Alexandre Lim

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingBy Susan Cain

I highly recommend Quiet by Susan Cain. It doesn't matter whether you're more of an introvert or extrovert. Though, it will probably hit home for introverted people. You will understand yourself better and also those around you. This book will help you stay true to yourself as an introvert in an extroverted society.


Introversion— along with its cousin's sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness— is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, and extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.

Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not. One reason that people confuse the two concepts is that they sometimes overlap.

There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert.

At the onset of the Culture of Personality, we were urged to develop an extroverted personality for frankly selfish reasons—to outshine the crowd in a newly anonymous and competitive society. We tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us more successful but also makes us better people. We see salesmanship as a way of sharing one’s gifts with the world.

Even at Harvard Business School, there are signs that something might be wrong with a leadership style that values quick and assertive answers over quiet, slow decision-making.

If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day. This would mean that an awful lot of bad ideas prevail while good ones get squashed. Yet studies in group dynamics suggest that this is exactly what happens.

The “Bus to Abilene” anecdote reveals our tendency to follow those who initiate action—any action. We are similarly inclined to empower dynamic speakers.

“I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas,” he said. “It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.”

We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.

Grant hypothesized that extroverted leaders enhance group performance when employees are passive, but introverted leaders are more effective with proactive employees.

Grant says it makes sense that introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions.

In some circumstances, quiet, modest leadership styles may be equally or more effective.

Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me—they’re shy and live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without many others designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by a committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You will be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.

Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst for innovation.

While extroverts tend to attain leadership in public domains, introverts tend to attain leadership in theoretical and aesthetic fields. Outstanding introverted leaders, such as Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Patrick White, and Arthur Boyd, who have created either new fields of thought or rearranged existing knowledge, have spent long periods of their lives in solitude. Hence leadership does not only apply in social situations but also occurs in more solitary situations such as developing new techniques in the arts, creating new philosophies, writing profound books, and making scientific breakthroughs.

We failed to realize that what makes sense for the asynchronous, relatively anonymous interactions of the Internet might not work as well inside the face-to-face, politically charged, acoustically noisy confines of an open-plan office. Instead of distinguishing between online and in-person interaction, we used the lessons of one to inform our thinking about the other.

Only when you’re alone can you engage in Deliberate Practice, which is the key to exceptional achievement.

Top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.

Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory.

Excessive stimulation seems to impede learning: a recent study found that people learn better after a quiet stroll through the woods than after a noisy walk down a city street.

There’s only one problem with Osborn’s breakthrough idea: group brainstorming doesn’t actually work. Studies have shown that performance worsens as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas than groups of six, which do worse than groups of four.

The one exception to this is online brainstorming. Groups brainstorming electronically, when properly managed, not only do better than individuals, research shows; the larger the group, the better it performs.

Psychologists usually offer three explanations for the failure of group brainstorming. The first is social loafing: in a group, some individuals tend to sit back and let others do the work. The second is production blocking: only one person can talk or produce an idea at once, while the other group members are forced to sit passively. And the third is evaluation apprehension, meaning the fear of looking stupid in front of one’s peers.

Peer pressure is not only unpleasant but can actually change your view of a problem.

Don’t stop collaborating face-to-face, but refine the way we do it. For one thing, we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people’s natural strengths and temperaments. Studies show that the most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts, and so are many leadership structures.

We also need to create settings where people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions and disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus or simply be alone.

Psychologists often discuss the difference between “temperament” and “personality.” Temperament refers to inborn, biologically based behavioral and emotional patterns that are observable in infancy and early childhood; personality is the complex brew that emerges after cultural influence and personal experience are thrown into the mix. Some say that temperament is the foundation, and personality is the building.

Kagan has given us painstakingly documented evidence that high reactivity is one biological basis of introversion.

Many psychologists believe that children develop a conscience when they do something inappropriate and are rebuked by their caregivers. Disapproval makes them feel anxious, and since anxiety is unpleasant, they learn to steer clear of antisocial behavior. This is known as internalizing their parents’ standards of conduct, and its core is anxiety.

But what if some kids are less prone to anxiety than others, as is true of extremely low-reactive kids? Often the best way to teach these children values is to give them positive role models and to channel their fearlessness into productive activities.

Studies show that high-reactive kids who enjoy good parenting, child care, and a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers. Often they’re exceedingly empathic, caring, and cooperative. They work well with others. They are kind, conscientious, and easily disturbed by cruelty, injustice, and irresponsibility. They’re successful at the things that matter to them.

He describes eloquently a high-reactive child’s ideal parent: someone who “can read your cues and respect your individuality; is warm and firm in placing demands on you without being harsh or hostile; promotes curiosity, academic achievement, delayed gratification, and self-control; and is not harsh, neglectful, or inconsistent.”

