Understanding the potential of introverts

August 5, 2019

Q&A at Ideas.TED.com on July 29, 2019

In this overscheduled, overstimulating world, it’s no surprise that many of us feel like introverts at some point during our days. In an excerpt from The TED Interview podcast, writer Susan Cain talks about how workplaces can better support people’s quieter side and what helped her conquer her fear of public speaking.

In 2012, Susan Cain kicked off a quiet revolution: She published the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and she gave a TED Talk about the power of introverts. Both the book and talk brought introverts to the forefront of public awareness, dispelled false ideas about them, and highlighted their gifts. Chris Anderson, the head of TED, recently spoke to Cain for an episode of The TED Interview podcast. Here is a portion of their conversation; it’s been edited for clarity and length.

Chris Anderson: In your book, you say that shyness is not necessarily the same as introversion. Can you explain the difference?

Susan Cain: Shyness is about the fear of social judgment. So, if you’re going out on the ice and everybody’s watching you, you’re feeling an acutely, painfully heightened self-consciousness … then later on in life, it would show up in job interviews and things like that. And introversion is much more about the preference for environments where there’s just a little less going on. It’s more mellow. It’s more chill. And that’s where you feel that you’re most alive.

Anderson: Someone could be shy but be an extrovert, in the sense that they actually want to connect with other people. They just don’t know how to, and they’re fearful of initiating connection … but when they do, they’re happy to spend lots and lots of time with those people. Whereas the introvert may be quite good at the initial hello, but within half an hour, they’re feeling stress inside and wanting to retreat. Is that the difference?

Cain: It’s something like that … But I’m thinking a lot about the internal experience. [When you meet new people,] what are you feeling? How joyful do you feel to be entering into this gathering of people? How nervous do you feel?

Anderson: Everyone’s on a spectrum that goes from extroversion to introversion, right? So, what does that spectrum look like?

Cain: It depends on which study you look at, and it’s so hard because it depends on how you’re defining these terms in the study. One study that I just looked at found [there were] 40 percent introverts, 20 percent who would call themselves ambivert, or people who really feel that they’re in the middle of both, and 40 percent more on the extrovert side. But there’s no absolutes.

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