Soft Power: ‘Quiet; The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain [2012]

“Aggressive power beats you up; soft power wins you over.”

Self analysis is an addictive endeavour, I take enjoyment is discovering the ways in which I and others, tick. Not in aid of mockery or to claim power, but to better understand myself and the people around me. Having found Quite by Susan Cain via a review in The Guardian by Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test, I knew I had to read it. As someone who never really fit into the extrovert way of teaching (I was told to buck-up, speak-out and not be so sensitive) it is refreshing to know that these traits are not something to overcome, but embrace. They are after all, what makes me, me.

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society—from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.1

Introversion, is not an attribute we generally admire in the West; life is fast-paced and to be noticed we often need to shout loud. Even my phone decided, until I used the word enough, to auto-correct introvert to extrovert. Common misconceptions are that to be introverted you are shy, unwilling to be social, over-think, suffer anxiety etc… These are all negatives; however, I am an introvert and I am certainly not shy, I just hate small talk. I often feel slightly out of place in social situations where I do not know anyone well; trying to hold a conversation about how your dog is doing is not going to open me up; start chatting about something interesting and I can become extremely vocal.

Cain has a wonderful way of writing, drawing you to the subject with a story-telling air which allowed easier digestion of the more technical aspects of the book. Cain, an introvert herself, travels through various notions of introversion, discussing both the positive and negative attitudes towards this more insular personality type. Cain attempts not to criticise the extrovert personality type, but instead the extrovert ideal Western society promotes; which she does this with varying success.

I have taken Quiet with a pinch of salt; no one book should be the sole basis of an opinion. Cain has, however, inflamed an interest in expanding my knowledge of personality types, to better understand myself. My only issue with Quiet was an immovable feeling, as I was reading, of condescension. I know many extroverts who are far more intelligent than myself and who are worse socially, so categorising this simplistically did grate. In fighting for the introvert Cain has managed to inadvertently wound the extrovert. However, I do believe this is an inadvertent result of Cain needing to gloss over her subject to make it more accessible to a wider audience.

I read Quiet almost a month ago now, and it is just as fresh in my memory as when it ended. I feel I have a greater understanding of myself and a hunger to discover more.

  1. Synopsis from GoodReads []

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2 Comments on "Soft Power: ‘Quiet; The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain [2012]"

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Charlie
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This sounds such a good book (and been on my list for a while), and in a way it’s a pity that it does have that accidental bias against extroverts because it seems it would be valuable for anyone to read. Teamwork, shudder – only successful if with friends. It’s good to hear someone else say they hate small-talk. I recently decided that next time someone tells me to speak more I am going to reply similarly and introduce the idea of a good conversation. Who wants to talk about the weather when you could be really getting to know… Read more »
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