One of my absolute pet hates is small talk. I will be honest with you – I completely and utterly suck at it and I used to spend hours planning what I was going to talk to my hairdresser about. I was also probably the only person on this planet who found the perspective of having to go and have their hair cut equal to being given a life sentence for a crime they hadn’t committed. That was until I found a hairdresser who despises small talk as much as I do and we either talk about ‘interesting stuff’ or I withdraw quietly into my headspace and she cuts my hair. Perfect.
It turns out that there is a reason why I loathe small talk, spent most of my childhood preferring to sit quietly and daydream instead of playing with lots of noisy and annoying kids and consider an evening with a book ‘socialising’. I may be farther along the introvert spectrum than I thought, as Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain enlightens me.
After having filled in her Are you an introvert? checklist I find out that I am 60% introvert and about 40% extrovert (I answered a few questions with ‘it depends’ instead of a straight yes or no). Almost an ambivert and to quote the writer: “yes, there really is such a word.” This is why even though I like my quiet time and occasionally disappear into my ‘restorative niche’ I also occasionally crave the company of my fellow humans and enjoy presenting in front of groups of people – I am more or less in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum.
A few aspects of the book are interesting and the author presents the data in a (mostly) very accessible and anecdotal style, like when she attends a variety of workshops and conferences that promise to turn their participants into amazing salesmen/talkers etc. as being an extrovert equals success, charisma and confidence. And as it turns out in a lot of cases, the promise of a miraculous transformation comes with a hefty price tag.
In America, extroverted parents have been known to send their introverted children to psychiatrists and have them put on medication to have their introversion ‘treated’. If socialising is an extreme sport at the Harvard Business School I would never even come close to an Olympic medal.
In fact, it is both fascinating and scary to realise how modern society has moved from the ‘Cult of Character’ to the ‘Cult of Personality’ and is structured around cultivating the characteristics associated with extroverts and their inconsequential small talk. Most shockingly, we design school classrooms and workplaces to primarily conform to the extrovert ideal: open plan offices, brainstorming sessions, promoting Group-think and not much else. I must say I liked Susan Cain’s suggestion to create offices that have open-plan bits for the extroverts and nooks and crannies where the quiet people can have their quiet time.
If Peanut has inherited the ‘introvert gene’ and tells me one day that he would rather read a book or draw or daydream instead of going to another birthday party (‘parents’ small talk hell’) then fine by me. However, I also would like for him to try things out and take occasional risks (OK, then we may go to every second birthday party, I can cope with that and there is always the option of hiding with a book in the toilet)
In many ways Quiet is an important book. It is timely, engaging and tells its readers (who I assume would be predominantly introverts) what empathic, modest and great thinkers they are; instead of nerdy, quirky, odd and shy losers.
However, it loses its appeal at times, especially during the chapters where she cites endless fMRI studies. And it is a shame that ambiverts, or almost-ambiverts do not get much mention or in fact any at all. There is a lot of talk of how introverts adapted to the extroverted world, but what about those of us who are in the middle (almost) of the spectrum?
Susan Cain here is an idea for a sequel.
Whether you are an introvert, extrovert or have the best of both worlds, you will most likely find this book interesting.
For now, I am off to start a quiet revolution. Psst…
Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of Quiet and I received no other payment to write this review. I really enjoyed this book and all opinions are my own. I would not have it any other way. You can find Quiet in your local bookshops and libraries.