Release to refresh
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Looking forward to my Q&A on September 22. Excited to answer your questions -- whether about life, love, or work. You can ask me about Quiet Revolution or anything you want!

This Q&A took place between 9/19/15 and 9/25/15. Unanswered questions have been hidden
9 questions
Researcher @ Harvard | Parlio community manager
What are the most common mistakes or misunderstandings that extremely extroverted people (myself included) make/have with introverted colleagues in the work place?
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Dear Jieun,
There are so many really — and vice versa of course: introverts misunderstanding extroverts. It’s one of the reasons that in our work with companies & organizations, the Quiet Leadership Institute focuses so much on the ideal yin/yang relationship and improved communication between introverts & extroverts. Research shows that the most effective teams are a mix of introverts and extroverts: too many of either type and you get lopsided dynamics and results.

But to answer your question, here are 3 mistakes on the extroverted side of things:
1) Assuming that the best, most creative ideas are produced through a group process — when in fact solitude is a crucial ingredient of creativity (this is true for extroverts as well as introverts).
2) Thinking that people who don’t contribute much at meetings must be disengaged/looking for another job. The truth is that large meetings are often not the best way to get the best of introverts’ brains. A recent study out of the Kellogg school found that in the typical meeting, 3 people do 70% of the talking! This is a very worrisome statistic for anyone who wants to make sure that the best ideas and decisions are coming to the fore. We need to rethink how we run our meetings — and how often we hold them.
3) Feeling that quiet people must not like them. Many extroverts tell me they fear that they come on too strong, too Tigger-like, for introverts. But the truth is that most introverts love extroverts’ exuberance; there is a real mutual attraction between the two types, in work and friendship as well as in love.
Law firms (and I work in one) seem to be geared towards the ultra-social and networking-savvy individual. Introverts typically become the back office worker-bees even if their talents outweigh those of the extroverts. What advice do you have for the workplace to further draw out the talents of an introvert?
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Hi Sarah,

As a former corporate lawyer, I appreciate your question!

There’s lots of interesting research — including from my longtime friend Adam Grant at the Wharton School -- indicating that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverted ones. Yet many workplaces, as you say, relegate their introverts to worker bee status. I believe that we need to do two somewhat paradoxical things: (a) consider just why it is that we believe that getting work done well is a lesser contribution than leadership (the derogatory phrase “worker bee” tells us all we need to know about our attitudes to workers vs. leaders); and (b) identify talented people who are not so-called “natural” leaders — and groom them for leadership. We need to sit with these promising people one-on-one to map out a five year plan; to help them to step gently outside their comfort zones (for example by delivering a short talk at a conference) when needed; and even more importantly to encourage them to draw on their own natural strengths. My favorite example of this last technique is the former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant. When Doug took over as leader, Campbell’s employee engagement ratings were the lowest in the Fortune 500. By the time he retired 10 years later, they were among the highest. How did a shy introvert achieve these results? By leading in his own way — including by writing letters of gratitude— 30,000 of them — to employees who had contributed to the company. We all need to find our own personal role models. Doug is one of mine.
Wharton professor, author of GIVE AND TAKE and ORIGINALS
I’m wondering if you can solve a mystery that has puzzled me since we met eight years ago. You are an introvert, yet you do most of your writing at Starbucks—a setting buzzing with enough sensory overload to shut down my brain for a week. How does this work?
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Ha — the truth is that these days, I feel the same way about Starbucks. When Starbucks cafes first became plentiful, back in the early 2000s, they were quieter. But they’ve grown deafening, and I’ve moved on to quieter spots.

I do love to work around other people, though. There’s some magic property by which people sitting “alone together” in a public zone transfer energy and ideas. I wrote most of my book QUIET at Doma, a quirky Greenwich Village cafe that became a haven for writers all over NYC, for exactly this reason. Tragically, Doma no longer exists, but its former regulars were a passionate bunch, and remember it as emblematic of a particular and shining moment in time, like Hemingway in Paris or something. In fact, in trying to express this magic to you, I just did a quick search and found this quote from Hemingway, on cafes such as the Select and the Dome in Paris: “big principal cafes where people were lost in them, and no one noticed them, and they could be alone and in them and be together.”

