Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

This is a fascinating study which takes the reader into the heart of one of biggest personality trait indicators of modern times: extraversion vs introversion. These terms have become so entrenched in our vocabulary that we might use them constantly to describe ourselves, our friends and family or our children and yet, as we see in the course of this book, also often misunderstood or misused. To say that extraverts need people to recharge and introverts need alone time to recharge isn’t terribly accurate, although the lived experience will often appear this way.

Cain, herself an introvert, establishes early on that the demarcation between these two poles of personality is clear from very early in an infant’s life thereby setting us up to understand that introverts are those who are ‘highly sensitive’ to outside stimulus. Not all those who display this high sensitivity are introverts, but all introverts demonstrate high sensitivity, whereas those infants whose responses to outside stimulus were more muted are those we understand to be extraverts.

Cain does an excellent job of showing how introverts are a much needed personality in our society, how crucial it is that we do not ascribe authority simply to the loudest voice or the best outward presentation, to those who can ‘think on their feet’ and respond fast and therefore gain the influence. The worlds of business, finance and politics all need those who have the ability to think deeply about possible solutions to problems, to be creative (surprisingly Cain demonstrates the lie that people – even extraverts – are more creative in a group) in their thinking and to develop effective, interesting and exciting innovation. We also need those who feel deeply, are instinctively intuitive and often able to accurately read other people’s emotions, who are more likely to sit with someone who is suffering than brush the suffering aside. Yes, all these traits are innate to those who are ‘highly sensitive’.

I learned a lot about my own introversion from this. I am not an introvert, I do not share all of the key traits but, by Cain’s description, I would register as ‘highly sensitive’. One of the things I have ALWAYS found frustrating is that I find it very difficult to process information, particularly in conversation, in the moment and usually find myself only able to respond once I’m in the car on the way home or a day later when my brain has had a chance to process. This is a key characteristic of an introvert and one which should not lead to the experience and thinking of the person being dismissed, but of course often does.

I would recommend you read this book, wherever you would place yourself on the extra-introversion spectrum. You’ll begin to understand your friends and family, your colleagues and your children and yourself in a way that will bring clarity and realisation of the struggles we all face in our day to day.