I’ve always classed myself as an extrovert so I read Quiet by Susan Cain* to learn more about my introverted husband and one of my children who I suspected was introverted. As a bonus, I now know I’m actually partly introverted and may have picked the wrong child as introverted.
What does introvert mean?
The term introvert is often used instead of shy, but they mean different things, and being one doesn’t mean you are also the other. Susan Cain describes shy as the fear of social disapproval and introversion as the preference for environments that are not over-stimulating. Introverts often prefer to work on their own often leading to moments of creativity and innovation. They also tend to be more persistent than extroverts. Introverts are not good with novelty, whether it is people, places or situations and this means, in children especially, this can appear that they don’t want to social with people when actually they need to get used to a new situation.
Introverts versus extroverts
According to Cain, introverts make up at least a third of the US population, yet we appear to value extroverts more than introverts (there is an interesting history of how this value changed over the years and differs between different countries). This preference for extroverts can often lead to inaccurate beliefs, for example, talkative people are often considered as smarter, better-looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. This means people sometimes think they need to become more extroverted to be more successful. But it is possible for introverts to act extroverted if there is a benefit for something or someone they love or value highly, and they include “restorative niches” into each day.
The dynamic between introverts and extroverts is interesting as both like talking to the other, yet also find them difficult. Extroverts like talking to introverts as they often feel more relaxed and able to confide problems but don’t understand how much introverts need to recharge their batteries at the end of the day. Introverts like talking to extroverts because the conversation is often easier and on happier topics, but don’t understand their silence can be hurtful to extroverts.
Interesting information relevant to both introverts and extroverts
Although the book is focussed on introverts, I learnt lots of things relevant to both introverts and extroverts, here are some of my favourites:
- brainstorming doesn’t work and result in people thinking they performed better than they actually did – I found this section fascinating and I’ve changed the way I’ve structured a planning day so there is individual thinking time
- the most effective teams consist of a mix of introverts and extroverts because they balance out each others strengths and weaknesses
- open plan offices can reduce productivity and increase staff turnover as they make people “sick, hostile, unmotivated and insecure”
- introverts often find it easier to get into ‘flow’ (an optimal state where you feel totally engaged in an activity) because it is a solitary activity with no link to reward seeking
- schools are often designed for extroverts, meaning introverted children can feel emotionally threatened instead of stimulated
Should you read Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that won’t stop talking
Absolutely yes, especially if you have children. I learnt lots which has made me appreciate introverts a lot more, and perhaps feel a bit jealous of their focus. And I’m now working on responding to their need for solitude, for example, no longer assuming someone sat in silence wants me to start a conversation.
The book has made me reevaluate myself, and I’m now more comfortable with my occasional need for solitude. I’m also looking at my children more carefully to see how they’re developing and how I can help them. I thought one was an introvert and one an extrovert but I think they may be opposite to who I originally thought, with a shy extrovert and a confident introvert!
If you have or work with children, I also suggest listening to the nine episodes of the Quiet podcast.
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