I am an extrovert. Give me a room full of people to meet and talk to for hours, and I’m in heaven. So why am I such a big fan of the new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) by Susan Cain?
Like many extroverts, I was surprised to learn that anywhere from one-third to one-half of the population are introverts. In other words, a lot of people we come into contact with everyday don’t thrive on endless meetings, don’t want to solve a problem by talking about it with a group for hours, don’t enjoy jumping into a conversation and just “throwing out ideas,” and don’t want to attend lunches, conferences, and dinners all the time.
These activities are like a shot of adrenaline for extroverts. But they suck the energy right out of our more introverted counterparts. That doesn’t mean extroverts are wrong and introverts are right. Cain is a big fan of extroverts, as you will see in the book.
It’s about awareness. If extroverts better understood our more introverted friends, colleagues and family members, it would make our lives better in the following ways:
Communication with others would improve. Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re in a meeting with a group of people. Everyone is sharing their thoughts and opinions freely, except for a couple of people who are quietly listening.
Chances are the extroverts in the room assume those individuals are being quiet because they don’t have anything to add. But after the meeting, you run into one of the listeners in the hall and they comment, “You know we should really consider doing x, y, z.” And you say, “What a great idea! Why didn’t you share that in the meeting?” And they respond with a hint of frustration, “It was hard to get a word in edgewise.”
Knowing that introverts tend to like to listen, gather their thoughts, and then share their insights uninterrupted, extroverts could make it a point to pause discussions periodically, and ask, “Does anyone have something to add?” And then wait a moment for a response. This would give those who are more introverted the space they need to contribute comfortably.
If we understood how each of our “types” processed and shared information, we’d communicate better with each other at work, at home, and in our communities.
We would be better parents and partners. I may be an extrovert, but I’ve always been attracted to the strong, silent type. It’s not surprising that my wonderful husband of more than 20 years is more introverted.
After a long day at work, he just needs some space; therefore, I wait to barrage him with questions and stories of my day. Or when we spend time with my extended (and more extroverted) family and he disappears after a certain point, I know he’s gone to find some quiet place to just sit and regroup. I understand why and don’t take it personally.
In terms of parenting, it was an exchange with my older daughter six years ago that first prompted me to understand the difference between the two types.
She was in second grade and I had volunteered for playground duty. I had been stationed far away from the playground by the door into the school. Next to that door was a basketball hoop where my daughter stood shooting baskets alone. I asked her, “Don’t you want to go play with your friends?” She responded calmly, “No, that’s OK; I want to be with you. I shoot baskets here by myself all the time.”
My uneducated, extroverted first response was, “What? Why do you do that, honey? Go up a play with your friends. I’ll be fine and it’s more fun to play with everyone.” She looked confused, “But Mom, I like to shoot baskets alone.” Yikes! I could see that I had unintentionally made her feel bad, and I realized in that moment she wasn’t like me.
Like her dad, she needed time to herself after a busy, intense morning in the classroom. I had to recognize that and support her, even though all I’d want to do is dive into a big group of screaming, laughing friends. Today she’s a super confident, happy young woman with friends whom she loves and who love her, but she still needs her breaks. That’s OK.
Cain’s book offers more extroverted parents and partners a helpful roadmap for understanding and honoring their more introverted loved ones. It has really helped me.
We could benefit from adopting more introverted behaviors, especially quiet time and listening. About twenty years ago, I started to suffer from the physical wear and tear of my high-intensity, highly extroverted, always-on-the-go existence. My mother was an introvert (I get my extroversion from my grandfather) and practiced meditation religiously. She suggested that I try to be quiet for a few minutes each day. Because I’d exhausted all of the medical options for treating my symptoms, I gave it a shot. It’s was a miracle.
Twenty minutes a day of sitting quietly, journaling, breathing, made all the difference physically, emotionally, spiritually. Introverts tend to stop and regroup naturally because they crave it. We extroverts have to be more thoughtful and deliberate about our down time, but we benefit from it just as much.
Introverts are also excellent, natural listeners. My husband can go to a party, talk to just a few people, but gather information that I hadn’t heard even though I’d talked to everyone. I’ll ask him how he does it and the answer is always the same, “I stopped talking, paid attention, and listened.”
While my natural inclination remains to say “hi” to and know as many people in a room as possible, I catch myself periodically. I try to spend more one-on-one time with fewer people and I make myself stop talking (if I remember) long enough to listen more. I’ll never be like my husband, but I enjoy experimenting with aspects of his style.
What do you think? Are you an extrovert who has benefited from understanding the gifts and behaviors of your more introverted friends, colleagues and family members? What have you done differently once you gained that awareness?
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012) is a wonderful guide to help us all understand ourselves and each other more fully. Here’s how you can learn more and connect with Susan Cain:
- Buy the book
- Read Susan Cain’s “The Power of Introverts” blog
- Follow Susan Cain on Twitter @susancain
- Connect with Susan Cain on Facebook
(This post originally appeared in Fast Company)