I first met Susan Cain a half a dozen years ago when she took a Self-Promotion for Introverts® workshop I gave at New York University. A mutual colleague, Ben Dattner, Ph.D., connected me and Cain because we were both writing books for and about introverts. Mine, Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, came out in 2009 (and contains tips from Cain about salary negotiation). Cain's, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, took the world by storm in 2012 when she started an introvert revolution and commanded the stage in her soft-spoken way at a TED talk. She is with us today, on the first anniversary of her book release, to answer my questions about what it's like for a card-carrying introvert to be thrust into the limelight.
NA: You've been a best-selling author of a book for and about introverts for a year—and an introvert for a lot longer than that. How are you developing resilience about being so out in the world?
SC: At first, it was exciting, but also tiring and scary. But over time I learned to take it in stride. Two things really helped:
The first was learning to shift my internal focus. When I feel overwhelmed by the demands of publicity, I try to focus on feelings of warmth and caring instead. I think of the people I wrote the book for, especially the next generation of quiet, thoughtful children.
The second is: the miracle of desensitization! Desensitization is the practice of exposing yourself to the thing you fear, in small and manageable doses, until eventually you overcome it. I've used this practice to overcome my fear of public speaking, which I would have said was an impossible task.
NA: Your book is immersed in research. What is the most surprising thing you learned about introverts?
SC: Introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do, according to research by the great Wharton social scientist Adam Grant.
NA: Despite the whopping success of your book, there will always be detractors. How do you handle criticism—particularly as an introvert?
SC: Oh, this is a very important question. I'm a constitutionally thin-skinned person. But the criticism has taught me so much about how to handle life's slings and arrows. When the detractors detract, I always experience a momentary kick-in-the-stomach sensation. But I have learned how to work through it. When it's valid, I try to think of Maya Angelou's advice that you can't change the past, you can only learn from it. And when it's not valid, I wait for the bad sensations to pass—they always do—and then forget all about it. Book- and blog-writing is great practice for life in general!
NA: One of my favorite parts of your book was when you were sharing a glimpse of children in a grade-school setting saying, "Whoever's holding the plastic bag gets to talk!" Since introverts of any age like to speak once and not shout over others to be heard, that concept is heaven for us. How did you, as a low-key introvert, get heard at boisterous meetings as a corporate lawyer?
SC: I believe that whatever your inner state is will find a way of manifesting itself outwardly —whether you like it or not. So if you are speaking from an inner state of conviction, that will come across, and people will listen. The trick is to know what your convictions are. It helps to sit down with yourself before a meeting to figure out what you truly think and believe.
NA: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
SC: We are at the earliest stages of the Quiet Revolution! If you agree with the idea of creating a society that values and benefits from the talents of its introverts, please pitch in...talk to your child's teacher about introversion, organize a book group at your office, write a blog post. And don't forget to draw attention to your own contributions. I often receive mail from artists, writers, and other idea generators who are creating amazing things, but uncomfortable with "putting themselves out there." So no one gets to see their work or hear their ideas. That's such a shame. Nancy's book on self-promotion for introverts is a great place to start!
I just learned that Cain and I share a passion for helping introverts with their public speaking skills, and she is developing an online resource on the topic. I teach Presentation Skills for Introverts™ at NYU and offer free articles and videos to help introverts build their confidence at addressing an audience. In addition, a chapter of my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®, offers concrete guidance on public speaking. So if you're Garbo in a cubicle, whether you're talking to one person or a crowd, let your quiet star twinkle!
Copyright © 2012 Nancy Ancowitz