Maybe they’re introverts. If so, that doesn’t mean they don’t have one heck of a lot to say. They may just need another way to express it, in small-group discussions, for example, or with a partner, or through writing. Introverts are often deep thinkers–and some of the major contributors to our society: think Bill Gates, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak, Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffet. These are just a handful of the people mentioned in the fascinating book–

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

2012. New York: Crown Publishing (an imprint of Random House). 266 pages. Author’s notes and extensive documentation.


It turns out that perhaps a third of the people we know (maybe even more) are introverts. These are the people who 
not only do not mind being alone–they crave it. Many of them dread social functions, avoid crowds, prefer reading to partying, and love to innovate but aren’t so keen on self-promoting. They also tend to be highly empathetic and extraordinarily skilled listeners. In a fascinating, thoroughly researched book, author Susan Cain (an attorney and
self-acclaimed introvert herself) reveals what life is like for introverts in a society that largely views extroversion
as the ideal. Quiet explains what introverts are like (not that they’re all alike–because that’s one of the myths), how their brains function, how they develop (biology versus environment), and above all, how they cope–in the
classroom, in the workplace, with extroverted parents, friends, and spouses. Along the way, she treats us to anecdotes about some of the world’s better known introverts–and extroverts (FDR, Ted Turner, and others)–and provides a quiz by which you can gauge whether you lean more toward being an introvert or extrovert.

It’s intriguing to discover that the modern workplace can be a virtual nightmare for introverts. The forced interactions, required participation in meetings, and increasingly tiny cubicles with almost no privacy can squash creativity more than we might imagine. It’s no surprise to many people that the ideal workplace for some of the most imaginative among us is actually the corner coffee house (see p. 93) with a “social, come-and-go-as-you-please nature” that allows just the right mix of interaction and focused concentration. Introverts thrive on losing themselves in personally important projects–but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sensitive to outside stimuli, so long as they can control the ebb and flow. (Think how little opportunity most schools offer for reflection and quiet thinking, and you can see the significance of this research.)

Cain  also has messages for us about creating classroom environments (pp. 255-256) in which introverts can thrive. Among other things, she suggests not thinking of introversion as “something that needs to be cured.” She recommends allowing students who feel more comfortable doing so to work with a single partner or in a very small group of three–and not forcing such students to engage in whole-class discussions, which can feel terrifying and actually diminish self-esteem and confidence.

It’s important to note that Cain does not by any means suggest that introverts are needy people for whom we should continually make special accommodations. On the contrary. Cain sees introverts as strong and independent–just often unnoticed or unappreciated. Precisely because they are quiet, because they tend to work behind the scenes, not drawing attention to themselves, we as a society often fail to take advantage of their insight and intelligence. In her brilliant conclusion titled “Wonderland,” she tells us, “If you’re a teacher, enjoy your gregarious and participatory students. But don’t forget to cultivate the shy, the gentle, the autonomous, the ones with single-minded enthusiasm for chemistry sets or parrot taxonomy or nineteenth-century art. They are the artists, engineers, and thinkers of tomorrow” (p. 265).

This is a rich, provocative, and highly revealing book. I recall beginning our tenth grade year with a teacher who announced on Day 1, “If you’re shy, get rid of it.” How I wish he’d had access to Cain’s research.