The footprint of a high- or low-reactive temperament never disappeared in adulthood. Some high-reactives grew into socially fluid teenagers who were not outwardly rattled by novelty but never shed their genetic inheritance.

Schwartz’s research suggests something important: we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead.

In fact, a recent fMRI study shows that when people use self-talk to reassess upsetting situations, activity in their prefrontal cortex increases in an amount correlated with a decrease of activity in their amygdala. But the frontal cortex isn’t all-powerful; it doesn’t switch the amygdala off.

When they severed the neural connections between the rats’ cortex and amygdala, the rats became afraid of the sound again. This was because the fear conditioning had been suppressed by the activity of the cortex but was still present in the amygdala.

Whatever the underlying cause, there’s a host of evidence that introverts are more sensitive than extroverts to various kinds of stimulation, from coffee to a loud bang to the dull roar of a networking event—and that introverts and extroverts often need very different levels of stimulation to function at their best.

Imagine how much better you’ll be at this sweet-spot game once you’re aware of playing it.

In fact, the very thing that many high-reactives hate most about blushing—its uncontrollability—is what makes it so socially useful.

This is what’s known as the trade-off theory of evolution, in which a particular trait is neither all good nor all bad but a mix of pros and cons whose survival value varies according to circumstance.

Sensitive people seem to do the reverse. They “enjoy small talk only after they’ve gone deep,” says Strickland. “When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chitchat just as much as anyone else.”

Some scientists are starting to explore the idea that reward sensitivity is not only an interesting feature of extroversion; it is what makes an extrovert an extrovert.

We can’t say that all extroverts constantly crave rewards or that all introverts always brake for trouble. Still, the theory suggests that we should rethink the roles that introverts and extroverts play in their own lives and organizations. It suggests that when it comes time to make group decisions, extroverts would do well to listen to introverts—especially when they see problems ahead.

Introverts are “geared to inspect” and extroverts “geared to respond.”

When introverts hit the number nine button and find they’ve lost a point, they slow down before moving on to the next number as if to reflect on what went wrong. But extroverts not only fail to slow down, they actually speed up. This seems strange; why would anyone do this? Newman explains that it makes perfect sense. If you focus on achieving your goals, as reward-sensitive extroverts do, you don’t want anything to get in your way—neither naysayers nor the number nine. You speed up in an attempt to knock these roadblocks down.

Introverts, in contrast, are constitutionally programmed to downplay reward—to kill their buzz, you might say—and scan for problems. “As soon they get excited,” says Newman, “they’ll put the brakes on and think about peripheral issues that may be more important. Introverts seem to be specifically wired or trained so when they catch themselves getting excited and focused on a goal, their vigilance increases.”

Extroverts are better than introverts at handling information overload. According to Joseph Newman, introverts' reflectiveness uses a lot of cognitive capacity.

But introverts seem to think more carefully than extroverts, as the psychologist Gerald Matthews describes in his work. Extroverts are more likely to take a quick-and-dirty approach to problem-solving, trading accuracy for speed, making increasing numbers of mistakes as they go, and abandoning ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating. Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.

Introverts and extroverts also direct their attention differently: if you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what’s happening around them. It’s as if extroverts are seeing “what is” while their introverted peers are asking “what if.”

Understanding where we fall on the reward-sensitivity spectrum gives us the power to live our lives well.

One answer is that even if the reward-sensitivity theory of extroversion turns out to be correct, we can’t say that all extroverts are always more sensitive to rewards and blasé about risk or that all introverts are constantly unmoved by incentives and vigilant about threats.

If you are threat-oriented: Criticism or scolding hurts me quite a bit. I feel pretty worried or upset when I think or know somebody is angry at me. If I think something unpleasant is going to happen, I usually get pretty “worked up.” I feel worried when I think I have done poorly at something important. I worry about making mistakes.

The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for the rewards it brings.

If you’re an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up. You enjoy relative freedom from the temptations of superficial prizes like money and status. Indeed, your biggest challenge may be to fully harness your strengths. You may be so busy trying to appear like a zestful, reward-sensitive extrovert that you undervalue your own talents, or feel underestimated by those around you. But when you’re focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless.

So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.

Ideas can be shared quietly, they can be communicated in writing, they can be packaged into highly produced lectures, and allies can advance them. The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.

“Success in investing doesn’t correlate with IQ,” he has said. “Once you have ordinary intelligence, you need the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.”

Words are potentially dangerous weapons that reveal things better left unsaid. They hurt other people; they can get their speaker into trouble.

Many Asian cultures are team-oriented, but not in the way that Westerners think of teams. Individuals in Asia see themselves as part of a greater whole—whether family, corporation, or community—and place tremendous value on harmony within their group. They often subordinate their own desires to the group’s interests, accepting their place in its hierarchy.

