Jim Fleming: But first, a few questions for you. Do you prefer one on one conversations to group activities? Would you rather express yourself in writing than in talking? Do you feel drained after being out and about, even if you've enjoyed yourself? Those are just three of twenty questions designed to see where you land on the introvert extrovert spectrum. This quiz is from Susan Cain's best selling book "Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking". Why did Susan Cain write "Quiet?"
Susan Cain: I really wrote the book for an analogous reason. How women started to write books sexism, you know, back in the 1950's and 1960's. I believe that introverts today are where women were back then, which is to say we're talking about probably half of the population. According to recent studies, half the population is introverted. And that's a half the population that is discounted because of a treat that goes to the core of who they are. And this bias against introversion in our culture, it causes psychic pain for individual introverts. But I also believe it is a loss for the culture at large. And that we're designing our school and our work places solely for extroverts, not for introverts, and that's leading to a real waste of talent, and energy, and happiness.
You know I think one of the best ways to understand it is to really get it, What actually is the difference between introverts and extroverts? It really has to do with how we respond to stimulation. Introverts tend to feel that they most alive and that they're most energized when they're in environments that are less stimulating, when there's sort of less stuff coming at them. Where as extroverts really crave lots of stimulation coming at them to feel that they're most alive. And if they don't get it, they start to feel kind of bored and listless, and not generally happy.
So it's important to understand it in this way because introverts are sometimes perceived as being asocial or wimpy. And it's really not that. It's just this desire for less stimulation. So this is why socially introverts would usually rather through interact one-on-one, have dinner with a close friend as opposed to going to a party.
Jim Fleming: Introversion is not the same thing as shyness which many people might think.
Susan Cain. That's right. It's not. Shyness is about the fear of social judgment. A shy person tends to imagine that people are judging them negatively, even when they're not. And introversion has nothing to do with that. It's this preference for less stimulation. Now in practice, some introverts are shy and some are not. So the two do overlap to some extent but psychologists can't even agree to what extent. There are definitely plenty of introverts out there who aren't shy at all.
A good example, I think, would be somebody like a Bill Gates, people routinely describe as introverted. He has a very private kind of understated style about him. But he doesn't seem like he's shy. He doesn't seem like he's overly phased by what people think of him.
Jim Fleming: And then there is something that you call an ambivert.
Susan Cain: Yeah.
Jim Fleming: I'm guessing from the title that it means "in between". But that's interesting cause how do you come up with a definition for it? How do you describe it?
Susan Cain: Yeah. You know it's a tricky thing. The technical definition would really be somebody who is kind of smack in the middle of the introvert extrovert spectrum. And I get a lot of people telling me, you know, I feel like I'm both. And so I guess that's what an ambivert is. The reason I say it in such provisional terms is because these terms are just famously mushy. And all of us have some of the other style in us, right? Even Carl Young, the psychologist who first popularized these terms introversion and extroversion, even he said there's no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. He said such a man would be in a lunatic asylum.
To some extent, we're all ambiverts. And yet, I think for many people we do feel like we do recognize ourselves as largely belonging to one of end of the spectrum or the other, even if we have times where we step out of our characteristic mode.
Jim Fleming: Here we are in the early part of the 21st century and we are I think you'd have to say, in the middle of what you describe as an extrovert ideal culture. If you want to be the best person you can be, you better learn how to be an extrovert. I guess is the way you define that.
Susan Cain: You'd better learn how to be out there in some degree but I do think that many successful introverts figure out ways to negotiate that in ways that are quite natural to them. They learn from quieter forms of presentation that are equally effective. And I should also say that social media is actually turning some of this on it's head in interesting ways. Because you know, of course you now through Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever you now have the ability to express yourself and to connect with large numbers of people without actually leaving your house. So that's whole twist on things.
Jim Fleming: Yeah. What are the dangers that you think of this bias towards extroversion that we're seeing in our culture?
Susan Cain: The first danger really is kind of psychic danger to introverts. I've spoken now to hundreds, to thousands of introverts. And I hear again and again this sense of I don't feel okay being who I am, because from the time they are children, very young children, they are sent a message that there is something wrong with their longing to have more solitude, with their longing to connect in these quieter ways. And so many walk around with a sense of being flawed. And also, they kind of lose their sense of how they they prefer to spend their time. So, you know, people who might really prefer to spend their Saturday nights reading, or studying, or being creative,or doing God knows what, they, they instead will propel themselves out to parties because they feel that's what they're supposed to be doing. So that's kind of the first thing.
But I think more broadly than that, we have entire work places that are designed primarily for extroverts. Now if you're a manager, how does that makes sense, really? You'll be much better off cultivating the morale and the energy of your entire workforce than trying to set things up in a way that works for both.
Jim Fleming: If you want new ideas, you'd think you'd turn to not the people who can shout the loudest but the people who can think the loudest, if you will.
