Susan Cain: The power of introverts.
March 13, 2012 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Susan Cain prefers listening to talking, reading to socializing... but she's a good speaker with an interesting message. (SLYT)
posted by sngbk (32 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I watched a few minutes and basically...yeah. I already know all this. What the world really needs is to force the extroverts (esp. the ones who ask incredulously "you are reading that book FOR FUN?!?" or "come ON, you'll LOVE coming the party!!") to watch it.
posted by DU at 7:08 AM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I read her book, and while it wasn't revelatory, it's kind of nice to be validated. I think it should be marketed more to go-go extroverted types who still haven't gotten the message the business meetings are a goddamn waste of everyone's time and brainstorming sucks.
posted by dortmunder at 7:19 AM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I liked her book-- at the beginning it's a lot like this TED talk (with some great cringy moments at a Tony Robbins seminar), but the second half of the book is more addressed just to introverts-- as if she knew we'd be the only ones still reading.

I think she makes a good point about over-emphasis on group work in favor of more reflective, personal work in classrooms, but I have to admit that directed group work, for me, can has always been really helpful to me in terms of meeting, connecting, and seeming normal to people in a classroom situation-- otherwise my avoidance of small talk and before/after meeting lingering is just completely awkward. Or at least feels that way!
posted by activitystory at 7:22 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I sit in my cube farm, 5 meters from the ever empty office with a door of a midlevel manager, it takes every bit of energy to not forward this to my boss, his boss, his boss and every shareholder of the company.
posted by DigDoug at 7:23 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I couldn't finish watching, the presentation was so bad. She needs to practice more and get rid of the awkward pauses and stumbles.

Otherwise, yeah, introverts are people. I am a high priest in that church, but am dismayed, ever so slightly, when there seems to be an implicit message that we are somehow better than extroverts. I can cheerfully agree that, but I don't want those people to feel bad, 'cause have you ever been around a depressed or sad extrovert? It's like an octopus of emotional need that hasn't been feed in 20 days, when it's only been 2 minutes since they opened their mouth.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:26 AM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I always wonder about the introvert/extrovert dichotomy. The lists that "you might be an introvert if..." always strike home to me, but they definitely feel a lot like Barnum statements, one of the most powerful tools in cold reading. Are these things really at all meaningful, or is it just a list of feelings that everyone gets but few people talk about openly, leaving the impression that the list author must have some deep insight into how we work? After all, we all want to be told that our perceived weaknesses or lapses are due to being part of some special group, so there'd always be a market for this sort of book, regardless. And I have enough experience of cold reading to know that rational, intelligent people are just as capable of being sucked in as the more naturally credulous, despite believing that "of course it couldn't happen to [them]". Why should I presume that I'm any different?

I can't help feeling that a world in which the introvert:extrovert dichotomy doesn't exist would look just the same as this one. So while I fit the definition of an introvert, maybe that just means that I'm an ordinary person who's fallen for this particular flavour of cold reading / marketing?
posted by metaBugs at 7:30 AM on March 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Interesting that nobody in these kinds of discussions ever self-identifies as an extravert.
posted by pts at 7:31 AM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, by her fuzzy definitions I'm most definitely an extravert, but I also spent my childhood being ridiculed for my choice to read instead of socialize both at school and at summer camp, so I guess that kind of throws a monkey wrench into the "shut up about not understanding us, extraverts!" campaign. The human desire for more and more labels continues to puzzle me and, imho, is probably aggravated by social media that purport to be tools to enhance our individuality but clearly do just the opposite.
posted by Mooseli at 7:38 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think, PTS, that it's because extroverts don't see a problem. They really DO think we'll love this party, or that we just have to get over ourselves.
posted by evilDoug at 7:39 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I swear I've read somewhere about introverts who have more extrovert traits, and are then often wrongly categorised as the latter rather than the former. Should've saved it somewhere, for once I felt recognised. Heh.
posted by cendawanita at 7:49 AM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have literally never met anyone who self-identifies as an extravert. I have met people who would fit my criteria for the label, but in my experience, anybody actually copping to it is exceedingly rare.

I myself would never have thus identified, either—blah blah bookish kid blah blah nerd &c.—but I experience little to no anxiety in social situations and am rarely uncomfortable or self-conscious, which I've come to understand is not the case for many of my friends, who seem to find basic social interaction a situation fraught with constant peril.

I've come to wonder if maybe this business of dividing people into two groups and making sweeping generalizations about them is not the brilliant idea I once thought it was.

Of late, I try to be suspicious of anything that leads me to silently congratulate myself.
posted by pts at 7:54 AM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


There is a fair amount of education research backing the usage of group work in mathematics classes, admittedly some depends upon instructors understanding said research, but hey.

In essence, you gain similar benefits form group work that you gain from homework over quizzes and tests, namely you can ask much harder questions that require deeper insight into the material. We aren't removing the quiet contemplation of homework, which obviously still occurs during the writing up phase, so much as jumpstarting said insights using socialization.