Still, I’m forever grateful to Starbucks for having made cafe culture a mainstream thing in contemporary culture. These days we take our local coffee shops for granted, but I am old enough to remember (now that I’m 47 I like to use phrases like “I’m old enough to remember”) a time when they didn’t exist at all.
My husband and I are introverted and have a toddler who seems to be the same. What advice would you give parents who are raising a young introverted child?

Also, do you think there have been recent changes to how introversion is viewed in our American culture? More understood, accepted, valued even?
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Dear Heejin,

I have so much advice for parents who are raising a young introverted child that I could teach a whole course on this topic! (In fact, I have done just that — have designed what I think is a fantastic e-course for parents of quiet kids, which will be avail in December. If you sign up for the newsletter at, you’ll be notified when it’s available.)

Here are three core pieces of advice:

1. Quiet and/or shy kids have a longer runway than other children before they take off and fly — but they will fly. They just need to know that you’ll be with them, cheering them on as they make their way down that runway.

So, say you have a child who’s afraid to swim. The answer is not to keep her home from the pool — but neither is it to push her off the deep end. Let her know that you understand how she feels, that it might take her longer than other kids, but that’s OK with you — that swimming is important and you’ll help her get there. Maybe that means taking her to the pool when it’s quiet and empty and teaching her patiently in that setting. Maybe it means finding a favorite aunt or swim instructor to teach her at her own pace. She’ll learn — and once she does, you won’t be able to tell her apart from kids who plunged in right away.

2. Whatever you feel in your heart will communicate itself, regardless of the words you use. So make sure, when thinking about a quiet toddler, that you are not just tolerating his quiet ways but treasuring them — that you are tuned in to the gifts of his quiet, loyal heart and inner riches.

3. When arriving at challenging or noisy events, such as birthday parties or soccer practice or first day of school, get there early and prepared. Make sure she has her uniform ready before you arrive; that she knows where the bathrooms are; that you’ve walked around the classroom beforehand so she feels a sense of ownership and mastery.

Good luck!
Thank you, Susan Cain, for answering our questions.

My 12 year-old grandson, one of four children, is the only extrovert in a family of introverts. He is greatly appreciated by us all for being so obviously loving and gregarious. He will trustingly try anything, safe in the knowledge that his immediate family is there to catch him.

I have two questions: one - have you seen this kind of family constellation before (introverts protecting and encouraging an extrovert), and two; do you think it could ever work in the opposite direction (extroverts encouraging an introvert)?
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Dear Nanna,

Thank you for this great question.

Yes! I have seen both these family constellations before (and many others besides) and they can all work well as long as there is what psychologists call a good “parent-child fit.” This means not that the parents and children (and siblings) all have the same personality, but that the various personalities all work together, with mutual understanding, appreciation, and support. I think it’s wonderful that your family of introverts loves their lone extrovert so much.

I interviewed one woman for Quiet who is a strong extrovert who grew up in a very introverted family. She had the same positive experience; her only cautionary note was that her introverted parents so admired (and did not want to squelch) her highly social nature that they didn’t encourage her to stay home and study when she was in high school. She looks back now and thinks she would have done better had she kept her social nature in check — just a little. I offer her story in case your children might make the same well-intentioned mistake with your grandson.

Best of luck to you all.
Have you found many differences in how men and women deal with introversion?

I've found that, due to our society's expectation that men be strong, confident, and take leadership roles, introverted men especially seem to struggle with identity. Would you agree?
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Dear Eric,

I most definitely agree, and am so glad that you raised this. The pressure on men and boys to be large, dominant, and take-charge is crushing, especially for those of a more sensitive temperament. We urgently need a pantheon of role models of admirable men who are introverted and/or sensitive and/or nerdy, etc. — from Bill Gates to Malcolm Gladwell to Pao Gasol.

