Quiet By Susan Cain: A review


I hate socializing.

I am not shy. But I don’t like to socialise. I won’t be the first person to greet any new staffs in my department and make them feel comfortable, but neither would I unnecessarily cause them any discomfort. I won’t be the first person to smile a welcome, but neither would I make any unwelcoming gestures. I won’t try to initiate any small talk, but neither would I ignore them when they attempt to engage me in a conversation.

I am just more comfortable not having to socialize, and therefore I just won’t go out of my way to initiate it. And I think people sense my awkwardness and discomfort at having to engage in a small talk and they appropriately leave me alone after some time. If I see my teachers/lecturers/specialists outside the school/university/clinics, you bet I am going to turn the other way (the longer route, even) to avoid having to talk to them (unless they have spotted me and then I have no choice but to greet them, so that they won’t think I am plain weird). It’s okay to see my teachers in the class, but outside the class, I would NEVER seek them out unnecessarily; not even to ask them about any particular knotty points in the lesson. I would just work things out on my own or ask my classmates. I had never been the sort who would go to teachers like my friends and say “Mai saya tolong angkat buku dan beg cikgu ke bilk guru”. Not in a million years…unless they DO need me to do it, then I will do it.

I have never been the sort who would socialise with MOs or specialists outside the wards when I was a HO. Even seeing them at the parking lot from afar made me stop dead on my tracks (Alamak! Why do we have to be here at the same time??) and caused my eyes to dart around, searching for the nearest escape route where they wouldn’t spot me and I wouldn’t have to walk into the hospital with them, having to engage in a boring conversation about some mundane matters I didn’t really give a damn about.

I CAN socialize, but ONLY after I have expected having to do it. I can even make it look effortless and fun if I have to. It is easy and even enjoyable if I had already prepared myself mentally into socializing. Like during kenduri….I expect to see those I invited and I expect to have to talk to them. So that’s okay. Or while holidaying in a tour group… I expect to have to socialise part of the time I am in that group.

But if you caught me unaware, in a situation when I expect the pleasure of my own thoughts and NOT to have to bother talking, I’d rather avoid you; no offense. I PREFER my own company almost all the time, EXCEPT perhaps during raya, and only with relatives.

All these while, I thought I was shy and the only reason people always laugh and said “hang tok sah dok perasan sangat la hang ni pemalu. You are not exactly perempuan Melayu terakhir, Afiza” is because I have good acting talent and able to hide my discomfort so well.

But actually they were right. I really was NOT shy. Shy indicates a self-consciousness that I really don’t possess. Bring me a topic I really care about, you would see me talking loud and clear, fast and furious..and I don’t care what people think about me for saying what I think. Try to bully me into agreeing with your distorted and unjust opinion, you would see me bullying you back with my loud counter-arguments insisting that my way of looking at things is more accurate. Sometimes I can be downright rude – having that insight about my rudeness – but unable and unwilling to stop myself from being so.

So, that’s hardly a shy person,is it?

I have no problems talking to an audience. I know how to make a clear point and make sure people understand what I am trying to deliver. I know just where to emphasize which word in which sentence to better capture an audience’s attention to the point I am trying to highlight. That came almost instinctively without me having to think about it. I can present topics that I have prepared with no problems. On the other hand, I have seen some extroverts who may not freeze in front of an audience but they do some really boring presentation causing the audience to fall blissfully into sleep…they may enjoy interaction with their colleagues but when they ACTUALLY do a power-point presentation, they just don’t capture the audience’s attention to what they are trying to say. Because I used to watch my sister train as a debater even when I was only 9 years old and was asked to give my input to her, I would look at their presentation critically and make internal suggestion in my brain: louden your voice, put more emphasis in certain words, have some prosody in your way of talking, your points are all jumbled up and the audience cannot follow you. Speak with conviction, do you actually believe in what you say? What are you trying to say? Ok, I am going to sleep.
With the way I behave, you know I really don’t have social anxiety. I may not like making small talk, but I don’t fear it. A lot of my friends have said that when they first knew me, I didn’t smile at them and walked super fast and avoided eye-contact, making them wary of approaching me. (because if I smile and walk slowly lingering around, then some random strangers will think it is a sign that I am welcoming some interaction and small talk which I really don’t! So, my not smiling is a self-preservation against overfamiliarity of random people). They then said, “Bila dah kenal, baru tahu Afiza friendly sebenarnya.” (Of course I am friendly  because I already know you to be comfortable enough with you.)

