I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet a couple of months ago and have been pondering
it since. The premise of the book is that about half the population are
introverts and for too long those who are naturally quiet, serious or sensitive
have been overlooked; whilst the loudest have taken over. Her aim is to get the
world to listen and harness the power of introverts.
As someone who fits in the introvert camp it has been a fascinating
read. Here are a couple of things I’ve taken from it.
1. Group work is not such a great idea. It tends to produce group
think where everyone agrees with each other. Often it is the extroverts who
speak and introverts don’t get to contribute properly. (Open plan offices and
brainstorming sessions are both strategies biased towards extroverts)
2. Being an introvert
doesn’t mean being unsocial, rather it tends to a preference for deeper
conversations in small groups rather than liking small talk, large groups or meeting
& greeting lots of people.
3. Introverts do stuff because of conviction. This can be
harnessed to help you work in a more extrovert friendly way because convictions
give you the energy to do things which otherwise might be energy sapping, like
interacting with lots of people.
4. Introverts generally prefer to take heed not take risks;
liking to do considered, deliberate things. This focused approach, which can
make for good analysis or creative work, helps sharpen skills and develop
Since then I’ve been wondering what it might have to say
about church life, particularly in charismatic / evangelical churches. Two
things occur to me. First is that worship which connects with beauty and with
depth of doctrine are likely to be well received (and more enriching than ‘talk
to your neighbour’ moments). Second, worship where people can choose the level
of obvious participation is preferable. In other liturgical traditions it can
be done by simply quietly joining in the liturgy; in more charismatic environments
it maybe in opportunities to experience the emotion and get ‘lost in worship’
without having to say or do anything. [Which makes me wonder if this is a
factor in people preferring large scale worship gatherings where others are not
aware of what they are doing].
Thinking more widely about Baptist life in the UK
I think we generally seek to value a range of gifts and personalities, avoiding
just those with loudest mouths. However, we have not always been good at listening
to those quieter voices who haven’t found themselves in the centre.
Lastly, what do I take away for how I exercise leadership?
1. I need to find ways of
validating introversion, owning those traits in myself in public and
encouraging them in others.
2. I need to work more from convictions
and frame what I do around them. Leading by influence not by trying to be loud.
3. I need to structure
what I do so that I can give myself to more extraverted activities whilst still
having time to re-charge energy levels, creating space and reflective periods
alongside the more outgoing, active ones.
Cain’s book is a bit more nuanced than this, particular
around the introvert / extravert themes and the role of nurture and genetics.
Her recent TED talk is below.
Isn’t this an issue for our identity as missionary disciples? I’ve often wondered: Did Jesus ever feel shy? Approaching the Samaritan woman at the well would have induced shyness in any Jewish boy; did a disciplined prayer life overcome this? Because that’s the message I’ve often picked up – if I got close enough to God, I would be able to approach any stranger and generate small talk to make them feel comfortable. In Post-Christendom, talking to strangers seems to be the highest calling there is, but we’re not all very good at it.
Thanks Neil for posting this. As an introvert I have found this quite inspiring. Will definitely try to get hold of Susan’s book.
Probably why Pentecost happened. To sort out the introverts.
I always enjoy to read your post cause its very informative. Keep posting.