Susan Cain: Shunning the Spotlight

In her paradigm-shifting New York Times best seller Quiet, Susan Cain reveals the advantages of being an introvert in a world that celebrates extroverts.

September 17, 2012

Why is being extroverted so highly valued by society?

Before 1900, America embodied what historians called a “culture of character” where people were valued for their inner strength and whether they were a “good person.” Then we were suddenly in a world of big business. People were leaving their small towns where they had known each other all of their lives and were suddenly in this world of strangers needing to sell themselves and their company’s products. And that’s where we really started to focus on who is a good talker, who is magnetic, and who is charismatic, and it became a real culture of extroversion at that point. That is still the culture we live in today.

How common is it to be introverted?

Between one-third and one-half of people are introverts. It’s one out of two or three people that we know. It’s a lot of people. But not all introverted people are shy. Introversion is a preference for less stimulation and for quiet, but shyness stems more from the fear of social judgment.

But can’t you mask introverted tendencies?

Oh, yes! I think most people do mask them, which is why these statistics seem surprising at first. Introverts learn from an early age how to act differently from what’s natural to them. A lot of them have great social skills but will get tired from socializing more quickly than extroverts. We tend to think introversion is synonymous with poor social skills and it’s really not that at all. Introverts tend to like environments that are less stimulating, quieter, and lower-key. Introverts feel most energetic when there’s less coming at them.

Real estate sales seems to draw a lot of people who are extroverted—at least on the surface. But might introversion ever be an asset in real estate sales?

Absolutely. In fact, in my book I profile a guy who was a real superstar salesman and an extreme introvert. He told me that in sales, there’s a maxim that you have two ears and one mouth and you should use them in that proportion. He’s a good listener. He asks good questions. He likes to interact with people at a deep one-on-one level, and he is really, really good. I’ve worked with real estate agents who’ve been like that. I want to feel somebody is actually listening to what I want. I think we mistake charisma for substance sometimes.

How about the challenges of working with introverted clients who may be reluctant to talk about what they really need as a seller or a buyer? Any thoughts about working successfully with them?

Meeting people on their own wavelength is the way to go. If somebody is quieter, don’t come on too strong. I’m sure there are extroverted people who want to chatter their way through the process.

But as a buyer, I sometimes felt that when I went into a house, I wanted to be left alone to wander through and to see if the space felt right to me. Agents can say, “I’m going to leave you alone so that you can walk through the place, and I’ll be right here if you have questions for me.” And don’t assume you’ll get what you need just by listening. Ask specific questions, like: “Would you be interested in a home you need to renovate, or is that out of the question?” Then put those ears to work.

Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.