The difference between introvert and extrovert? How about these pairs of opposites

  • shy /  outgoing
  • wallflower / party animal
  • follower / leader
  • thinker / doer

Except that, as Susan Cain describes better than I can, this sort of pairing is misleading. For example, a leader may be loud and energetic or quietly spoken – each type of leadership has their place and in the appropriate setting can be very effective. Meanwhile do we really believe that extroverts do not think or that introverts do not act?

What about this group of words: introvert, sensitive, shy? While a person may or may not be all these three, they do not always go together and they are not the same thing. In her book, “Quiet”, backed by research and personal stories, Susan Cain challenges society’s implied assumption that sociable=good and solitary=bad; to put it another way easy conversationalist=good and quiet=bad. She shows that much of the difference between introvert and extrovert is physiological, rather than psychological, and certainly not moral. Introverts and extroverts experience the world differently.

For instance, when at a party, an introvert will be drained by the experience of giving their attention to so many different people and are likely to want to leave early or at least spend some time by themselves. Meanwhile, the extrovert is energised by the experience and is ready for more excitement. On the other hand, as I have found, introverts will be energised by a silent retreat but by the end of the day the extroverts will be utterly drained – and thirsting for social interaction.

It is not true that extroverts are leaders and introverts followers. Extroverts are as likely to be leaders as followers because both roles mean joining in. On the other hand, the introvert is more likely to be an observer, at least to begin with, before joining in. Cain argues that this has implications for the way we raise children and for education too.

For myself, as a strong introvert, I found the book liberating because it is evidence-based. That is to say, it argues that introverts should be understood as being different, not morally suspect, but based on science not just a plea to others to be nice to us. What is more, some introvert characteristics turn out to be strengths: society needs listeners as well as talkers, people who take time to think deeply as well as those who act quickly.

The introvert /  extrovert difference is comparable to being left- or right-handed, male or female. You can adjust to the other way of thinking and behaving – and sometimes it is desirable to do so – but it works better if you go with the grain of your character. When out of our comfortable place we may find strategies to deal with them.

This is a book for introverts to encourage them and for extroverts to help understand them. I thoroughly recommend this book: there is every likelihood that you or someone you love is an introvert.

5 stars, 9 out of 10

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