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Let’s Hear it for Quiet

February 17, 2017

Another Way for week of February 17, 2017

Let’s Hear it for Quiet

Are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert (meaning a little of both)?

Susan Cain, a Harvard Law School graduate is basically an introvert. But she left law behind and is now a sought-after author and public speaker on the topic of why being quiet is okay in spite of what some feel is a stigma about shyness. It should be noted that shyness and introversion are not necessarily the same, even though they are often used interchangeably, as I am here.

I had made a note to check out Cain’s bestselling book in 2012, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, when it rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. But I never took time to find out more. I still haven’t read the book but I downloaded a free summary and watched her TED talk: good stuff for this mostly-introvert.

Cain feels we often get the message that being on the quiet side is not okay, especially in our educational system. The child who speaks up in class, works well interacting with a group of others on a project, and has a lively circle around him or her in the lunchroom is not only usually popular, but also frequently well-liked by teachers. Which is fine, except when quiet students are not similarly respected and admired.


A favorite place for writing and introspection. Photo for my college yearbook, The Shen. 1975.

A quiet child often hangs back, stammers, or studies his desk when called upon, and ends up sitting by herself in the cafeteria. Quiet and shy children are sometimes picked on and bullied, but more to Cain’s point, are not appreciated for the strengths of quiet ways of working.

Cain says that a third to one half of people are introverts, so it’s crying shame there’s any stigma against introverts who enjoying being or working alone. Cain notes our schools and work places are designed for gregariousness, such as open space environments (without privacy walls); in schools, students are frequently assigned to work in groups to research and complete projects.

She goes on to emphasize that solitude for many of us is not only a good thing, it can help restore energy and perspective after hours of immersion in activity and people.

Perhaps I’m something of an ambivert. As a writer, I need solitude to do my job, but I love to throw a big party or have company over. In a group, I’m not too shy to speak up, but I like to think I also know when to keep quiet. I enjoy public speaking, but at a banquet or wedding reception where everyone is sitting around before the real action begins, I don’t enjoy making small talk very much, but I try. I’m always quite relieved when the speaker or toasts begin. I think I have changed as I’ve gotten older, perhaps learning from my super-outgoing husband. He wasn’t always an extrovert; he was one of the kids who got picked on in school.

I also have trouble writing in a group. If I’m on a team or committee, someone is sure to say, “Melodie, you’re the writer. How would you word this proposal?” Trying to put words together in a group to express complicated thoughts leaves me stymied. I freeze. I beg off saying, “I’ll submit a draft and others can add to or edit it.”

Cain’s quote from William Whyte in The Organization Man makes a lot of sense: “People very rarely think in groups; they talk together, they exchange information, they adjudicate, they make compromises, but they do not think; they create.” (From Cain’s free PDF, “The Power of Introverts.”)

In another type of work setting, one of my daughters worked in a store which required her to try to sell those add-on warranties for certain products. She liked her job except for that. Since she was an excellent actress in high school I told her, “Just pretend you’re acting, like you’re on stage. Get ‘in character’ to be a different person when you’re pushing those warranties!”

I’m not sure it ever really worked for her because she knew she wasn’t on stage. But this can apply to other settings. Act more extroverted than you feel and see what happens. However, remember Cain’s emphasis: you’re fine just being you. If you’re perceived as quiet, God bless your creatively cogging brain!

One of the best take-aways from Cain’s TED talk is her suggestion for parents, teachers and children: “If I had one wish, it would be to reverse the stigma against introversion for children so that the next generation doesn’t grow up with the secret self-loathing that plagues so many introverted grown-ups today.”

If you are worried about your child suffering because they seem too introverted and you wish they were more “social,” Cain reminds us that we don’t have to provide the perfect environment or stimulus or protection for a child who is struggling. There may be physical, mental, or severe social issues they and you must deal with—which I won’t go into here. But for most kids, if you provide love, affirmation, acceptance, opportunities, and lots of prayer, sometimes that’s being the “good enough” parent; we have to leave room for the child to grow into his or her own skin.

Which way of life is more natural to you: introvert, extrovert? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!


Read much more at Susan Cain’s website: or download her free PDF “Quiet Revolution.” Send comments and stories to or Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850.


Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books, most recently Whatever Happened to Dinner. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. I too classify myself as an “ambi” and I enjoyed Susan’s TED talk – totally!

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