R. Asera and U. Treisman. Teaching mathematics to a changing population. In Fisher et al., editor, Mathematics and Educational Reform (Proceedings of the July 6–8, 19988 Workshop), volume 1 of CBMS Issues in Mathematics Education, pages 31–62. AMS, Providence, RI, 1990.

A. Cohen. Project EXCEL at Rutgers—New Brunswick: Instigation and institutionalization. In Fisher et al., editor, Changing the Culture: Mathematics Education in the Research Community, volume 5 of CBMS Issues in Mathematics Education, pages 113–126. AMS, Providence, RI, 1996.

posted by jeffburdges at 7:55 AM on March 13, 2012


Why won't people accept me for the person I'm pretending to be at the moment?
posted by Samuel Farrow at 8:14 AM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have literally never met anyone who self-identifies as an extravert.

I have. Several.

Also, if you don't call it "introvert" vs "extrovert" you still need to label those people who don't go to parties vs those who won't take "no, I hate parties" for an answer.

I actually had to almost shout at a woman at work a few months ago to get her to stop hounding me to be a "team leader" on some idiotic team-building "fun run" or something that I wasn't even attending, let alone interested in "leading". This is a frequent problem. A couple years ago, the wife of a coworker invited my family (my wife is even more introverted than I am) over to their house party. She literally would. not. take. no for an answer. Come on, it'll be fun! (Is there any phrase more guaranteed to result in a lack of fun?) I eventually said yes, I'd come, vowing to end up not arriving because it was the only way to get out of the conversation.

Fortunately, extroverts also have very poor memories or follow-through on these kinds of invitations and it was never mentioned again.
posted by DU at 8:14 AM on March 13, 2012


The point of those stories being: These people deserve a label. Why is "extrovert" a bad one?
posted by DU at 8:16 AM on March 13, 2012


It took me a minute to process that there's no way she's Herman Cain's wife.
posted by cmoj at 8:25 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is a fair amount of education research backing the usage of group work in mathematics classes, admittedly some depends upon instructors understanding said research, but hey.

In essence, you gain similar benefits form group work that you gain from homework over quizzes and tests, namely you can ask much harder questions that require deeper insight into the material. We aren't removing the quiet contemplation of homework, which obviously still occurs during the writing up phase, so much as jumpstarting said insights using socialization.


I know an anecdote isn't data, but they tried this crap in my honors high school geometry class, and I learned no geometry. Literally none. To this day, I still don't know anything at all about geometry.
posted by dortmunder at 8:25 AM on March 13, 2012


The human desire for more and more labels continues to puzzle me

People who feel like one of their defining qualities is different from the 'desirable norm' naturally want to feel like they belong to something, because the alternative is to feel like an outlier. Clustering around a label is one way to do that. It can be counterproductive, but it serves a purpose, up to a point.

I work at a publishing company, which you would expect to be an introvert haven (true, to an extent), but the vast majority of management is made up out of people who started in the sales force and there's a widespread institutional perception that in order to get past a certain level, you need to do a sales stint. This is not completely unreasonable, because if you want to work in acquisitions part of your job involves travel and sales support, but it overvalues one skillset (sales) to the detriment of another (editorial).

And it's just one example, but it's this sort of subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle favoring of one set of traits over another that drives feelings of resentment and alienation, and that in turn explains the outpouring of response that happens every time this issue bursts into the popular consciousness (this book's recent publicity tour, the "Caring For Your Introvert" article in the Atlantic a couple years ago, etc.) Are there people who sit there resentfully brooding about what they feel is their overlooked superiority? Sure. But I think most of the response is driven by those who feel relieved to be acknowledged and validated for who they are rather than taking it as an opportunity to feel like they're better than everyone else. If you asked, I think the prevailing attitude on MeFi would be that your feelings of validation and self-confidence are between you and yourself (and maybe your therapist), but I think this overlooks the need that most people have for occasional validation from the group. In my view, that's the point of those lists you see of "famous introverts": not the establishment of smug superiority, but an answer (however clumsy) to the need everyone has for heroes they can relate to.

In the US, at least, we have a society that defaults to presenting extroverted traits as attractive and introverted traits as unattractive, sometimes to the point of pathologizing them. There's a whole self-help industry (nevermind a zillion AskMe questions) centered around people who want to be "more outgoing," as if not being so was a deficiency. Sometimes pathology (social anxiety) is involved, and that should be treated, but not always.

As someone who is a classic introvert (I have to tightly manage an "energy budget" for interaction every day to ensure I don't get worn out), I often find extroverted people extremely helpful, because they get me to do things I wouldn't have done otherwise, and I'm often richer for it. My manager is a classic extrovert and at first I wasn't sure how well we'd work together, but in the years since I've found her energy immensely valuable as something that I can take and use to focus and fuel my own work. I recognize the value their traits bring to the table, and all I ask of my friends and colleagues is that they recognize mine in return.

Interesting that nobody in these kinds of discussions ever self-identifies as an extravert.

