In school, they are the students who raise their hands every time the teacher asks a question. In the business meeting, they dominate the conversations, speaking freely and often. At a party, they are the ones in the center of the action, laughing and moving from one person to the next throughout an evening.

They are the extroverts.

“We live in a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal - the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight,” wrote Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” “The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual--the kind who’s comfortable ‘putting himself out there.’”

The cover of Susan Cain’s book. Photo courtesy of Susan Cain
The cover of Susan Cain’s book. Photo courtesy of Susan Cain

While Cain admits that we do find ways to value creative loners who do things like launch start-up companies from their garages, we usually only praise them for this after they have become wealthy.

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“Introversion-along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness- is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” Cain said. “Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

While these descriptions might make it seem like extroverts are the only ones who get anything done, that is not the case. Sir Issac Newton, Albert Einstein, Frederic Chopin, Marcel Proust, George Orwell, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schultz, Vincent van Gogh, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling were all creative, productive individuals who were introverts, according to Cain.

“Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly,” Cain wrote. “They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking. They enjoy ‘the thrill of the chase’ for rewards like money and status.”

She noted that introverts often take more time, work more slowly and deliberately. Introverts are more apt to focus on one project at a time and will likely give that project their strong concentration.

Extroverts prefer talking to listening, Cain explained, and seldom find themselves at a loss for words. They may blurt out things they really didn’t intend to say. She added that they are comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.

“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after awhile wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict.”

A number of online quizzes ask questions that help determine if a person is an introvert or an extrovert as do more formal tests like the MBTI - the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a self-reporting questionnaire that identifies psychological preferences. In general, one-third of all people will identify as introvert, one-third as extrovert, and one-third in between, often called ambivert.

Cain’s book is filled with stories about introverts who step into an extrovert role to work on what she calls “core personal projects.” By examining extensive research and through dozens of interviews with personality experts, Cain offers suggestions on how to take advantage of the strengths of both introverts and extroverts and how those personality types can relate to each other in the workplace, in school, and in the home.

Discussion questions

  1. Based on the quiz in the book, do you think you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert?

  2. Are you an introvert in some situations and an extrovert in others?

  3. What about the important people in your lives—your partner, your friends, your kids?

  4. Do you think Cain’s portrayals of introverts and extroverts are accurate?

  5. Did you find yourself described anywhere in the book? If so, what was the information?

  6. Are there times when you act differently than your personality? How comfortable and successful is that for you?

  7. Cain states that talkative people are often rated as smarter, better looking, and more interesting. What is your reaction to that statement?

  8. Quiet talks about “restorative niches,” the places introverts go or the things they do to recharge their batteries. What are your favorite restorative niches?

  9. How could ideas from this book be applied in the workplace? In schools?

  10. Would you recommend this book to a friend or family member? Why or why not?

August pick

In August, Rivertown Reads will be reading “Go Tell It on the Mountain” by James Baldwin. To send us your reviews or future book recommendations, contact Rebecca Mariscal (rmariscal@rivertowns.net) or Rachel Fergus (rfergus@rivertowns.net).

Questions to consider for while reading:

1. What are the family dynamics in the book?

2. How does the switch between narrators impact the story? Was there a storyline or narrator that you found to be most impactful or interesting?

3. The book opens with “Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father.” How does John’s relationship with religion change throughout the novel? And his relationship with his father?

4. What perspectives did this book provide that were new to you?

5. This book was first published in the 1950s. How does the story relate to the world today?

6. Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?

7. There are numerous themes throughout the novel that are not explicitly addressed. For example, same-sex attraction, classism and abuse. Did you follow or find any of these themes interesting or important for the narrative of Baldwin’s work?