shy woman and man sitting on sofa couch


Wallflower, shy, anti-social. All negative words we’ve used to describe people who are “introverts.” Our guest – an introvert herself — talks about just what an introvert is, and how they are actually very sociable in the right settings. She also discusses ways in which teachers and others can encourage introverts’ participation in school and in other groups, and how “quiet ones” complement the more gregarious and outgoing extroverts in their lives.

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  • Susan Cain, author of Quiet Power: The secret strengths of introverts

Link for more information:

The Power of Introverts

Gary Price: Everybody knows one – they’re the person who is the “life of the party” even when there’s no party. They are the center of attention at every gathering and are the ones who never seem to be comfortable by themselves; they tell the loudest jokes, push for the biggest projects at work and seem to be “on” all the time. We call them “extroverts” and we gather around them like moths to a flame. Their opposite number – introverts – seem to fade into the background, watching, waiting and sometimes becoming invisible as the extrovert takes the stage. What superpowers do these low-key individuals possess? Susan Cain says, “plenty,” and she outlines them in her book, Quiet Power: The secret strengths of introverts. Introverts, she says, aren’t to be pitied — far from it. They aren’t friendless, retiring souls who sit apart because of some flaw in their personalities.

Susan Cain: An introvert is somebody who gets their energy by being either alone or with a close friend or just generally in a quieter situation. So, it’s kind of a question as, if you think in terms of batteries, extroverts tend to recharge their batteries by being in a situation with a lot going on or a lot of people around. Introverts, no matter how socially skilled, tend, after about two hours on, start to with that they were home and in their pajamas.

Price: Cain says that many famous people that you might not think of as retiring and quiet are actually introverts…

Cain: Bill Gates is one, Beyonce, J.K. Rowling – who wrote Harry Potter – Dr. Seuss, Eleanor Roosevelt; there’s so many.

Price: You can also add civil rights activist Rosa Parks, singer Christina Aguilera, scientist Albert Einstein, actress Audrey Hepburn and financial whiz Warren Buffet to that list.  Cain says that introverts are often confused with “shy people” but they aren’t necessarily part of that group.

Cain: Shyness and introversion are different. Introversion is kind of about how you respond to stimulation and the preference for situations that are just less overstimulating, where shyness is more about the fear of social judgment and a proneness to embarrassment, feelings of self-consciousness. So, in practice, you can be shy and introverted or you can be introverted without being shy, which I suspect describes President Obama, for example, or you could be a shy extrovert, somebody like Barbara Streisand, who, by all accounts, has a larger-than-life personality but who stopped performing for decades because her stage fright was so intense.

Price: When an introvert starts school and is thrown into a new situation and a group of children he or she doesn’t know, it can be tough for them. Cain says that it’s helpful if teachers recognize that an introvert isn’t unfriendly, just less gregarious.

Cain: It will probably take them awhile to warm up and feel comfortable. Even once they do and they’re totally comfortable and at their ease, in general, these kids tend to prefer the company of a few close friends as opposed to really mixing it up with everybody. Not to say they won’t be friendly with all the kids, but generally you’re going to see a real preference for their people. In terms of work habits, they will tend to want to work on projects autonomously.

Price: Working in groups is a big trend in schools today, and it bothers Cain to see that some educators don’t think about how a very large portion of the student body learns when they create these classroom assignments.

Cain: Because it’s really not the way that half of the population, the introverted half, prefers to learn. You know, nowadays even things like AP calculus are being taught as group projects, and I talk to kids about this and they tell me, “Yep, I flunked AP calculus because I would get in a group and not want to say anything and not want to work on a problem in that setting,” and they just weren’t learning. So, it’s very troubling.

Price: If an introvert does have to work on a group project, Cain has some strategies for them to make the best of the situation and succeed there and in other areas of school life.

