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A lot of noise about ‘Quiet’

13 April 2012

I find it interesting that Susan Cain’s book entitled Quiet: the Power of the Introvert in a World that can’t Stop Talking has generated so much noise.

Her opinions on society’s bias towards extroverted behaviour are resonating with people on a personal and/or professional level, as evidenced by the many views, tweets, blogs and reviews on the topic. Cain’s TED talk has now had over 1.7 million views since the talk went live just over a month ago.

For me, it’s interesting to look at quietness and introversion from a communications point-of-view. We are communicators at Forster, and our focus is around inspiring positive social change, whether that’s environmental, health-related or social.

Quietness isn’t commonly associated with communications, but perhaps it should be. People seem to be listening intently to this conversation around quietness and introversion; it is clearly a perspective that we find refreshing, and it’s almost as though Cain’s book has provoked a collective sigh of relief that not everything has to be loud, brash or done in groups.

So the phrase ‘it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’ is particularly pertinent – should we all be speaking more ‘quietly’ now and again?

I think there are two key points that we can take from Cain’s views with regards to communications:

1)     Communicating to introverts: A third to a half of the population are introverts. How do introverts like to be communicated to? It is likely that a great deal of noisy, brash, high profile campaigns do not gain traction with introverts, who, by their nature, prefer to take things in more slowly and with more thought. Does this mean that many campaigns bypass a substantial proportion of people?

2)     ‘Quiet’ campaigns: Is there something to be learnt from ‘quiet’ as a broader movement in general? Many successful behavioural change campaigns aren’t particularly ‘noisy’. Take Ariel’s Turn to 30, for example – I expect many people do now do their washing at 30, but they (probably) don’t then tell their friends all about it. It’s likely to have been a slow change in the population’s habits, yet quietly successful.

This idea of slower, more organic change brings me on to another element of communications. Many clients are keen for front page headlines, 10 o’clock news or social media campaigns that make a splash – the onus is on immediate results, high figures and visible impact. The effectiveness with regards to audience reach is not to be questioned, but there is something to be said for the benefits of a quieter, more modest, long-term view to communications.

This is a huge generalisation, but aren’t quieter campaigns that build cumulatively over time more likely to lead to a sustained, ingrained change in behaviour than a week’s worth of being plastered all over the news?

As communicators who are passionate about making positive change happen, we should be looking to this ‘Quiet Movement’ as a source of inspiration to remind us of the power of small steps and the pros of quieter, more personal, long-term campaigns versus noisy, generalised, short ones.