Susan Cain on The Power of Introverts
In our competitive, cut-throat world, there’s often very little room for quiet. Be it in the boardroom, at parties, out at restaurants and social gatherings, more often than not it can become a competition of voices, every person in a pseudo battle of being an extrovert. It can sometimes seem that taking on, amping up, or making the most of your extrovert persona is the only way to get ahead and get noticed.
From a young age, it seems we are directed to become extroverts. Teachers always seem to encourage being an extrovert and on a personal note, I can very much relate to this. When it came round to parents evening every term I was often criticised for being too quiet or not putting my hand up in class from primary school, right through to when I was taking my later exams. And did being quieter than some of my peers, and more “introverted” in class, have any negative consequences on my learning and progress? No, I don’t think so.
Susan Cain is championing, however, the importance of introverts. By all means, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with being an extrovert if that is most natural for you, and there is no doubt an introvert and extrovert spectrum with people placed at many different points, at different stages of their lives. However, to oppose and undermine introverts really is unnecessary and short-sighted. There needs to be a balance. As Susan suggests, we do need a sense of privacy, autonomy and freedom in our world, whether we be extroverts or introverts. For Susan, we should reassure introverts, guide children with working on their own as well as in groups, and reassure thinking more deeply, to build independence and this sense of freedom that can be carried forward throughout life.
Looking to history, Susan describes a transition in America from a culture of character to a culture of personality in the 20th century. She feels that the man of action was very much superior to the man of contemplation. Yet, many of the greatest leaders were in fact introverts. Taking Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Gandhi as her examples, Susan illustrates ways in which these leaders described themselves as shy and soft spoken, and took the spotlight even if it went against their natural personalities. With no choice but to fight against their introverted instincts, they were clearly immensely driven to do what was right, and they gained immeasurable respect, not in spite of being introverts but because of their introverted traits. In leadership, Susan emphasises this strength of introverts, who aren’t always fighting to put their stamp on ideas and will allow employees to run with their ideas. People should have more courage to speak softly if they choose, and we need to harness a sense of support for whatever people choose to be.
Introverted or extroverted, we all need to take a moment to retreat inside our heads, and in the same way, we all need to reveal what’s going on inside those heads now and again. Striking a balance, and working together.
Take a listen to Susan Cain's Ted Talk here, or why not take a read of her best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking . You're allowed to be an introvert, and this book will give you that renewed perspective.
Words by Lottie Franklin