Cain: For one thing when you are in one of these group projects that I was just describing, it can really help to prepare in advance and to think about what kind of roles you would most want to play in that group this time around. Might be the devil’s advocate who’s the one who’s going to say, “Hmm, are we doing it the right way or the wrong way?” You might want to be the facilitator, you might want to be the note-taker, you might want to be the artist, you know, it kind of depends on that context, but to think mindfully about it. Also, to really look for the place in school where you can find your niche, so instead of accepting the received wisdom that the way to be a star in school is to be the captain of the soccer team or the president of the class, you don’t have to do that. There’s lots of other niches out there and you need to find the one that works for you and go deep in that one. Acquire expertise and make friends within that niche and really follow something you’re interested in doing, and that’s where you’re going to find yourself shining.

Price: In a classroom situation where students are asked to answer questions, introverts often don’t raise their hands very quickly. Cain has some ideas for teachers that can make “question and answer” time more comfortable for this group.

Cain: After you ask a question of your class, most teachers it’s natural to kind of look for the answer right away, but if you wait a few extra beats before calling on somebody to answer the question, you know, another five seconds, another ten seconds, you’re going to get way more kids participating than if you only wait that one second because the introverted kids, by their nature, need to process things before they articulate them. If you want to give those kids time to process, another technique is called think-pair-share, and this is where the teacher asks the class a question, asks the students first to think about it quietly to themselves, then to pair up with a partner to discuss it and then to invite those pairs to share it out with a larger group. What that does is it gives the introverts and the extroverts alike time to think, the ability to articulate their thoughts out loud at least with one other partner, and then, for the more reserved kids, having now articulated their thoughts, they’re actually more likely to share them out with the group then they would’ve been to do it cold.

Price: Cain says that people who are introverts can learn to become more comfortable in school if they work at it. Like most things, practice makes perfect, and she has some tips on how quieter people can speak up and contribute.

Cain: The key is, first of all, accepting that maybe this is harder for you than it is for the kid sitting next to you, and that’s okay, and then thinking about, “What are the techniques I can use to make this easier for me?” So, we found that for some kids, it helps to give themselves a push to be one of the first to speak up in class because then other people start directing their attention more to you in a positive way and you start to feel more part of the center of things. And if you’ve spoken up early, you don’t build up that anticipatory anxiety as you wait and wait and wait to get the courage to raise your hand, so, for some, that’s what really works. For others, it’s really exactly the opposite, and they do better by waiting until other people have spoken and taking time to formulate how they want to enter into the conversation and going in that way. So, the key is to accept yourself and be mindful of how you, and you alone, are responding and follow your own lead.

Price: Ironically, introverts and extroverts often make the best of friends. Cain says that they compliment each other and find that extroverts tend to be attracted to the depths of introverts.

Cain: I’ve had many extroverts tell me, “Yeah, when I’m with my introverted friends, that’s when I really sit down and think about things and they always ask me questions that make me think in a way that I wouldn’t have done before. They get me into a quieter, deeper place that I like to be and I can’t get there myself.” So, there’s a lot of mutual benefits to those friendships.

Price: Cain says that introverts have a lot of very desirable traits that the average person might not see until they get to know a quieter person better. She says that they make good leaders because they tend to listen to what others have to say, solicit ideas and then run with them. But that’s not all.

Cain: Introverts tend to be really creative, and that’s actually documented in any number of studies. I really do recommend finding your creativeness if that speaks to you. Introverts tend to be really good at focusing and developing skills in general, so if you’re an athlete, you’re probably going to be the type of athlete where you got the discipline and the ability to keep on practicing, keep on focusing, keep on working on the piece of your athletic technique that’s just outside your grasp but you want to get better and better at. You will find that you have an incredible ability to excel above and beyond the typical person because of this incredible power of persistence.
Price: You can find out all about introverts and how they learn, socialize and contribute to society in Susan Cain’s book, Quiet Power available now. She also invites listeners to her website at quiet for more information on learning styles, parenting and working with introverts. For more information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpoints You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.