Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For whatever reason, it took a lot of encouragement for me to get excited about this book. I know it's not just a lack of interest in nonfiction. When Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit arrived on my Kindle, I dove right into it, and I don't even like tomatoes. Perhaps part of my hesitation sprang from the same place that Barry Estabrook's inspiration for Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking came from: a lifetime of being an introvert and being surrounded by introverts. After all, being one of "the quiet ones" means knowing from the start that others perceive you as awkward and boring or socially inept. How much can a book tell you?

Surprisingly, even if you're an introvert and even if you're an introverted Psychology major and counselor, Susan Cain's book still has plenty to offer. Quiet is not only an exploration of what it means to be an introvert, it is also an interesting exploration of the study of personality in general. The introversion/extroversion dichotomy in personality is one of the most studied aspects of personality; it's also the one everyone thinks they understand even when they don't. For one thing, introversion is not the same as shyness and extroversion is not the same as outgoing. Are the stereotypes of quiet introverts and loud extroverts completely off-base? Not exactly, but the stable trait in introverts and extroverts is sensitivity to stimulation. Introverts are more sensitive to stimulation than extroverts, and Susan Cain illustrates this point beautifully with several studies, including one performed by a psychologist who, if anything, wanted to prove that we are not born with preferences for certain levels of stimulation. That psychologist ended up completing one of the most solid longitudinal studies to prove that babies are born as introverts or extraverts.

In addition to citing interesting research, Susan Cain also provides tips from the experts on practical challenges, including: overcoming a fear of public speaking (if you're an introvert--if you're an extrovert with a fear of public speaking, you'll need to look elsewhere), how to understand an introverted child as a parent or teacher, and how to get the most out of introverts in an organization that doesn't necessarily appreciate the gifts that quiet thoughtful types bring to the table.

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