I am not shy, I am not rude (usually), I am not asocial, I am not snobbish/’sombong’. (these are things I have been accused of)

What I AM, is an introvert.

And the book by Susan Cain taught me that being an introvert is not necessarily about being shy. That being shy and being an introvert is not mutually inclusive.You can have a shy extrovert and an outspoken introvert.

The difference between an introvert and an extrovert, says Cain, is in how they receive their stimulation. An introvert is mainly focused on their own internal world. They are easily absorbed in a good book, a good discussion, a breathtaking scenery, a great mystery. They don’t need to have people around them to be stimulated and entertained. In fact, having people around them is the EXACT opposite to positive stimulation that they crave, unless these people can inspire some sort of deep conversation they can be interested in. An introvert feels lonely surrounded by people they are acquainted with but don’t care about; they feel more alive and energetic being by themselves doing things that they like; in my case, I would be reading, blogging, writing, travelling…by myself, preferably. Or perhaps with one or two people I am really close to and care about. Not more than that. An introvert is easily bored by people (whose conversation they find superficial) and would try to avoid having these people around, stealing their energy. An introvert also love, love, love their outward routine (because inwardly, they ALREADY receive stimulations from many different internal conversation they have with themselves about various topics and issues.)

On the other hand, an extrovert receives their stimulation by their interaction with others. They love people. They can be charming and good company, and often the life of the party. They find establishing new contact with people is easy and fun. They can start conversation with strangers without the slightest hesitation. Extroverts love their external environment, and the more novel it is, the better stimulation they receive. An unchanging environment will be the death of them.

To tell you the truth, most of my close friends are extroverts (so I appear extrovert by association) But my extrovert friends are one of the special ones; my extroverts friends are the deep one. They are not the one who talk and yack yack yack continuously without thinking! But they are the ones who talk and ask intelligent questions and cause ideas to flow and bounce. I am not going to tolerate extroverts who talk nonsense, making me feel bored and agitated to get away from them. I like genuine and originality in my extrovert friends. When my extrovert friends do talk about things, they cause me to think and enrich my internal world, which is the world I cannot wait to go back home to and do more thinking in. When I go out together with my extrovert friends, we complement each other. I will go to kenduri with her because I know that I can rely on her to fill up the silence when we meet our past acquaintances. I will be the one smiling indulgently as she goes on talking with our mutual acquaintance, all the while thinking “Thank God! I came here with you!”

I also DO have introvert friends. When I go out to kenduri with them, I have no choice but to step up to the role of being the more talkative one, because I sense that my friend is even more uncomfortable than I am. I tell myself “this is my turn to do my introvert friend a service that other extrovert friends have done for me in the past. The only difference is they actually enjoy it and I don’t”.

I am often amazed that people are surprised when I said “I don’t like crowds. I am an introvert.” Perhaps, as Susan Cain had pointed out, I have been able to hide my introversion so well out of the necessity to survive in a world catered for extroversion. If you are an introvert and you act shy, soft and timid, you will get easily bullied. If you cannot say what you mean with conviction, people simply won’t listen. And being the second child of five, neither the charismatic first born nor the last pampered child, I have learned to be assertive enough to get my way when the issue is important. When they don’t want to follow my way, I will go ahead doing what I want. Just because they don’t want to follow what I say does not mean I cannot go ahead and do it on my own.

So really, I am not much of a team player. I have NO DESIRE to be anyone’s leader. But I am also not a good follower to leaders that I disagree with. But to leaders that I look up to, I will be the staunchest supporter…but ONLY if they are courteous enough to at least make a show of considering what I said and accommodate my tendencies to have my own thought and my own way of looking at things. I neeeeed my own space…a lot of it.

