Books Magazine

Quiet by Susan Cain Read-Along, Discussion of Parts 2 and 3

By Joyweesemoll @joyweesemoll

cover of Quiet by Susan CainWelcome to session 2 for the read-along of Quiet by Susan Cain. Last week, we talked about Part 1: Quiet by Susan Cain Read-Along, Discussion of Part 1. This week, we’re discussing Part 2 and Part 3. If you want an advance copy of the questions for the final discussion next week, say so in the comments or shoot me an email at — I’m joyweesemoll there.

I haven’t had a chance to listen yet, but Susan Cain was interviewed by Slate last week: The Introvert’s Introvert. Thanks to Mari of The Partyka Project for letting me know about that.

Have you seen evidence in yourself or children you know that introversion or extroversion was part of their nature?

I love nature versus nurture questions. I’ve read enough to know that the answer is almost always “both,” but the way it plays out on various topics is endlessly fascinating.

I was attracted, in this book, to the experiments by Jerome Kagan. He worked out that infants who react strongly to stimulation are the ones who turn out to be introverts. At first glance, that seems a bit counter-intuitive – the wiggly, screaming babies are the ones who turn out to be quiet when they’re older. But it makes sense when you wonder how someone who is very sensitive to stimulation is likely to arrange her or his life — in ways to minimize that stimulation.

Now I have a better understanding of something that my mother wrote in my baby book — that I had my first temper tantrum at 9 months even though the book stated that the normal age of first tantrum is 2 years. There aren’t tantrums recorded for my actual toddler years. I suspect what she witnessed at 9 months was an overly stimulated baby who would spend the next many years of her life trying to figure out how to make sure that didn’t happen again.

Have you been aware of environmental factors that influenced a person’s introversion or extroversion?

Since my birth family was split evenly, my dad and I were introverts and my mother and brother were extroverts, the case for environmental factors is a little hard to tease out. My brother and I both had role models to follow when we wanted to go with the flow of our nature and opportunities to explore the other way of being. There was some occasional awkwardness in the gender. I was more like my father but expected to behave socially in ways that my mother modeled more easily and I’m sure the same was true for my brother.

Have you or someone you know found ways to be extroverted in spite of a tendency toward introversion? How did it work out?

Cain hasn’t mentioned this yet in the book Quiet that I’ve seen, but there’s a theory in Jungian literature that around age 40, introverts start to find some pleasure in extroversion and vice versa. That is, quiet people embrace noisier moments and noisy people engage in quieter times. For me, turning 40 was pretty much magic. Things I used to hate like networking and public speaking suddenly became endlessly fascinating — challenging, sure, but that’s what made it exciting! I took that energy to library school, a short but intense job in a library, and now blogging and writing as a librarian. It’s been fun and I always recommend that introverts be ready to take advantage of that change.

There are examples in these chapters where being introverted paid off in some financial or other way. Have you had that experience?

In my first career as a computer scientist, the loudest person in the room always got his way. The gendered pronoun was used quite deliberately in that sentence and you can find tons of material about gender and technology careers. I’m not sure if there’s been as much written about introversion and extroversion. Computer science is hardly known as an extroverted profession and some of the examples in the book Quiet are of introverted engineers, but were the most successful of the bunch the ones who found some extroverted force and could dominate the room?

By the time I was a librarian, in contrast, I was less aware of that dynamic. But I’d found my voice then. If I were the loudest person in the room, I’m not sure I would be quite as much aware of others were not being heard. Although, I think I was. That, maybe, is the advantage of an introvert — being more aware of all the quiet little things that are happening around you so that there’s more data to work with when you’re coming to a decision. I was usually aware who we hadn’t heard from, especially if he or she took a breath and started to say something but got interrupted. I would remember and get back to that person.

There are lots of anecdotes and studies in these chapters about how introverts act in the world. Did you relate to any, particularly? Did any surprise you?

I had a burst of insight from the observation that in a gathering of introverts, there’s still chit-chat and small talk, but it happens after there have been deeper interactions not before:

In most settings, people use small talk as a way of relaxing into a new relationship, and only once they’re comfortable do the connect more seriously. Sensitive people seem to do the reverse. p. 152

That explains why I was so comfortable in libraries. When you walk into someone’s office, you’re expected to come to the point quickly. But that doesn’t mean that you necessarily leave after you’ve stated what you came to say. At the end of the purposeful part of the visit, if things are going well and no one is in a hurry, you might sit down for a chat.

Even more, it explains my sense of anxiety when I talk to extroverts sometimes. If I think someone called with an agenda, it drives me nuts if they don’t tell me what it is. Extroverts, naturally, want to ease into it. But my anxiety level won’t go down until I know the purpose of the call. My brother must have picked up on this over the years because he’s good about stating the purpose at the beginning of a phone conversation or telling me that he called for no particular reason, just to talk. I can relax as soon as I know what the deal is, but not before.

What are you learning from the book Quiet?

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