Monday, August 5, 2013

Lessons from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain


susan cain quiet introvert
That was the pervasive feeling I had after reading Susan Cain's book, Quiet. Being an introvert for almost 26 years is like living under constant prejudice that we are the 2nd class personality. Who care about that kid sitting quietly at the corner? Why is he not contributing to the discussion? "He's sooo quiet," people whisper.

Like the sun by which everything become clear, this book explains why I behave the way I behaved. The crux of the issue is not about which personality is superior, but how one personality can support the other, and vice versa. This writing is even not an argument, but a plea (I'll let the extroverts argue) for more understanding to the inside world of an introvert.

1. We are not anti-social.
Might be shocking to you, but we enjoy being in a social event and socializing. However, I wish you would redefine the idea of social events that have been shaped heavily by the culture, and enter into the introverts' idea of social event instead.

Imagine a small table of four, either at a coffee shop or a wine bar, with Michael Buble playing on the background, and four friends chatting heartily about life. Forget beer pong. Forget limbo and please don't even mention a disco night, all those are beyond our threshold of tolerance. So, it's not that we are anti-social, but we are differently social. Apparently, a table of four works better for us.

2. We are not anti-fun
I apologize if I did not jump from my seat and dance to the beat of Pitbull singing. I remember I was at a Bruno Mars' concert, and there was me sitting down quietly trying to enjoy his voice in the middle of girls jumping, hollering and cam-videoing. Pardon me for being the "lousiest fan", but I did enjoy the concert and did have fun. I just prefer less stimulation, and thus produce less expression of enthusiasm. Take off the lighting, and everything that make a concert spectacular, and I will not be deprived of fun. I just enjoy it differently.

3. We do engage in brainstorming and group discussion session.
These two types of environment are the perfect incubator for extroverts: spotlight, quick decision, thinking out loud, and actions oriented. Unfortunately for introverts who prefer solitude, contemplation, and thought processing, these brainstorming and discussion session will only produce half-baked ideas that we feel very uncomfortable to present.

Believe me, we do engage in the discussion, but for the time you spend talking and brainstorming, we are thinking and contemplating - mostly about what you said two minutes ago. And because there is rarely a moment of silence to which we can finish our thought, we just can't keep up. It's not rare that I come out from these sessions feeling wrecked by all the brains storming my resources and leave me in vertigo.

4. We do feel excited about your idea
Don't interpret our lack of excitement, or our hesitant to high-five as a non cooperative gesture to your initiative. It's just very natural for us to go into contemplative mode and wander into the realm of "what if this does not work". Instead of risk taking, too often we are heed taking. And it's hard to be gregarious when our path to gregarious require a five minutes risk assessment of the idea. Trust me, once we settle with it, we develop what Cain said Quiet Persistence or Soft Power - a silent tenacity in achieving a goal.

"Foothill College communication studies professor Preston Ni calls this style soft power, and contends that even someone who's not outwardly charismatic can lead if she is committed to her cause. The introverted Mother Teresa wielded soft power, and so did Gandhi, who had been a shy man. "In the long run," says Ni, "if your idea is good and you lead with your heart, it's almost a universal law: You'll attract people who want to share your cause. Soft power is quiet persistence.""

5. Believe me, I'm an introvert
And many other of your friends who can be gregarious, loud, and seems pretty comfortable in a large social setting. This is because many introverts are pseudo-extrovert, or as what Cain put it, a high self monitoring introvert - people who can modify their behavior to social demands. Although we do enjoy (point #1 and point #2) the social interactions, they are taking a toll on us and our energy meter is depleting rapidly.

To this, Cain suggested a method called "restorative niche" - a physical or mental place to recharge your energy and be true to yourself. Allow this 5- 10 minutes break between high stimulating activities and go for a walk before meeting, or hide in a bathroom, or put on your noise-cancelling earphone, etc.

Overall, there is no finger pointing here, I don't blame the company culture or the education system for favoring the Extroverts ideal. What I am hoping is for introverts not to shy away from their strength, and for extroverts to understand the contribution that for long have been closeted by the introverts. I'm sure the synergy of a team depends on all parts working together in their areas of strength and after so much training and focus on 7 Habits or Strength Finder, maybe it's time to shift our focus and go back to people's most basic trait, introverts and extroverts personality.