by Barbara Gohl

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Crown Publishing, 2012
333 Pages

Reviewed by Barbara Gohl
Submitted February 14, 2013

I am an introvert who ranks smack-dab in the middle of the non-extrovert side of the Myers-Briggs scale. I’m not shy, but quiet with a yen for discussion rather than argument. I read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” because though I have never felt marginalized or looked down upon because of my quiet ways, I have seen it happen to others.

The book’s introduction sets the stage. Don’t skip it! Here author/attorney Susan Cain shares in story form two examples of the power of introverts, along with an informal assessment of where the reader falls on the introvert/extrovert scale. I took the test and was ranked exactly where past tests have placed me on the scale.

The author goes on to illustrate how extroverts initially tend to become overly popular, especially in the US, where “everybody” is encouraged to exhibit extroverted ways and minimize quieter traits. But she also illustrates the power that introverts can attain. So much so, in fact, that after the first few chapters I started wondering if the writer was carrying the argument for introversion too far, as an apologetic for quieter ways.

But as she lays out the strengths of introverts as compared to those of extroverts, the book’s rational premise emerges: Yes, extroverts have many attributes that we all need in our world, but if we build only on extroverted characteristics (which dominantly lead to positions of leadership and power in American business) the downsides of that imbalance can be spectacular.

The extroverted world needs the counteracting influence of introverts. It needs the focus and drive that introverts bring to music, the deep-thinking and caution they invest in problem-solving, and the negotiating skills they have for mapping a course to a bright future.

Among the many interesting results of studies and research the author shares are these highlights:

  1. Studies of various animal groups show differences in response to danger according to “shyness” or “boldness.” During times of peace “shy” animals excel, but in times of danger or trouble, the “bold” are more successful.
  2. Brainstorming is better done individually than as a group activity.
  3. The most effective, creative business offices have flexible spaces—spaces for individuals to be alone or get together in groups of 2-3, and larger spaces like reading rooms or café-like venues where one can be around people without necessarily interacting.
  4. Introverts can act like extroverts and become very good at it. But they need to understand the good reasons why putting on such an act is important—or they will find the experience very unfulfilling and draining.
  5. Extroverted leaders do better than introverted leaders when workers are passive; introverted leaders tend to do better than extroverted leaders when workers are proactive.
  6. Introverts seem to do best when they have restorative niches to which to resort regularly—especially when they are being called on to act in extroverted ways in the course of their duties.

I especially like what the author says about collaborating and working together on page 93, and I wonder if we couldn’t adopt it more in our Church, “The way forward, I’m suggesting, is not to stop collaborating face-to-face, but to refine the way we do it. For one thing, we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people’s natural strengths and temperaments. The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts, studies show, and so are many leadership structures.”

Good counsel for any organization, business, or church in a world where extroverts can often “take over,” with ruinous consequences. Warren Buffett, a confirmed introvert, has taken that insight billions of times to the bank.