In her book Quiet, Susan Cain celebrates the power of introversion. She estimates that introverts make up between 33% and 50% of Americans and proposes that where we fall on the Introvert-extrovert spectrum is “the single most important aspect of personality.” It influences our choice of friends and partners, how we make conversation, how we resolve differences, what careers we choose, and whether we will succeed at them.
Famous individuals who have made significant contributions to a wide variety of fields have been introverts: Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Al Gore, Warren Buffet, Gandhi, Van Gogh, Einstein, Chopin, George Orwell, Charles Schulz, Steven Spielberg, and even Dr. Seuss!
Cain views introversion from a cultural point of view. Introverts may describe themselves as: reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, shy, sensitive, thoughtful, solitude-seeking and inner-directed. Introverts generally prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying, and working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Society generally seems to favor extroversion over introversion in many contexts. In other words, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” From a work standpoint, many employers encourage teamwork in offices without walls, where “people skills” are highly valued.
Cain considers the positive sides to both extroversion and introversion in the workplace. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly and are more comfortable with multi-tasking, risk-taking and conflict. Introverts tend to think more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and may have very strong powers of concentration. Introverts may be excellent leaders and negotiators because often they have strong abilities to listen carefully, think things through, remain calm in stressful situations, and ask good questions.
My main takeaway from this book was Cain’s proposal of a Free Trait Agreement. We can make agreements with ourselves to adopt behaviors from our opposite personality type when we are pursuing an important goal or “core personal project.” For example, an introvert like Al Gore can deliver an engaging speech to several hundred people about a climate change, a cause he feels strong about.
Considering a Free Trait Agreement in the context of career advancement, it may be challenging for someone with strong introversion to attend large networking events. Cain would suggest making an agreement to commit to a certain number of networking events per month with the view that by networking now and landing a job more quickly, one won’t have to work so hard at networking in the future.
To determine your core personal project, Cain asks: 1) What did you love to do as a child and what specific aspect made you love that activity so much? 2) What do you gravitate to at work? Is it the work itself or the purpose/cause you are serving? 3) What do you envy? The things you envy are clues to what you probably most want.
In closing this review, I offer two suggestions. 1) Please understand that extroverts, introverts and ambiverts (folks in the middle between introversion and extroversion) vary widely in their behaviors. Therefore, it is best to avoid making assumptions and “typecasting” individuals based on their personality preferences. Cain advises readers to take what applies to them and use the rest of the information to improve their relationships with others. 2) If you don’t know where you fall on the introversion-extroversion spectrum, you might consider taking the Keirsey Temperament Sorter or the assessment on pages 13-14 of Cain’s book. Both extroverts and introverts have amazing talents and gifts to offer and knowing that potential makes this book worth reading.
Written by Career Services Director Lisa Cook