Western culture, by contrast, is organized around the individual. We see ourselves as self-contained units; our destiny is to express ourselves, to follow our bliss, to be free of undue restraint, to achieve the one thing that we, and we alone, were brought into this world to do. We may be gregarious, but we don’t submit to group will, or at least we don’t like to think we do. We love and respect our parents, but bridle at notions like filial piety, with their implications of subordination and restraint.

Though Eastern relationship-honoring is admirable and beautiful, so is Western respect for individual freedom, self-expression, and personal destiny. The point is not that one is superior to the other, but that a profound difference in cultural values has a powerful impact on the personality styles favored by each culture.

While introverted Chinese-American twelve-year-olds felt perfectly fine about themselves—presumably because they still measured themselves according to their parents’ traditional value systems—by the time they got to be seventeen and had been more exposed to America’s Extrovert Ideal, their self-regard had taken a nosedive.

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

“In the long run,” said Ni, “if the idea is good, people shift. If the cause is just and you put heart into it, it’s almost a universal law: you will attract people who want to share your cause. Soft power is quiet persistence.

This pattern—the decision to accept what another man would challenge—occurred again and again in Gandhi’s life. The day arrived when he stood to take the oath, at which point the chief justice ordered him to take off his turban. Gandhi saw his true limitations then. He knew that resistance would be justified, but believed in picking his battles, so he took off his headgear. His friends were upset. They said he was weak, that he should have stood up for his beliefs. But Gandhi felt that he had learned “to appreciate the beauty of compromise.”

Gandhi himself ultimately rejected the phrase “passive resistance,” which he associated with weakness, preferring satyagraha, the term he coined to mean “firmness in pursuit of truth.”

Little believes that fixed traits and free traits coexist. According to Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits—introversion, for example—but we can and do act out of character in the service of “core personal projects.”

Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.

I have found that there are three key steps to identifying your own core personal projects:

  • First, think back to what you loved to do when you were a child. How did you answer the question of what you wanted to be when you grew up? The specific answer you gave may have been off the mark, but the underlying impulse was not.
  • Second, pay attention to the work you gravitate to.
  • Finally, pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.

The best way to act out of character is to stay as true to yourself as you possibly can—starting by creating as many “restorative niches” as possible in your daily life.

Introverts should ask themselves: Will this job allow me to spend time on in-character activities like, for example, reading, strategizing, writing, and researching? Will I have a private workspace or be subject to the constant demands of an open office plan? If the job doesn’t give me enough restorative niches, will I have enough free time on evenings and weekends to grant them to myself?

Extroverts will want to look for restorative niches, too. Does the job involve talking, traveling, and meeting new people? Is the office space stimulating enough? If the job isn’t a perfect fit, are the hours flexible enough that I can blow off steam after work?

This is the final piece of Free Trait Theory. A Free Trait Agreement acknowledges that we’ll each act out of character some of the time—in exchange for being ourselves the rest of the time.

The person with whom you can best strike a Free Trait Agreement—after overcoming his or her resistance—is yourself.

“People who tend to [suppress their negative emotions] regularly,” concludes Grob, “might start to see the world in a more negative light.”

Probably the most common—and damaging—misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social. But as we’ve seen, neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social.

Introverts like people they meet in friendly contexts; extroverts prefer those they compete with.

Scores of studies have shown that venting doesn’t soothe anger; it fuels it.

Extroverts are sociable because their brains are good at handling competing demands on their attention—which is just what dinner-party conversation involves. In contrast, introverts often feel repelled by social events that force them to attend to many people at once.

When introverts are able to experience conversations in their own way, they make deep and enjoyable connections with others.

One of the best things you can do for an introverted child is to work with him on his reaction to novelty. Remember that introverts react not only to new people, but also to new places and events.

The key is to expose your child gradually to new situations and people—taking care to respect his limits, even when they seem extreme. This produces more-confident kids than either overprotection or pushing too hard.

Maybe it’s not the children who change but their environments. As adults, they get to select the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit them. They don’t have to live in whatever culture they’re plunked into.

Experts believe that negative public speaking experiences in childhood can leave children with a lifelong terror of the podium.

True self-esteem comes from competence, not the other way around. Researchers have found that intense engagement in and commitment to an activity is a proven route to happiness and well-being.

Unleashing a passion can transform a life, not just for the space of time that your child’s in elementary or middle or high school, but way beyond.

If it’s creativity you’re after, ask your employees to solve problems alone before sharing their ideas. If you want the wisdom of the crowd, gather it electronically, or in writing, and make sure people can’t see each other’s ideas until everyone’s had a chance to contribute. Face-to-face contact is important because it builds trust, but group dynamics contain unavoidable impediments to creative thinking.

Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama.

Last Updated

July 23rd, 2022