Recently I was recommended Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. My first reaction to the recommendation was ‘but I’m not an introvert!’ But I got the book out and read it anyway, since my entire immediate household is introverted and I thought it probably couldn’t hurt.
What really struck me was how many of the qualities Cain describes in her book are qualities I would associate with the NF temperament. For example, she talks about introversion, but also high sensitivity, empathy, ability to stick out a task alone… oh hang on, this sounds more and more like INFJs! But I can’t help but admire her strategy. By linking all these things together under the label ‘introverted’ (which is a much bigger group than INFJ), it creates a kind of ‘new normal’, since many of us can relate to being introverted OR highly sensitive OR empathetic OR motivated to complete tasks on our own. Cain also has a chapter discussing cultures where introverts are not only normal but the ideal, as a point of contrast to American culture where extroversion seems highly valued.
That brings me to my next point. How does the book go down down under in New Zealand? I’m pretty sure we have more than a third introverted here (her figure for the US). The ideal ‘Southern Man’ is the strong silent type, right? Recently I read another book about nurturing children according to their personality, then looked up my own personality type: ENFJ. Theoretically, it should have described me as a child. The reality? Not at all. So I read around a bit and discovered that as a child, I sound like more of an INFJ -I spent most of my time reading books and daydreaming, for example, and didn’t enjoy going to other people’s houses. When I mentioned this to a friend, he thought perhaps I wasn’t extroverted enough to be an American extrovert. This makes sense, since we all pick our E-I preference in comparison to others we know, and I know plenty of people more introverted than me. I found plenty of things to relate to in the book, and I was horrified by some of the extroverted cultural preferences described in the US.
The most interesting thing in my line of work is that apparently the biggest predictor of success at university is introversion. Yep, unlike the rest of life, introverts do better at university. This certainly plays out in my teaching experience. The extroverted students can certainly explain what they have learned to me in conversation, but their essays generally do not compare to the dark horse introverts who rarely speak in class then ace the essay. The ability to observe and listen, to sit and concentrate alone, combine to produce higher quality independent written work. Another chapter examines evangelical Christianity in the US, proposing that it could be more comfortable for extroverts given the emphasis on sharing the gospel with strangers. I would propose that many extroverts would feel uncomfortable with that approach in New Zealand too…
In terms of my original curiosity that led me to read Quiet, I was satisfied. It appears I am neither extroverted or introverted, and need some of the strategies of both. I really enjoy people and like to hangout and talk, hence require some external rewards to make me go off and do my work. But I do prefer the intimacy of talking to one or two people more than a whole crowd. I am also highly sensitive to people’s body language, and this can be a great asset but also a burden. One of the strategies I learned from the book was to write down what I planned to say or had decided to do when I needed to make an important call, which helped me to stick to it and not cave in to the demands of someone more extroverted or persuasive than I am. It also helped me to think about how I might carve out more recovery time in to my day, in order to recentre myself and recall that small core of who I am in the hustle and bustle of competing demands. Competing demands from many people seem to encourage a more distributed sense of (my) self across many relationships, which is not sustainable for long if this is combined with the legitimate needs of three children.