Who are your favorites? I’d like to invite all of you write in with your own suggestions, and I’ll compile and publish a list for you.
Dear Susan,
I read your book a few years ago and it affected me very much both personally and professionally. As a person who 'tests' as an extreme extrovert, I loved considering my own need for quiet & restorative niches, particularly as a Principal in a very 'front-facing' role. My role at our girls' school includes considering how to ensure that girls & women- and particularly those who have introversion tendencies- have their voices heard. If you had to choose one or two key considerations for us as we educate thoughtful and bright women- extroverts and introverts- what would they be? Thx
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Dear Martha,
Thanks so much for this thoughtful question. There is of course so much to say, and I’m in the process of developing a course for educators on just this topic! But for now, I’ll suggest re-thinking two increasingly common practices in education:

—Grading on class participation. What about moving instead to thinking of classroom “engagement” rather than “participation”? There’s a real danger that we’re sliding into rewarding students simply for talking, without much regard to what they say, or how much empathy or leadership they show as they say it. Engagement is a much more holistic concept that includes good listening; being helpful; being thoughtfully energized about a subject; writing; one-on-one conversations; and so much more.

—Group projects. Students are increasingly required to do their work in groups, which is burdensome to so many students who prefer to work autonomously. I really worry that we’re squelching the spirit and the love of learning for so many introverted students. One young woman told me that she wants to go to grad school but has elected not to because, after a lifetime of education, “I just can’t take the group projects anymore.”

Ironically, too, it might be extroverts who suffer the most from too much emphasis on group work. Many young talents flame out early because they can’t handle the solitude required to really master their skill — whether in athletics, the sciences, music, or beyond. We need to teach our extroverted students to tolerate, if not enjoy, their solitude.
NLP Practitioner and Coach | Marketing Manager
Hi Susan,

I'd love to know this: how do you at Quiet Revolution, work with people and businesses around the world to share your message and promote equal opportunities?

For me, reading 'Quiet' was the first step in understanding myself, finding self-acceptance and developing positive coping strategies rather than my go-to 'avoidance strategy'. Therefore, I'm keen to see further steps to social change and help in any way possible from my UK base.

Thanks for all you do.
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Hi Hayley,

I’m so happy to hear that Quiet meant so much to you.

To answer your question:

At Quiet Leadership Institute, we work with companies and organizations to help them harness the talents of the introverted half of their workforce, and to improve introvert-extrovert communication on teams. We’ve worked with orgs as diverse as NASA, GE, P&G and the Dutch military! We work via in-person seminars, e-courses, and more.

We’re also developing a suite of e-courses for parents and educators of quiet kids. The first course — for parents of quiet kids ages 3-9, will be released in December 2015, via our Quiet Revolution website.

And of course, there’s the Quiet Revolution website itself, featuring lots of interesting content and profiles of Quiet Revolutionaries around the world.

Plus…we’re developing a Quiet Ambassador program for the gazillions of people (like you!) who write to us wanting to get involved.

We’re rolling out new programs all the time , so please do stay tuned via and our newsletter (which you can sign up for on the site.)

I really hope you join us, Hayley!
Product Leadership Business Partner at Intuit
What makes an introvert introverted and an extrovert extroverted? What evolutionary advantage or disadvantage are associated with these 2 traits?
American writer and lecturer, Author of Quiet
Dear Aleksandra,

One of the most fascinating things I found in my research is that there are “introverts” and “extroverts” in almost every species of the animal kingdom — precisely because each set of behaviors represents a different survival strategy, each adaptive to different conditions. In some conditions, the more cautious and circumspect animals do better; in others, the bold foragers. The same is true, of course, for human beings. In some settings, Bill Gates fares better; in others, Bill Clinton. As a species, we need both kinds.