This wasn’t what I expected to get from this book.

The book in question is called Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  It was recommended by author Lois McMaster Bujold, on her blog a few weeks ago. 

Disclaimer the first:  I am an introvert.  I am, so far as I can tell, about as introverted as it is possible to be, which I first was able to give a name to in high school almost forty years ago when I tested off the introvert end of the bell curve as part of some forever nameless (because I don’t think they ever told me — I’m pretty sure these were pre-Myers/Briggs days) psychological testing process.

Not that I didn’t know I was before that, I just didn’t know what to call it.

 Disclaimer the second:  I have a tendency to get a bit hostile when I read books on introversion, because most of them tend to be written by faux introverts rather than the real thing, and because they generally make assertions, such as the concept that an introvert can enjoy public speaking, that I disagree violently with.  It is my beyond firm belief that if you enjoy public speaking (as opposed to being able to do it if you absolutely positively have to), then, no, you’re not an introvert, pretty much by definition (no, I’m not going to argue that here — if you disagree with this incontrovertible fact (as opposed to opinion), please post about that on your own blog, thank you). 

And now I’m done with the disclaimers, which probably give you a pretty good idea of what I expected from this book, which is what I’ve mostly gotten from other books on the subject.  Which may make you wonder why I read them, but it’s kind of like watching America’s Got Talent.  Some people have talent.  Some — don’t.  Books on introversion have some concepts right on the money, and some clear out in left field.  But I did expect those concepts to be about introversion. 

The book was about introversion, don’t get me wrong, but the new and useful concept I acquired from this book is about something called social cues, and the spectrum of ability to read those cues humanity has. 

I suspect the fact that I really had no clue what the term social cues meant until the author explained it is what gave me the first inkling that perhaps I’m about as far on the “social cues? huh?” end of the bell curve as I am on the introvert end.  I cannot begin to count the number of times I have realized from days to sometimes years later, that someone was trying to ask or tell me something and I simply didn’t get it because they weren’t direct enough for me to catch on.

Like the time just after my second divorce when my mother attempted to find out if the reason both my marriages had gone south was because I was gay.  I’m not, which is neither here nor there, but it did not dawn on me that my dear elderly Southern Lady mother’s hints on the subject were her way of trying to find out if I was, until, oh, about six years after the little talk in question, when something reminded me of the conversation and the other shoe dropped, along with my jaw.

So does my realization this afternoon after another incident that only happened yesterday (not with my mother, and not one I can comfortably speak of here) mean that I’m getting better at recognizing when people want me to know something but they’re too uncomfortable/disdainful/bad at recognizing the clueless to tell me straight out?  (or, I suppose, they could think they’re actually being direct, but that’s a scary thought)

Somehow I doubt it. 

But at least I have a name for it now.

So where are you on the introvert/extrovert scale?  And, just as importantly, on the social cues bell curve?

Oh, and does anyone have any suggestions for teaching myself how to catch in real time at least some of the conversational dust motes that I’m missing?

Categories: books, philosophy | Tags: | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “This wasn’t what I expected to get from this book.

  1. Harimad

    The definition of introvert/extrovert that I like best is an introvert is someone who needs to be by zirself to recharge while an extrovert is someone who needs to be with others to recharge. By that scale I’m an introvert, fond as I am of my friends’ company.

    Social clues … I wish I could help you there. I’m not naturally good either, and somehow taught myself. I can teach others but only if we’re in the same place so I can translate on the spot. And I no longer remember how I learned.

    [not so good ideas deleted]

    Try Deborah Tannen’s books, the classic being “You Just Don’t Understand”; Suzette Haden Elgin’s linguistic books (although her SF “Native Tongue” has lots in there as well); and Joseph Telushkin’s “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal.” Not all are dead-on for your goal but they’re all about communication, and meta-communication, and what you way as compared with what they hear.

    • I’ve read Elgin and Tannen. For me, social situations are rather like playing tennis. I can learn all the techniques I want, but when that ball is flying at me at however many mph, I’m going to flail at it just to keep it from beaning me [wry g].


      Elgin’s blog has some great discussions on that sort of thing (though sadly she’s no longer posting). It’s

      • Yes, I read her blog for years. Never was able to apply her teachings in actual situations, though — my brain just doesn’t work that way.

  2. xinef82

    I’m definitely on the introvert side of that scale, but not terribly far out. I don’t mind giving prepared technical talks, even to large audiences. But don’t ask me to give an off-the-cuff or humorous talk. No way. Interestingly, my husband is definitely an introvert, but can “turn on” some extrovert tendencies for an evening. He’s very tired after that (which is one way I know he’s an introvert). He can do the wedding MC thing and be VERY good at it. I’d suck.

