Susan Cain believes that self-awareness is at the heart of effective communication. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she shows how dramatically our culture undervalues introverts, and she identifies – based on the latest psychology and neuroscience – the advantages of being one. Here are some questions Susan answered about her passion for Quiet.
Read It Forward: Why did you write the book?
Susan Cain: Because there’s a bias against introverts. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. This bias leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.
RIF: What personal significance does the subject have for you?
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SC: When I was in my twenties, I started practicing corporate law on Wall Street. At first I thought I was taking on an enormous challenge, because in my mind, the successful lawyer was comfortable in the spotlight, whereas I was introverted and occasionally shy. But I soon realized that my nature had a lot of advantages: I was good at building loyal alliances, one-on-one, behind the scenes; I could close my door, concentrate, and get the work done well; and like many introverts, I tended to ask a lot of questions and listen intently to the answers, which is an invaluable tool in negotiation. I started to realize that there’s a lot more going on here than the cultural stereotype of introverts would have you believe. I had to know more, so I spent the past five years researching the powers of introversion.
RIF: Was there ever a time when American society valued introverts more highly?
SC: In the nation’s earlier years it was easier for introverts to earn respect. America once embodied what the cultural historian Warren Susman called a “Culture of Character,” which valued inner strength, integrity, and the good deeds you performed when no one was looking. You could cut an impressive figure by being quiet, reserved, and dignified. Abraham Lincoln was revered as a man who did not “offend by superiority,” as Emerson put it.
RIF: What are the advantages to being an introvert?
SC: There are too many to list in this short space, but here are two seemingly contradictory qualities that benefit introverts: introverts like to be alone—and introverts enjoy being cooperative. Studies suggest that many of the most creative people are introverts, and this is partly because of their capacity for quiet. Introverts are careful, reflective thinkers who can tolerate the solitude that idea-generation requires. On the other hand, implementing good ideas requires cooperation, and introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments, while extroverts favor competitive ones.
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