Susan Cain: Yeah, and that's introverts and extroverts. You know, this isn't say introverts, they're the only ones who can think. It's just to say that we need both people's brains. And we have a system that is designed to cultivate more the brains of extroverts than the brains of introverts, which is a mistake cause they do think different. I mean introverts tend to think before they speak. Extroverts think while they speak. Extroverts tend to be really good at stuff like multitasking. Introverts are really good at tasks that require more depth and sitting and focusing on a problem at length. So the two types do have their different strong suits and we're best off cultivating them both.
Jim Fleming: Let's talk about introversion and children cause it's what's important. People often think we can mode young people to be who we think they need to be. We really ought to be paying more attention to their nature, shouldn't we? I mean whether they're introverted or extroverted, and maybe shaping the teaching experience to help them with their nature.
Susan Cain: Absolutely. This is a tremendous problem. You know, I hear all the time from people. I'm talking about people now in their 50s and 60s and 70s, who write me letters about things that happen to them when they were children in school, remarks the teachers made about how they weren't speaking enough in class or that sort of thing. And these remarks really sting, because the children understand that that they are being told that the person that they are, that the way that they are, that their way of being is wrong and that they need to change. That's a big thing to tell a kid. And these kids really are who they are. That's not to say that introverted children can't learn over time, you know certain skills that will help them in this extroverted society of ours. But it is to say that we need to be cultivating these kids for who they are instead of telling them you have to turn into somebody else.
Jim Fleming: Is that harder for one kind of parent than another? I mean is an introverted parent likely to have more trouble with an extroverted child and vice versa?
Susan Cain: No, actually not. You know I think there are different challenges that come up depending on what the peering is. But any kind of parent can be great with any kind of child. And in fact, you know, sometimes introverted parents can have a unique trouble when they've introverted children. Which is, they might remember the difficulty they faced when they were young and kind of project them onto their children. Where as an extroverted parent doesn't have that whole set of memories that they're bringing to the table. So for an extroverted parent, the challenge is to really understand who the child is. And not to, what I always say is, not just understand that child but really delight in that child. You know, cause these introverted children, they tend to be very perspective. They tend to make really loyal friends. They tend to have fascinating creating inner lives. They are very conscientious. They have a whole unique constellation of gifts that they are bringing to the table that other children don't have. And the more you can really start from a place of delighting in it, the better off you are. And from there you can start teaching the child ways of coping in a world that might not be easy for them as it would be for a more extroverted kid.
Jim Fleming: So where does this come from? I know you've done a fair amount of study exploring neurobiology and psychology of introverts and extroverts. Is this a genetic issue? What have you learned?
Susan Cain: There's actually a ton of stuff out there and this is fascinating. Introversion and extroversion are among the most heritable of all personality traits. So, you know, it's a mixture of nature and nurture like anything else. But there's a huge genetic component to it. What psychologists have found is that there is a particular temperament that some babies are born with that predisposes them to be shy or to be introverted. It's a temperament that is more sensitive to stimulation of all kinds. Because you're more sensitive to stimulation, you're paying more attention to everything going on in your environment, and you're reacting more to it. So this is why, these kids when they're, let's say two years old, you throw them into a playgroup of kids they never met before, they are gonna take their time more before entering that playgroup, than another child would because their temperament is saying to them, okay there's all this new stimuli coming at you. You've got to sit still and figure out what's going on before you plunge ahead. Where as extroverted children are going to plunge- they're not going to feel the stimulation coming.
You can actually see this from the moment these kids are born. If you give babies sugar water to suck on, you'll see that some babies will suck more vigorously on the sugar water than others will. And the babies who suck more are the ones who are more likely to be introverts because what they're doing is they are reacting more to the stimulus of that sugar coming at them.
Jim Fleming: I was just sitting here wondering whether it's easier to be an introvert and be forced to be a little more extroverted, than it is to be an extrovert and be asked to be more introverted.
Susan Cain: Such a good question. I think it's equally difficult. Even if it's difficult for any human to be told to act in a way that's not natural, right? Now, it's also part of having maturity to be able to stretch yourself and to act in ways that are not natural. And I think extroverts do need to do this all the time. I know introverts do. If you're an extrovert, you might have to sit still for a long time and write a memo or a book or whatever you're working on, even when you might prefer to be up and down the hallway chatting with your colleagues. So we all have to do that some of the time. The real issue is when you're made to do it all the time or when you feel like you have to do it all the time. That's when issues of burn out and that kind of thing set in.
Jim Fleming: Susan Cain is the author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking." Do you think of yourself as an introvert or an extrovert? If you're not sure, you can take a quiz on Susan Cain's website. You'll find a link to it on our website, ttbook.org. Do you agree with Cain, is our society biased towards extroverts? And does this hurt introverts and society as a whole? You can share your thoughts with us by sending email to our website or via Facebook. You'll find links to our Facebook page and to our Twitter account on our website, ttbook.org. It's always nice to hear from you