    On the social cues scale, not too bad. There certainly have been occasions when I’ve badly misread or just missed fairly obvious cues, so I’m not great. But not too bad. Scale of 1-10, 6 or 7 maybe.

    • It sounds to me like you’re both much closer to the center of the bell curve than I am.

      • xinef82

        Yes, I’d come to that conclusion too! 🙂

    • I’m not sure where I am… well, basically introvert but with a big BUT. My mental anchor for this exception (although the revelation of personal relevance didn’t hit me till many years later) is something that happened when my Dad and I were staying with his sister in the frantic preparations for my cousin’s wedding; I would’ve been about 17, so my cousin about 24). People were answering the phone “Wedding Central!”, and so on.

      So we’re sitting in the living room chatting amiably with friends and relatives, and the doorbell rings, and Dad gets up to answer it. Now, understand, Dad was a Mad Man with asterisks: an advertising executive in the fifties and sixties, but a personal aversion to alcohol, so he’d tip the barman $5 at the start of the evening and tell him “always just refill me with ginger ale & ice”; Dad would be walking around, smiling and clear-headed, and watching all his colleagues get dumb. His desk phone was rotary, of course, but with a row of buttons for special connections; the red one was labeled LAUNCH.

      So, I was saying, Dad gets up to answer the doorbell at cousin’s Wedding Central, with who-knows-what waiting outside: kith or kin or “can I sell you” or “where do I put this” or … And he takes a step or two, and turns back to face the room, and says as if to himself, “Now, what mask shall I put on this time?”

      And that, I think, is the kind of mixtovert my Dad was, and something of what I am, whatever I am.

      • Mixtrovert has to be one of the most brilliant neologisms I’ve seen in a very long time. I think most people are mixtroverts, but one of their introvert or extrovert character traits makes them think that they’re one or the other, when they’re really not either.

        So, what’s the procedure for adding this word to our vocabulary officially? [g]

      • Use it a lot? Put it on urban dictionary?

        Professionally (and this is my profession), I say use it, see if it catches on.

  3. I’ll do my share!

  4. xinef82

    Mixtrovert does make a lot of sense!

    • Speaking professionally…. may I inquire (and I *do* mean “may I”) about the origin of your ID? I could pronounce it with a “kh” as Hebrew or many Slavic langs, though I’d have to look it up as I don’t recognize it. But it does make me curious. Of course, I won’t mind a bit if you’d rather not answer.

      Dr. Whom, Consulting Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoëpist, and Philological Busybody

      • xinef82

        Mark, No secret. Dates back to my IRC days. One of my IRC friends got tired of typing “Christine” and started using “Xine”. His explanation was “Christine” to “Xine” as “Christmas” to “Xmas”. I don’t actually say it out loud it very often, and haven’t decided on the best pronunciation.

        When I set up my LiveJournal, someone had already taken “Xine”, so I used “XineF”. That wasn’t available on WordPress, so got “XineF82”. But I typically only use my WordPress account for reading and commenting on WP blogs that don’t allow openid or LJ.

      • Thank you! Name and nic origins are almost always interesting to me. 🙂

  5. filkferengi

    I found the stories about people and personal anecdotes engaging, but the research, etc. was like particularly plodding homework. The whole “introverts are overstimulated, sensitive, special snowflakes being stomped on and oppressed by thoughtless extroverts” thing got old *very* quickly.

    Proportions really do differ. I suspect I’m more of a 65-35 or 70-30 extrovert, whereas you’re maybe an 80-20 or 85-15 introvert.

    I did enjoy the concept of restorative niches and liked the emphasis on their importance and planning for them. I’ve used other metaphors & framing, but it’s a vital concept.

    So, how did this book make you feel? Were you empowered, & included in the story/conversation?

    • I have to say that I found the emphasis on introverts being who they are and lack of emphasis on trying to persuade introverts to become pseudo-extroverts extremely refreshing. And I suspect that what you’re calling “special snowflake” syndrome is in the eye of the beholder. This is honestly the first book on the subject I’ve read that wasn’t all “you have to act like an extrovert to get on in this world, so get over yourself,” so we were well overdue for a swing in the other direction.

  6. I’m sort of that combination. I can do extrovert really well if in a stimulating situation, but do crash when it’s over. Sometimes I get “high” enough to suggest I might need meds. 🙂 Social cues I think are pretty well developed in me. My husband is an introvert which probably keeps my extroverted tendencies in check. I’m more off the wall if he’s not around to mortify. 🙂

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