I can't speak to your life experience, but on this very site I've seen many spirited and productive discussions in AskMe threads about this topic where self-identified extroverts are well-represented, for what that's worth.
posted by Kosh at 8:30 AM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


The human desire for more and more labels continues to puzzle me

You can't talk about things without labels. Some would argue you can't even *think* about (some) things without labels.

Labels are not bad. Confusing things with their labels is bad.
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


As an extrovert who reads a lot and knows when to be quiet and think, I found her more than a tiny bit self-congratulatory and condescending. Isn't there a continuum of these traits?
posted by Isadorady at 8:48 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've read a couple of books on the subject, though not hers. I thought The Introverted Leader was the best, since it's pragmatic and suggests compromise: making things introvert-friendly when you can, but also forcing yourself to adopt extrovert tactics when necessary.

I think it's dangerous to get too much into the mindset of "I'm an introvert, I'm not going to do X", or you'll find yourself walking into meetings and discovering the extroverts have all settled on a really, really stupid plan that they bellowed about at length at the loud bar the night before.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:07 AM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


No minority or under-group can ever mention their state of ignorage/oppression or express pride in themselves without hearing cries of "reverse discrimination!!!".
posted by DU at 9:20 AM on March 13, 2012


It's always thrown in there as a footnote in these types of talks, but remember that the introvert/extrovert thing isn't supposed to be a hard binary. Myers-Briggs is probably the source of most workplace-related introvert/extrovert talk, and it's grossly misconstrued as a separating the nerds from the jocks.
posted by deathpanels at 9:52 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Extrovert here. At least that's how I always test in the MBTI. Anyway, as I understand it, the extrovert/introvert dichotomy is not a label to excuse antisocial neurosis or boorish needy blabberiing. As well-formed adults, we all need to have the capacity to get along with people and work in groups as well as get along by ourselves and spend time in solitary thought. Neither is superior, either can be appropriate or inappropriate given the situation.

As I understand it, my extroversion relates to how I get my energy. I am energized when I interact with people and from that I can go off and spend hours at my desk working alone on a number of long tasks. Introverts, as I understand, get their energy from alone time. Solitary pursuits give them the energy to venture out and interact with people.

I know plenty of introverts who are by nature lively, affable people. Some who make their living in public speaking, musical performance, and group facilitation. They have a great energy level in groups mainly, I assume, because they take care of themselves and rejuvenate with solitude in some form.

If meetings seem a waste of time, it's because they are run poorly. If extroverts in your life seem boorish, insensitive, or overly needy, it's probably because they are boorish, insensitive, or overly needy. Not because they're extroverts.
posted by cross_impact at 9:59 AM on March 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


Well yeah, your kind would say that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:10 AM on March 13, 2012


"Excuse me, but "proactive" and "paradigm"? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that. I'm fired, aren't I?"
posted by Fizz at 10:13 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Well, I could say 'taking action in anticipation of, rather than in reaction to, externally driven circumstances,' or 'the current set of assumptions that nobody questions but everybody depends on' but 'proactive' and 'paradigm' are a hell of a lot shorter. You do want a shorter meeting, don't you?"
posted by cross_impact at 11:09 AM on March 13, 2012


Isn't there a continuum of these traits?

Yeah, and anyone who acts like there isn't is being foolish, or trying to sell you something.

I'm an introverted extrovert, or maybe vice-versa. I really need "no people, no talking, no interaction" time or I turn into a raving lunatic. But too much time alone also turns me into a raving lunatic. It's often more than a little difficult to drag myself to the party/event/lotsa people thing, but once I'm there, I have fun and enjoy myself.

I'd like to permanently kill the idea that introverts hate people and/or are pathologically shy and/or have some other social anxiety trouble. I'm sure there are introverts with those traits, but they are not traits that are necessary to being introverted.
posted by rtha at 11:40 AM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I used to think I was a complete introvert, but then I visited my brother who lives waaay out in the sticks and the utter solitude freaked me out. Turns out I need people around and accessible, if not in my face all the time. I like there to be some hustle and bustle, I just want to be able to jump in and out of it at will, not forced to handle it 24/7. My ideal setup is a quiet home not far from places where there are people and noise.
posted by emjaybee at 12:20 PM on March 13, 2012


Yeah, I couldn't finish watching, the presentation was so bad. She needs to practice more and get rid of the awkward pauses and stumbles.
posted by Brandon Blatcher

Wow. My experience was so different. I found her quite listenable, and the pauses entrancing.
posted by lastobelus at 11:47 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. My experience was so different. I found her quite listenable, and the pauses entrancing.

Yeah, I also thought her public speaking was OK. It's not the case that introverts are supposed to be bad at public speaking. In fact one of the signs of introversion is that you can give a great presentation to a big audience, but struggle in a party where you have to interact with a smaller number of people who are all talking at once.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:33 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Video: Susan Cain talks to Robert Wright about her book on Bloggingheads. (Here's a link to download the audio as an mp3.)
posted by John Cohen at 10:40 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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