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Love is Essential; Gregariousness is Optional

In the best-seller, Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain shows how the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the 20th century has exaggerated the value of what some people think of as effective communication—glad-handing, constantly gregarious, always smiling verbal and nonverbal enthusiasm.

The book’s been celebrated by the New York Times, Psychology Today, Scientific American, and dozens of critics.  One of the book’s reviewers writes, “Those who value a quiet, reflective life will feel a burden lifting from their shoulders as they read Susan Cain’s eloquent and well-documented paean to introversion.”

The Extrovert Ideal drives the expectations and rewards of most U.S. business, as it is taught at Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, and as it’s energetically practiced on Wall Street and Main Street.  Thoughtful, reserved professionals are often pushed into the background by their noisier and often more superficial colleagues.

Cain’s advice to the quiet person is, “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.  Cherish your nearest and dearest. . . .  Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity” (p. 264).  There’s a direct relationship between the quality of your communication and the quality of your life.

And quality means more than low stress and high satisfaction, important as those are.  When business guru Jim Collins studied eleven standout companies in depth, he discovered that these highly profitable operations were all run by unassuming leaders who were described by those they worked with as “quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated” (p. 55).  As leaders, introverts often produce high Return On Investment.

At a practical level, Cain emphasizes how introverts’ power comes in part from their well-developed abilities to listen.

"Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social    situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions.  Having benefited  from   the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive.  Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words" (p. 57).

The greatest value of Quiet is that it urges its readers toward balance.  “. . . human extroverts have more sex partners than introverts do—a boon to any species wanting to reproduce itself—but they commit more adultery and divorce more frequently, which is not a good thing for the children of all those couplings.  Extroverts exercise more, but introverts suffer fewer accidents and traumatic injuries.  Extroverts enjoy wider networks of social support, but commit more crimes. . . .  We need to find a balance between action and reflection” (pp. 148, 170).

Like U&ME: Creating Moments that Matter, Cain’s book reminds readers how we humans  are in many ways two-sided, and how important it is to exercise and develop all the facets of who we are.  Each of us is hard-wired with yin and yang qualities, including introversion and extroversion, and impersonal (left-brain) relating and personal (right-brain) relating.  Our lives are enhanced most when we engage both.  

The problem is that so many social and cultural forces push us away from balance.  Just as Facebook, Twitter, and Second Life seduce millions into believing that friendship means hundreds of shallow contacts, the Extrovert Ideal makes glad-handing better than careful listening and thoughtful reflection.  In both cases, the impersonal and superficial are valued over the personal, and what suffers is the quality of our lives.

The solution is to resist some of the pressures toward impersonal contacts.  Help move more of your communication experiences toward the right-hand end of the impersonal------interpersonal scale.  How?  By maximizing the presence of the personal in your communication life.  Give out more of what makes you a person—your uniqueness, emotions-spirit-psyche, mindful reflectiveness, and choices—and take in more of the same features of your conversation partner.  This is the simple—though often not easy—way to enhance the quality of your life.

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