I am an introvert and I'm not alone

30th March 2012 at 01:00

I actively dislike spending all day with my colleagues. This has nothing to do with the colleagues themselves, who are as affable a group of people as ever put together a weekly education newspaper (and made their share of the tea). It is because I am an introvert.

I work best in the quiet of my own company. I express myself better in writing than in speech. I would far rather have an intensely revelatory conversation with one person than banter over pints in a group.

And so Susan Cain's book Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking is the literary equivalent of a reassuring hug.

Introverts, Cain says, make up between a third and half of the population. Introversion is not the same as shyness: there are shy extroverts, just as there are self-assured introverts. But while extroverts draw strength from the company of others, introverts find company, however enjoyable, inherently draining. We find our strength in solitude.

The world, however, is set up largely for extroverts. "School is hard because a lot of people are in the room, so you get tired," says Isabel, a seven-year-old introvert. The same children who struggle with this arrangement will later battle against the low-level hum of the open-plan office.

But introverts can be effective leaders: they listen to others, and do not speak unless they have something worth saying. And they are more reflective: Einstein, Orwell and Van Gogh were all introverts. Charles Darwin regularly turned down dinner invitations in order to take solitary nature walks.

Cain is an endearing, entertaining guide to the world of introversion. Like many introverts - who will happily post something on Twitter that they have not told close friends - she knows how to use the written first person to charming effect.

Her deadpan account of a self-help conference - "Tony addresses us in a raspy voice, half Muppet, half bedroom-sexy" - is funny but never unsympathetic. So, too, is her tale of the introvert who, stunned into silence by a confrontational colleague, was later praised for her "negotiation ju-jitsu".

And there are helpful tips - "don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured"; allow introverts "restorative niches" to recover from the world - for teachers and parents.

Mostly, though, Quiet provides validation for anyone who has ever felt awkward or antisocial because they did not conform to the ultra-social norm.

One colleague jokes about my preference for "exclusive" lunches, when everyone else goes off on a friendly group outing. Thanks to Quiet, I now know that I am merely seeking out my restorative niche. I would tell him this but, frankly, I would rather avoid the unnecessary conversation.

Review - Quiet by Susan Cain, Viking, hardback #163;20.

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