leadership development consultant who regularly helps people improve themselves through personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [note: Myers-Briggs is for human resources managers the equivalent of Silly Putty; something to play with but not take too seriously], once told me I was the most introverted person he’d ever met. I took this as a compliment. Who wouldn’t?

The introverts who are the subject of Susan Cain’s new book, “Quiet,” don’t experience their inwardness in quite so self-congratulatory a way.

They and others view their tendency toward solitary activity, quiet reflection and reserve as “a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” Cain writes. Too often denigrated and frequently overlooked in a society that’s held in thrall to an “Extrovert Ideal — the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight,” Cain’s introverts are overwhelmed by the social demands thrust upon them. They’re also underwhelmed by the example set by the voluble, socially successful go-getters in their midst who “speak without thinking,” in the words of a Chinese software engineer whom Cain encounters in Cupertino, Calif., the majority Asian-American enclave that she suggests is the introversion capital of the United States.

Many of the self-avowed introverts she meets in the course of this book, which combines on-the-scenes reporting with a wide range of social science research and a fair bit of “quiet power” cheerleading, ape extroversion. Though some fake it well enough to make it, going along to get along in a country that rewards the out­going, something precious, the author says, is lost in this masquerade. Unchecked extroversion — a personality trait Cain ties to ebullience, excitability, dominance, risk-taking, thick skin, boldness and a tendency toward quick thinking and thoughtless action — has actually, she argues, come to pose a real menace of late. The outsize reward-seeking tendencies of the hopelessly ­outer-directed helped bring us the bank meltdown of 2008 as well as disasters like Enron, she claims. With our economy now in ruins, Cain writes, it’s time to establish “a greater balance of power” between those who rush to speak and do and those who sit back and think. Introverts — who, according to Cain, can count among their many virtues the fact that “they’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame” — must learn to “embrace the power of quiet.” And extroverts should learn to sit down and shut up.

My experience — gained from decades of experience being grilled as to why I am so quiet — is that the people who talk the most tend to think the least. Also, in any workplace they are the worst managers because they can’t, or won’t, listen.

So congrats to Susan Cain via Judith Warner for the advice to extroverts: “…learn to sit down and shut up.”

Wonder if she was drinking Jameson when writing that?


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