Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Listening To The Quiet Ones

     In summer or on vacation, when the sun is shining brightly in a clear sky, do you sometimes wish for a cloudy day on which you could spend some time alone inside without feeling guilty about it?

     Getting dressed to attend a cocktail party, would you rather be having a few friends over for a cozy dinner by the fire?

     And, if you're getting your home ready for friends who will soon arrive for that small dinner party, do you ever wish you were just going to curl-up with a book or watch Holiday for the 35th time alone or with a loved one?

     If your answer to these questions was yes, then I want to introduce you to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Crown). I recently met Susan at McNally Jackson bookshop in Soho, where she was discussing her new book in a presentation moderated by Naomi Wolf. You may also have read Susan's recent essay on the front page of  the Times's Review a couple of weeks ago; about the importance of solitude in a world in which people have gone mad for "friending" and publicly documenting every detail of their lives, whether we want to know about them or not.

     Quiet is about introverts and extroverts, their differences, and how our culture has come to see the the latter as the ideal personality during the Twentieth Century and at the dawn of the Twenty-First. And, in some ways, I think, it's about whether we want to get to a Twenty-Second Century and still resemble human beings, instead of becoming loud, programmed, aggressive machines, who run in packs.    

     Actually, even if you answered no to the above questions, I want to introduce you to Quiet, since you may be married to an introvert or be the parent of one or more. You may work for one or have some working with or for you. If so, read this book.

     I once had a boss who was a classic extrovert and was uncomfortable spending more than ten minutes alone, unless he was taking a nap. For a few years after I began reporting to him, my annual reviews, mandatory by company rules, were less about performance and achievement than how far I had progressed in conducting business more like my boss.

    After a few of these reviews and having gained confidence that I was actually achieving desired results in my job, I told him that I was never going to be like him. I also mentioned that, contrary to his comments about my "low energy level," I really had a very high level of energy about problem solving, strategy, and marketing. The difference was that my energy was internal and his was external, and that it was always going to be that way; take it or leave it.

     He was totally flummoxed by the message and the style in which I delivered it. He never reviewed me again! When introverts speak from the heart, from confidence, about something they really care about, they can be even more effective "sellers" than extroverts. Susan Cain, introvert, proved the point as she spoke so intelligently, positively, and inspiringly about her subject

    Introverts live in environments largely designed for and led by extroverts. This occurs in business, in schools, on teams, even in churches. We also want to hire and promote the ones who shine in meetings. We want to vote for the ones who have the most "charisma." We root for the teams with coaches and players who will get in their opponent's face.

    Susan Cain does not want a world without extroverts; far from it, since she married one. What she does want, however, is to start a conversation about how we can level the playing field and see how our culture currently suffers from this personality ideal imbalance. Why force every child to play on teams and make as many friends as possible? Why only look to hire the ones who make the best job candidates, but not always the best potential employees, colleagues, and real leaders.

     Are we bucking Darwin's vaunted "survival of the fittest?"  Well, not exactly: after all some of the biggest, fiercest, loudest species are extinct. Why do we think humans will be any different? Besides, can we honestly take a look at the current state of politics, business, economics, religion, education in this country and around the world and declare how wonderful it all is to have all the big talkers in charge?

First, Listen
     The "fittest" are the ones who are able to adapt extremely well to new environments. This might mean they are the "wisest," and to be that you must reflect, think, have patience and work well on deadline. You must also learn to work well with the extroverts. And, you must be a good listener.

     Think about this. The number one person in our national legislature is called The Speaker of The House. Always has been. Wouldn't you think, based on the evidence around us, regardless of party affiliations or gender, that it's time to change that to Listener of the House?

     Quiet. What a concept.

     Let Susan Cain tell you more about it.

Ed Note: McNally Jackson is one of Manhattan's last great remaining independent bookstores. Located near Soho, just east of Lafayette on Prince, it distinguishes itself in several ways: it is not afraid to have a cafe which can help cover operating costs, it creates many opportunities for readers to meet authors, and it even offers its own self-publishing service. Not to mention that I always find a book or books there that I have not seen at another shop or online. Go there.

No comments: