Susan Cain – Quiet

It’s 3:10pm and I’m seated in the conference center’s cavernous auditorium, awaiting Susan Cain’s session, and enjoying the amazingly talented Sidwell Friends School US Chamber Chorus. I’m going to live type this entry so that you get a sense of the presentation in real-time.

3:25 This session will be held in the format of a “fireside chat” with a host (Heidi) and Susan Cain.

What motivated Susan to write Quiet?  Susan remembers being mystified by the world and how it was set up. She made friends easily but craved 1:1 settings and shied away from forced group settings. She didn’t have the introvert/extrovert language but always sensed a difference.

Susan: While there is a place for collaboration in the workplace, many of us crave our solitude.

Heidi: Quiet really helped me discover that it is okay to be introverted, and that it is not just okay, it is normal for many people.

Susan: There is hardly a part of the human experience that introversion/extroversion does NOT touch. Yet society brings out this message that extroversion is preferred. And so Quiet Revolution and Quiet Education is part of a movement to bring forward the notion that introverts are an important part of our world and they have value to bring into schools and the workplace (paraphrase).

Heidi: This work is not just about surviving in an extroverted world, it is about changing this world…. This is authentic diversity work, focused on inclusive environments where both introverts and extroverts can survive (paraphrase). Susan: Our goal is to help introverts and extroverts find a common language that helps them work together and be more empathetic and more collaborative (paraphrase).

3:35 What is school like today for an introverted child? Susan says we have to remember that most schools were set up in an era of producing workers. Research shows society is 50-50 on introverts-extroverts. When we really look at things, schools have no place to be alone or recharge your battery, which is hard for introverts. Further there is an implicit message being sent that extroverted students are the “ideal” student. This also goes for teachers – there is an implicit understanding that extroverts are better teachers.

Heidi: Introverts tend to report lower self esteem, anxiety, and stress… much of which comes from societal norms to be social, or the pressure to be social to be successful. Susan: Interestingly enough, if introverts are able to feel good about who they are, they shine, even when they need to act in an extroverted manner (paraphrase). Heidi: It is important to re-charge in solitude, it is equally important to find the right time to stretch into extroversion.

Susan: We are actually wired differently! Extroverts are wired to respond positively to stimulation, while introverts are biologically penalized from stimulation (paraphrase). Heidi: This is sensory and social – bright lights are a problem! Groups, noise, lighting, all important to think about. Susan: We can’t have a one size fits all environments! We need to be wary of moving to open plans with no place of respite.

3:43 Moving on to talking about leadership and introversion… Susan says there is a lot of research showing that introverts are often bypassed for leadership opportunities, and yet studies also show that introverts are more often successful in leadership roles than extroverts. Interestingly in Good to Great, people described successful leaders as quiet, thoughtful, seeking out individuals for 1:1 discussions. Intrinsic motivation for introverts is their heart for what they are doing.

Susan says humility is one of the largest undervalued character traits. She says those who are humble are often devalued. When someone has humility and passion for what they do, it is unbelievably powerful.

3:50 How might we teach introverts public speaking? Susan says it’s important to determine anxiety levels before talking about public speaking. If we push too hard, and the person has a negative experience, then every time that individual goes to speak they recall the failure, making it even harder. (You can look up the “Macbeth story” that Susan has shared!)

Heidi: Being a quiet leader can be difficult… often introverts hesitate to tell their supervisor about their needs for alone time, and often do not self-promote either. Finding ways to support introverts in finding that time and highlighting their work would go a long way. Susan: for those of you in leadership in schools and who are introverts, it is really important for you to bring awareness to this and to open the dialogue about introversion. Ariana Huffington did this with her introduction of “nap rooms.”

4:01pm Susan: measuring raising hands has a negative impact on civil discourse… she is working with schools to measure other attributes, such as showing learning with visible learning outputs, helpfulness, etc, as they evaluate students. Heidi: to change culture, we need to change language. For example, rather than saying Sophie needs to take time to get an answer, you say that Sophie is a deep thinker. Something that teachers can implement is to bring in more reflection to the classroom to build in thinking time, or just extend wait time for responses. Research shows that greater think time leads to more meaningful responses from students.

Susan: One thing we also need to be mindful of is that extroverts need to learn elements of introversion to help them be their best self as well (paraphrase). We talk about “flow” – these moments are often taking place individually. To think about things deeply, one needs along-time to quietly process. Extroverts can struggle with this, and it is a skill they need to learn as well.

Susan: You don’t have to rebuild to create spaces that afford introverts a place to be quiet and/or recharge. Simply thinking about lunch room and recess – maybe not having one huge area for everyone, but allowing some additional spaces for students to not just survive those times, but to be seen as acceptable options for students. Heidi: This is a process (identifying restorative niches) that can be turned over to students.

At this point, the session is open to questions from the audience. Due to a previously scheduled appointment, I stepped out at this point. All in all, some good food for thought. Just before this session, some colleagues and I were talking generally about introversion and extroversion. I’m always so surprised by who identifies as which type of person… it was fascinating to hear each person’s take on where they felt they fell on that spectrum. It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover! Oh, and for the record, I’m an introvert. I can be extroverted and be up front and energetic and social, but to re-charge I definitely need some alone time.