Have you ever wondered about the diversity of personality types? In Susan Cain’s book Quiet, she discusses the power of being an introvert, and how we need to embrace all personality types. She highlights the strengths of introverts, but also emphasizes the importance of being yourself and focusing on your own personal growth and self improvement.
- It’s a spectrum.
- Part nature, part nurture.
- Power in diversity.
It’s a spectrum
This whole book is about personality types, specifically introverts and extroverts. It’s important to understand what they are and the fact that they occur along a spectrum.
Most people are some combination of the two, with one typically more dominant than the other. No one really exists at the far extremes, meaning there’s no such thing as someone who’s 100% introverted or extroverted. But there are the special ones in the middle, called ambiverts, who have a big percentage of both.
Your level of introversion/extroversion is based on how you react to stimulation, including social stimulation like social situations. Generally, if you feel more rejuvenated or energized by external stimulation, you’re more extroverted. Then vice versa, if you’re more tired or worn out from stimulation, you’re likely more introverted. This isn’t about whether you enjoy it or if you can handle it (for example, social skills), it’s how you feel after going through it.
A good way to think about this is thinking about how you feel after leaving a party full of people that you love. You may have had a wonderful time with friends and/or family, but how do you feel afterwards. Do you leave the party feeling energized or tired?
Part nature, part nurture
One part of this book that was really interesting was how Susan delved into the idea of nature versus nurture for personality development. Basically the conclusion is that it’s part nurture and part nature.
A scientific study that showed the nature part – meaning the part that comes from your genetics – was done by looking at how sensitive children were and then re-evaluating them many years later as an adult. The study showed that sensitive children were very commonly also sensitive adults.
There were other studies that looked at the influence of parents on their children. Such as looking at how children were affected by having both introverted or extroverted parents. The environment (the nurture part) was also shown to affect the amount of introversion/extroversion. Which makes sense, your family environment shows you what’s considered normal and encourages you to act certain ways.
So, like most things, it’s partially genetic and also partially determined by our environment. Which is not too surprising, but very interesting to hear about the studies and how the conclusions were reached.
You can also kind fo see this difference in the way cultures around the world view outgoing or extroverted personalities. Western cultures tend to encourage a culture of individuality and outgoingness, whereas other cultures can have more of a community focus and may discourage disruptive personalities.
An interesting example of a clash of cultures was when international students came to the USA for university. Professors were always encouraging class participation, even when people were not contributing any value. But for some of the international students they felt it was rude to speak up if they didn’t have something concrete to contribute and were surprised at how patient the professors were. Some even felt that it was disrespectful of the other students to waste people’s time when they could be learning things of value from the professor.
Susan thought it was important to discuss how culture can also impact personality types (nurture). I also really appreciated that the book had a disclaimer that general cultural trends are not absolute, and that there’s lots of individuality within every culture and country.
Power in diversity
Just like every other type of diversity, there’s power in our differences, including our personality types. We can learn and balance each other out. Two aspects that introverts and extroverts deal with differently are with risk and leadership.
Generally, extroverts tend to be greater risk takers, whereas introverts are more likely to be cautious. It’s not difficult to see how a balance of the two can be beneficial.
One example Susan talked about where an imbalance of leadership lead to significant damage was the 2008 financial crisis. It’s discussed that the crisis may have been partially caused by the culture of risk taking that was encouraged and enabled within the financial sector.
At that time, the people taking risks were creating profits and so more risk taking was encouraged. This led to having a certain kind of people (aka risk taking extroverts) making most of the decisions, and anyone who talked about being more cautious was removed from decision making positions.
It’s suggested that having more of a balance or diversity of personalities could’ve mitigated some of the damage.
Leadership is typically thought to be a strength of extroverts, but in reality introverts can often outperform extroverts in leadership positions.
Introverts tend to encourage and enable proactive employees. This means they’re good at listening for good ideas and making sure they get implemented. They also tend to delegate more to those who can do it best, rather than making sure they get recognition.
Introverts tend to listen to others and make time for reflection or deep work. Both of these can be incredible strengths as leaders.
Extroverts can also be good leaders, and not all introverts are great leaders. This is only to highlight that leaders can come in all shapes, sizes, and personality types. Also, to show that things typically seen as being negative (being quiet) can be monumental strengths (listening).
I found this book really interesting. Personally, as an introvert that sometimes crosses into the ambivert territory, I really enjoyed hearing all the scientific studies that challenge our thinking about personality types.
It was great to get a different perspective than what I grew up with, aka the idea that you need to be outgoing to be successful. I loved hearing about the benefits of introverts and personality diversity, and how we all have out personal strengths and value to contribute. This book was a delightful reminder that you just need to be yourself and that there’s no one way to do anything.
Like most things, the key is to find balance by encouraging everyone to be themselves and understand that you are enough just as you are. You don’t need to mask or pretend to be different than who you are. We, as a society, need different personality types to continue thriving, and encouraging diversity can also create positive side effects of becoming more accepting.
I know the book is not new, and people have become more accepting of introverts in the past 10 years. But there’s still so much that isn’t common knowledge, with lots of scientific proof to back it up. I would highly recommend this book.
Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!