THE QUIE revolutio
You don’t have to shout to be heard – as Susan Cain (below) discovered when her book about introverts became a bestseller. As she tells Jane Mulkerrins, extroverts are over-rated in today’s loud world
usan Cain never set out to become a spokesperson. ‘Even when the attention focused on me is positive, I am so un-comfortable being looked at by a lot of people – it’s just not my natural state of being,’ she explains. A self-described introvert, she’s far happier in a one-on-one situation than in a group, and deeply unsettled by the idea of addressing a room full of strangers. It is something, however, that she’s had to become used to.
A year ago, Susan’s first book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, became an instant sensation, sparking debate among the public and media alike. Time magazine featured Susan in a cover story: The Upside of Being an Introvert ( And Why Extroverts are Overrated). ‘On publication day, I did 21 interviews, for radio, television and press, from 6am until dinner that night,’ Susan recalls. Then the following month, she delivered a TED talk – one of a high-profile series of speeches – in California before an audience of 1,500 people. The challenge was terrifying for 44-year-old Susan, a former lawyer turned writer. ‘I felt raw and exposed and naked; it was very, very difficult for me,’ she admits. The irony of her book thrusting her inadvertently centre-stage is not lost on her. ‘Suddenly, I became a public figure – and I have never wanted to be a public figure,’ she admits. Susan Cain, left, is adapting to regular media attention - which she admits she found terrifying at first
A year on, Susan is buzzing across the US and beyond, giving talks to her growing army of fans. And her book has started a Quiet revolution. Leading universities are examining their admissions policies to better favour introverts, schools are setting up clubs for introverted and quiet children, while businesses and office design firms are rethinking how space is used in workplaces to benefit introverts as well as extroverts.
The paperback edition, labelled ‘the manifesto for introversion’, was published on this side of the pond last year, and presents the case for a section of the population that Susan believes has been sidelined for too long. Introversion, sheposits,is seen as a less successful, less worthy temperament in our society than extroversion. From our schools to our workplaces to our relationships, Susan believes quietness, shyness and solitude are seen as second-rate, weak and, indeed, almost shameful, while the projection of confidence and being outgoing and voluble has come to be seen as the ideal. This is a thorny problem, she believes, since findings suggest that between a third to half of the US population are, by nature, introverts.
I meet Susan in a cosy café on the banks of the Hudson River, just outside New York City, where she lives with her husband Ken, 47, a journalist and consultant specialising in foreign conflict zones, and their two young sons, aged three and five. Slender and pretty, Susan is a great conversationalist. As her book explains, introverted doesn’t mean antisocial or misanthropic. Introverts may, in fact, have good social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but, after a while, simply wish they were at home in their pyjamas. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions. They listen more than talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. As a child, Susan says: ‘I had plenty of friends, but I liked to play one-on-one with them, rather than in a big gregarious group. But I come from a family of introverts, so I was very lucky in that way.’
Since the publication of Quiet, however, Susan has been inundated with emails from fellow introverts, unburdening themselves about their more traumatic experiences of childhood. ‘I know that for people of