Ever feel that things just aren’t right in a group you are in? You are not very satisfied with the interaction and your lack of participation. You have little voice and soon conclude that you aren’t nearly as smart or as interesting as the others. You think, no wonder no one wants to know what I think.
Clearly there could be a lot of reasons why you might feel that way; but for me, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking provides insights for me as I navigate with the people of my days. I never thought that being an introvert could explain the dis-ease I sometimes have in large groups and with some folks.
You might be thinking, Dan, my good man, you an introvert? You taught for years. You had to stand up in front of the class. In retirement, you are a rounder at York Hospital who just knocks on patients’ doors, goes in to meet these strangers, and talks with them. You’ve led many literacy workshops where you stand up in front of 50 to 100 teachers. Introvert? Please.
Well, let’s take each example one by one.
Have you ever been in a class I’ve taught? I never lectured. I was just not comfortable standing and delivering; my university classes were experiential in nature. That is, my students participated in experiences that approximated what they would do in the public school classroom. For example, I had students teach actual reading strategies to their classmates that they would use with public school students.
Rounding? Once I am in the hospital room, I was in conversation with the patient. That is a classic hallmark of an introvert – one to one interaction.
Leading workshops? I knew if I was going to make my way as a teacher leader I had to get beyond my preference for small groups and share my passion with larger groups. I became a Pretend Extrovert (Cain’s term) for an hour or two to share what was important to me.
Susan Cain’s Quiet has given me a lens to make sense of my world in many ways where I can feel the misfit, not being one who is outspoken or always quick with a ready and witty comment.
Ever had such unease?
Perhaps these questions will get you thinking about yourself on the introvert/extrovert continuum.
Do you ever go to a meeting and think, I’ve got to say something so it’s not so obvious I am not speaking up at all? If you are like me, you do it regularly. Once I was on a church committee of 20 and rarely said boo at the monthly two hour meetings. When we infrequently met in small sub-groups, I felt that I had a voice. At campus-wide faculty meetings of 50 or more at the University of New England, I sat quite passively taking in all that was said but not participating. Not once in eight years did I speak up at those meetings. I soon stopped going. In the Education Department, where five, six, or seven of us met, I felt more comfortable speaking up.
Do you ever spend a lot of time just listening to others who talk and talk? No matter how interesting someone is, I get bored if I am not engaged in the conversation. My mind wanders and I’m planning my exit strategy. I need dialogue not monologue. Introverts like to develop their relationships in twos, threes, and fours.
Do you ever get frustrated that the Extrovert Ideal (Cain’s term) is held up in our society as the goal for one and all? For too long, I thought I should just try harder to be out there, more animated, more expressive, talk more. Research shows that extroverts are perceived as being smarter, better looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. Who wouldn’t want to be an extrovert if those are the assumptions people make?
The research is that one out of two or three people is an introvert. In my experience I think that estimate is low. Or it could be that I hang around with more introverts?
So what is an extrovert? How does that differ from an introvert?
Extroverts tend to be gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. They prefer action, risk taking, and being certain. They love socializing in groups. They are the ones you love to invite to a party. They are rarely at a loss for words. Extroverts tell stories and can dominate any pairing or large group they are in. They joyfully barrel through their days.
Extrovertism is often seen as an appealing trait, but it can be seen as an oppressive standard for introverts. Just because they are good talkers doesn’t mean extroverts are always the ones with the best ideas. Often introversion is seen as a second class trait, somewhere between disappointment and pathology.
Introverts tend to ask more questions and listen. They like meeting in pairs and small groups. They can work slowly and deliberately. They devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They tend to dislike conflict.
Cain is not suggesting you are either one or the other. We all fall somewhere on the introversion/ extroversion spectrum. She does not hold up introversion as the ideal. Introverts and extroverts can learn from each other and can each modify their own behavior.
What she suggests is that an introvert can play the role of the extrovert as necessary, the Pretend Extrovert. If we have personal projects or work that is important to us, or really anything that we value highly, we can step out of our comfort zone to be successful in the extrovert’s world. For example, if you as an introvert want to influence the environmental policy of your town or state, take all the opportunities you can to speak in public to prepare yourself for sharing your passion with a wider audience.
As one on the introvert side of the continuum, I have some thoughts for extroverts:
- Be yourself. We introverts are inspired by your energy, passion, and less cautious approach to life. We marry you. Opposites do attract.
- “Read” the group you are in and consciously include everyone in the conversation. We have more to contribute than you know.
By the way
I listened to the CD of Quiet on a driving trip back and forth from Maine to New Jersey. Kathe Mazur, the reader of Quiet, is amazing and I hung on her every word. She’s pleasing to the ear. In Maine, you can borrow the CD through inter-library loan.
Check out this 20 minute lecture for TED that Susan Cain gave to catch a snapshot of Quiet.
Teachers: Check out Chapter 11 to have you rethink your approach in the classroom. Is there enough individual time as well as small and large group time in your class? Does one type of discourse dominate your classroom?
Cain’s book blew me away and encouraged me to be proactive so as to be heard in a world that just can’t stop talking. Check out her website.