Book by Susan Cain
Review by Renée Jones
Johns Hopkins University
Have you ever felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole? Well, this is the feeling that many introverts experience when navigating life. Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking explores the reasons for our tendency to gravitate toward and celebrate those who are naturally gregarious and outgoing while ignoring those who are quiet. She highlights the many benefits of being an introvert.
Cain describes how society transitioned from a “Culture of Character” to a “Culture of Personality”. In the culture of character, qualities such as integrity, respect, honor and civility were extolled, while visible characteristics such as charisma, beauty and presence were admired in the Culture of Personality. The person you appeared to be on the outside became more important than the one you were on the inside.
It is imperative when working with students that advisors work to develop a relationship with their advisees. Having an understanding of personality can help the advisor assist the advisee with a number of academic issues. For example, the advisor can help students to recognize how personality may be affecting classroom learning or even how personality may impact career choice.
Advisors interact with a diverse group of students. Being able to meet the student on her or his level is essential to building a good working relationship. Introverts often see themselves as inferior because they do not have a preference for extroversion, which is the dominant personality type of the western hemisphere. An advisor familiar with personality is able to appreciate the qualities of being an introvert and communicate this appreciation to the student.
Some of the academic struggles that students face may be attributed to personality. If a professor requires only group work, then the introverted student may struggle. Cain suggests that introverts need time alone in order to be creative. Group presentations can also be a challenge for the introverted student. Cain outlines several techniques to help the introvert respond to these types of challenges.
Some chapters seemed to paint a negative picture of extroverts. In one chapter the author implied that extroverts were to blame for the Enron scandal. The book seemed to celebrate and applaud the qualities of the introvert and magnify the deficiencies of the extrovert. I believe that introverts and extroverts are different, but both are valuable. Regrettably, I did not get this picture while reading.
Several times Cain suggests that when an introvert acts like an extrovert, she is acting out of character or being disingenuous. I contend that both introversion and extroversion reside in a person; the person just has a preference for on over the other. For example a person uses both her or his right hand and her left hand, but typically has a preference for one. Therefore, an introvert displaying extroverted characteristics does not necessarily mean that the introvert is only performing. However, I do believe that if an introvert has to be “on” for a significant time, then this will prove to be draining.
Another limitation of the book is that it suggested that being introverted or extroverted is your personality type. The personality type indicator has four scales. I believe that they work together. So, to focus on only one scale, introversion/extroversion, seems to only give a skewed view of personality.
Cain does a good job of showcasing the wonderful qualities of the introverted person. In the introduction Cain regales the story of Rosa Parks, praising her “quiet strength”. This is especially refreshing since introverts are often ignored or looked upon negatively. I just wish the book could have praised the introvert without seeming to disparage the extrovert.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2013). Book by Susan Cain. Review by Renée Jones. New York: Random House. 352 pp. $16.00., ISBN # 978-0-307-35215-6