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

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February 2013

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012. Crown Publishing), Susan Cain describes and challenges American perspectives on our styles in interacting with others. Cain focuses in her introduction on the commonly accepted characteristics of extroverts. Extroverts are typically characterized as talkative, assertive, dominant multitaskers who think out loud, work well in teams, make quick decisions, take risks, take action, and like external rewards. Introverts are commonly seen as deliberate analysts who listen more than they talk, ask lots of questions, dislike conflict and small talk, work more slowly, are quiet but firm, make meaning of events, and may prefer writing to talking.

In Western culture we tend to think of the extrovert as the ideal, the model for leadership, both rewarding the behavior and developing it in training environments. In contrast, Cain points out that many Eastern cultures think differently. Additionally, in Good to Great, Jim Collins found that his ‘Level 5 Leaders’ were ‘quiet leaders’. Research shows longer thought leads to more success in identifying opportunities and implementing change.

In actuality, both introverts and extroverts are needed to make quality decisions and implement them effectively. However, while introverts can make substantial contributions to organizational decision-making they might be overlooked because of their tendency to be quiet in large groups. Where is the responsibility for including the introverted, thoughtful perspective in decision making and planning? Cain cautions that only with some interaction can an extrovert tell whether a quiet person in a meeting is an introvert with thoughts to contribute. But as she quotes Jack Welch (p. 173), “the extroverts would argue that they never heard from the introverts.” Introverts may also need to be better at making their case or developing alternative ways of being heard.