After years of feeling out of place in her career as a lawyer, Susan Cain decided to explore what it was that set her apart from her confident, boisterous peers. Starting with the familiar distinction of introverts and extroverts, Cain began a journey into social psychology that had a surprising conclusion: introverts are just as influential as extroverts, despite our modern obsession with charisma and personality. Read the 9 key insights from her bestselling book, Quiet, below.
We’ve come to idealize extroversion to a fault.
As the quiet, solitary life went out of style in the early 20th century, so did introversion. The classic assumptions about the introvert/extrovert dichotomy (extroverts are confident and communicative; introverts are timid and unassuming) might hold some truth, but we greatly undervalue introverted tendencies in today’s “culture of personality.”
The real difference between an extrovert and an introvert is in the brain.
While most people turn to lists of character traits to explain the difference, the brain’s response to stimuli is the defining factor between extroverts and introverts. Introverts respond more strongly to external stimuli, meaning they function best with less stimulation. Extroverts, on the other hand, can handle a larger influx of noise and interaction.
The best leaders aren’t always extroverts.
Many assume that all good leaders are assertive, talkative, and action-oriented. Research shows, however, that extroverted leaders are only effective when their team is passive. Introverted leaders tend to listen to their subordinates, delegate important work when necessary, and share credit, which makes them the most effective leaders for proactive, initiative-taking team members.
A step back from collaborative, team-oriented work culture benefits both introverts and extroverts.
Start-up culture has invaded the modern workplace, swapping private offices for large communal areas. While open offices have their benefits, the most productive workplace is one that accommodates both extroverted and introverted tendencies. Whether this means designated quiet time or a variety of work spaces (collaborative and private), many companies would be well served to re-introduce walls.
You’re born with a temperament, but your environment determines how that temperament affects you.
Studies of high- and low-reactive children (high-reactive meaning they respond strongly to stimuli and low meaning they are typically unfazed by it) demonstrate that high-reactive children (read: future introverts) struggle to cope with high stress situations at a young age. But with proper nurturing, high-reactive children are often well-adjusted, creative and independent.
The rubber-band theory of personality explains why introverts and extroverts can explore each other’s lifestyles but never truly swap identities.
We are flexible — like a rubber band — in our personalities. Introverts can adapt to function well in stimulating situations, and extroverts can dampen their need for constant activity and interaction. But while we can stretch ourselves to work in uncomfortable situations, we are most productive and content when we pay attention to our introverted or extroverted needs.
When it comes to risk-taking and innovation, we foolishly undervalue the introvert.
Extroverts are more reward-driven and prone to jump at opportunities than introverts, but the tendency of introverts to be methodical, calculated, and deliberate brings more consistent success. While introverts would be well served to learn to trust their instincts, extroverts could also learn a great deal about acknowledging and weighing risk in their decision-making.
Introverts can self-monitor to help adapt to extrovert environments, but can only do so sustainably by nurturing their introverted ways.
With careful attention to their social tendencies, introverts can learn to operate like an extrovert in a classroom, at a dinner party, and in tough work situations. But to avoid social exhaustion, it’s important that introverts give themselves space — whether that means taking a break during a party for quiet, alone time or carefully balancing speaking engagements with writing work.
Introverts decode social dynamics with ease, but that doesn’t mean interacting with those dynamics comes just as naturally.
Studies have shown that introverts — i.e. the person sitting back at the dinner party or quietly taking in the work meeting — are better at decoding social cues than their extroverted counterparts. However, understanding those cues doesn’t necessarily make it easy to interact with social competence (and confidence). On the other hand, studies also show that introverts don’t actually talk less than extroverts–they just prefer to discuss more serious topics. Extroverts appreciate the invitation to deep conversation, and introverts appreciate the lighthearted topics favored by extroverts.