So, the misconception of introverts as a boring ‘stick-in-the-mud’ person and extroverts as a shallow attention-seeking primadonna is NOT true. Their main difference is in how they receive their energy and stimulation from. I have met pretty deep, intellectual extroverts who enjoy meeting many people and at the same time love deep conversation of philosophical matters. I have met introverts who can be the life of a party when they have to and love the spotlight of performing on-stage but deep inside cannot wait to go home to just re-charge their energy (only to return on-stage again the next day). So, it’s not that surprising to have many actors and performers claiming that they are introverts,

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. The type of person I love hanging out with is someone who can make me think, who have the confidence to defend an original thought, who can shred bad ideas to pieces but at the same time can acknowledge good ideas and their merits, a rational non-conformist who don’t always try to please the (unjust) authority, someone principled and courageous, someone I can look up to, someone I can talk to without feeling like I am faking an enjoyment that I don’t actually feel.

And BOTH introverts and extroverts may have the characteristics above. Whenever I move to another school, another department, another workplace, those characteristics are the ones I will try searching for in the new people I meet. I prefer a stranger who comes up to me and straightaway said “What do you think about hudud?” (totally mind stimulating!) rather than an acquaintance I already knew who greets me saying “Hi Afiza, nice tudung. You look good.” Pfft! (Beyond saying ‘thank you’, how else the conversation is supposed to continue? So tepid and boring kan? But I have learned to be nice and to remember to return the compliment about their own appearance. I mean, I am not being insincere in returning the compliment….they sure look good. Of course they do. It’s just that I won’t say it automatically as a conversation starter because I just don’t feel it’s that important to say it to them. I am learning though, from the extroverts I am friends with.)

Really with introverts, don’t worry about mukadimah bagai. Just get to the heart of the matter and spare us the pleasantries. We prefer it that way, trust me. In fact, the less small talk you do, the better we like you. In fact, when you are more abrupt and more straighforward, you put us at ease by freeing us from the obligation of being nice and stilted. You make us be ourselves, so that after we have gone into deep conversation with you, we become so impressed with you to the point that we actually WANT to know you. We will then start asking you questions about you, “How are you? Where are you from? Do you enjoy Alor Star?” But THIS time, we are not making any small talk but we ask these because we really want to know. When we we really want to know, then those questions are NO LONGER small talks. Get it?

I am not saying that introverts are the only ones with depths. But Introverts go deep before they are comfortable to go superficial, Extroverts go superficial before they are comfortable going deep. In the end of the day, both will have depth…but the order of doing things are reversed between extroverts and introverts.

In case I have not made it clear, I LOVE this book. It provided so much insight into why I consider myself an introvert but at the same time I do not feel I am shy. It tells me that people sometimes confuse a shy extrovert as an introvert. In my case, I am an outspoken introvert being confused with being an extrovert. Quiet by Susan Cain is one of the few non-fiction I actually enjoy reading. I highly recommend it.

For me, it’s 5 stars!

5 thoughts on “Quiet By Susan Cain: A review

  1. hello saja lalu i’m preparing for my housemanship like tiga minggu lagi and you know what worries me about is macam mana nk introduce to mo/specialist. hahah as introvert myself benda tu yang bother me everytime i think about housemanship and bukan kena marah ke and one more bile kena join any event/gathering ker/ ahhh. any tips?


    1. Yes, I totally empathize.

      Introducing yourself to your MOs and Specialists is part of the job. If you look at it that way -that I am just doing my job, here – it will be much easier for you, I imagine.

      Introverts simply don’y like to talk nonsense small talk with no purpose.

      Tell yourself that introducing myself to people serves the purpose of doing my job. Part of my job description as a houseman is to make myself known to my superiors for better communication for the sake of patients; say that to yourself. It’s true, anyway. hHopefully, it will trick your brain into feeling more at ease to do it.

      Whenever I have to socialize, that’s what I told myself. “Afiza, it is part of your social responsibility to do this.” hahaha. So, with a renewed resolve, Alhamdullilah socializing become easier.


  2. Mr_engineer

    Assalammualaikum warahmatullah. Nice article and good sharing for introvert and extrovert.

    Its quite difficult to understand introvert person. Its make me to do research and find all articles related to introvert person in order to understand someone.

    Moga Allah permudahkan urusan Mu. Ameen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s