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Why Is Quiet a Superpower?

Best-selling author Jill Chang shares secret strengths of introverts at work.

Key points

  • Cultural and social expectations are often different for introverts in Eastern vs. Western cultures.
  • Some highly sensitive introverts care a lot about others’ opinions; it can help to remember that you can’t please everyone.
  • Introverts often bring value to the workplace by focusing, listening, and being strategic.
StockUnlimited, used with permission
Young businesswoman holding globe
Source: StockUnlimited, used with permission

I have often wondered about the differences between introverts in different cultures. Taiwanese author Jill Chang, author of Quiet Is a Superpower: The Secret Strengths of Introverts in the Workplace, has plenty to say about that—and much more—to help introverts thrive in their careers. An advisor to a U.S.-based international nonprofit philanthropy, Chang has over 15 years of marketing experience in organizations including Major League Baseball, the U.S. government, long-term medical providers, and international businesses. A graduate of leadership programs at Harvard University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, her book has been a number-one bestseller in Taiwan.

NA: What have you learned as an introvert in your journey with the book?

JC: It's been a fantastic journey. The book and everything that came with it expanded my horizon and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’ve been giving talks about introversion in different continents, getting extensive contact with the general public, and even sacrificing some of my privacy. But I’m still very grateful for these experiences. I learned so much from my fellow introverts and their stories, and it’s a privilege.

As a highly sensitive introvert, I care a lot about others’ opinions and worry “What if they don't like me?” After encountering criticism from online haters, the lesson I learned is probably not much about introversion or personality, but the fact that you can’t please everyone. I learned it the hard way, but I’m thankful for the opportunity.

NA: What inspired you to write your book?

JC: My book mainly shares my experience and lessons I learned as an introvert climbing the corporate ladder in the international workplace. I wrote it because it is something I wish I had 20 years ago.

I read numerous books about introverts and felt empowered. However, even with all the modules, steps, and strategies I read about, I realized I still couldn’t speak up during meetings. So I experimented with every method I learned from the books. Quiet Is a Superpower is a collection of my best practices in various scenarios.

Two significant things make my book different from the others in the popular introvert literature: For one, I’m not a business consultant, psychologist, or coach. I started as an intern and now I’m a director at an international organization working across 25 countries; what I’m sharing is practical advice that introverts can apply every day. And as an Asian woman at an international organization, I add a cultural lens to the discussion. So I think my book would especially benefit young professionals and those working with people from multiple cultural backgrounds.

NA: Why is quiet a superpower?

JC: During my climb up the corporate ladder, I started to realize that I could do certain things better than my louder, more emotive colleagues. I could sit for hours immersed in a lengthy document or stay focused and be strategic while others are chasing shiny objects. Also, it’s easier for quiet people to listen, and that is an essential skill in many work environments. I didn’t initially see the value of these abilities because they came naturally to me; it took me a while to realize that superpowers don’t always need to be earned. I’m not suggesting that quiet is the only superpower. I firmly believe as long as you embrace your assets and use them to the fullest, you are bringing your superpowers to the world around you.

NA: What, if any, differences have you noticed in introverts across different cultures, particularly in the workplace?

JC: I grew up in a typical East Asian culture in which we’re usually encouraged to listen more and speak less, be observant, and be attentive to group harmony. It was okay for children to be quiet in school. However, it’s a different story in the workplace, especially in Western culture.

I’ve been working for and with Western companies throughout my career. I've noticed introverts in those workplaces tend to be more expressive and seemingly extroverted. During one of my business trips, I spent a lot of time with my American colleagues; through my Asian cultural lens, they all appear to be extroverts. However, after they took a personality assessment, I was astonished to learn that five out of the six colleagues were actually introverts. In contrast, from my experience in Eastern workplaces, it’s easier to tell if a colleague is on the introverted end of the spectrum.

NA: In some cultures, a stigma is attached to being an introvert. To what extent is that in Asian cultures as well?

JC: I think generally, Asian cultures, especially East-Asian ones, embrace quietness more. But still, there are stigmas and misperceptions, such as introverts being seen as less ambitious and not so proactive; they’re also seen as passive pessimists or lone wolves. With the efforts from my heroes and mentors like Susan Cain, Jennifer Kahnweiler, Matthew Pollard, and of course, you, Nancy, things are starting to change—and awareness has increased of the strengths of introverts in the workplace. Asia is a bit behind, but we’re getting there.

Alexander Suhorucov/Pexels
3 diverse colleagues meeting at work
Source: Alexander Suhorucov/Pexels

NA: Is there anything you’d like to add?

JC: I hope my book serves as a practical guide for introverts to survive and thrive in the workplace. I’m active on social media and love creating a sense of community for introverts to share their thoughts and updates across cultures and countries.

NA: Thank you for graciously and authentically sharing your point of view from your deep experience as an introvert who has navigated so many workplaces. As an introverted author in the career space myself, I am inspired by your work empowering and enlightening a broad audience worldwide. So glad you’ve contributed your special insights to the burgeoning body of popular books for introverts.

Copyright © 2021 Nancy Ancowitz