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When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.
– Henry Ford  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 5 May 2020  

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Front Page   |   Feature Stories   |   Search This Issue   |   Log In
  “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking”
  By Robin Widmar

   “Why are you so quiet?”
   “You really should get out more.”
   “Leaving so soon?”
   Those are just a few examples of (usually) well-meaning comments that extroverts routinely say to introverts. Society is filled with gregarious people who often assume there is something “wrong” with those who are not as outgoing as they are. News flash: Introversion does not equate to mental illness or a defective personality. Read Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking” and you will understand why.
   According to Cain, an estimated one-third to one-half of Americans are introverted. That is a significant number of people who must adapt daily to being quiet thinkers in a society that values outgoing personalities. When “Quiet” was released in 2012, grateful readers lauded Cain for telling the world they are just fine the way they are.
   What is an introvert? Aside from a questionnaire in the book’s Introduction, there are no itemized checklists of introvert or extrovert traits. Rather, Cain deftly interconnects stories and anecdotes with scientific studies to illustrate the general qualities that define extroverts, introverts and the ambiverts that fall somewhere between the two. Cain pointedly notes that there are exceptions to every personality type, and everyone falls into a different spot along the introversion/extroversion scale. “We are all gloriously complex individuals. … Introversion and extroversion interact with our other personality traits and our personal histories, producing wildly different kinds of people,” she writes.
   As a general rule, introverts find interacting with people –- even beloved family or friends –- exhausting. Much like recharging a drained battery, introverts need quiet time to recover after social engagements. Conversely, extroverts are energized by socializing and human interaction. Introverts value quality conversation over trivial small talk, and typically enjoy different kinds of leisure activities than extroverts do. That does not exclude introverts from screaming along high-canopy zip lines or taking line-dancing lessons at the local saloon. They will just need some downtime afterward.
   Introverted employees tend to be more cooperative, whereas extroverts lean toward being more competitive. While there are advantages to collaboration in the workplace, introverts often prefer to work alone, particularly when projects require focus and concentration. As an example, Cain cites Steve Wozniak’s early efforts to develop a personal computer. The introverted Wozniak engaged weekly with a group of like-minded computer enthusiasts, but he developed his prototype by working on it in solitude before and after work hours at his Hewlett-Packard office.
   “Quiet” explores how the “extrovert ideal” came to prominence in American society; the roles of nature and nurture in introversion and extroversion; introverts and extroverts in other cultures; and insights to help introverts (and the parents of introverted children) navigate a world geared toward extroverts. Delving into more than the trait of introversion itself, Cain shines light on the quiet power that introverts wield in a noisy world; their significant contributions to science, technology and society; and the constant struggle of being “different” from their more extroverted co-workers, friends and family. She profiles prominent introverts, including civil rights icon Rosa Parks, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, naturalist Charles Darwin and author Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) –- all of whom left their indelible marks on history.
   Cain spent more than seven years extensively researching introversion. She draws from history, psychology, neuroscience, personal experience and interviews with people from all walks of life. Although Cain’s writing style is engaging, her book is not a fast read, nor should it be. There is a lot of information to consume. Some readers might find the pace a bit slow at times, but the payoff is worth the time invested.
   Cain occasionally has been criticized for skewing her narrative in favor of introverts, but that is exactly the point. In an interview at the end of “Quiet,” Cain said: “There’s a bias against introverts. Our schools, workplaces and religious institutions are designed for extroverts. … This bias leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy; and, ultimately, happiness.” Introverts who are so often dismissed or underestimated need a champion to let the world know that they, too, have something to say.
   “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking” is a must-read for introverted people who have not yet discovered this book, as well as anyone who loves, lives with or works alongside an introverted person. It should be mandatory reading for business leaders, managers, teachers, parents and designers who insist on creating open-concept offices that lack quiet spaces. Introverts can be tremendous assets to organizations when given the opportunity to work in their own way and play to their innate strengths.
   As Mahatma Ghandi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
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