Susan Cain addresses audience of introverts at Fetch dvm360

dvm360dvm360 January 2019
Volume 50
Issue 1

How does a profession like veterinary medicine take charge? Quietly and intelligently, says bestselling author.


Susan Cain, the author of the bestselling book Quiet— about the differences and aptitudes of introverts versus extroverts in the workplace, especially— emphasized the power of solitude seeking thinkers in her keynote at the Fetch dvm360 Conference in San Diego Dec. 14, 2018. To an audience of veterinary professionals, most of whom are introverts, Cain shared that extroverts and introverts bring unique abilities to the table in veterinary practices (and the world) and need to meet each other halfway.

Who are you?

Cain asked the audience, “How do you feel after two hours at a fun party?” The extroverts, she says, are energized, but introverts often are drained at the end—even if they had a good time.

“Introverts have nervous systems that react to all sorts of stimulation,” Cain said, which makes loud, noisy parties tiring. “Extroverts respond to less stimulation, so you’re more comfortable when more is happening.”

Cain said that this stimulation reaction is “one of the most heritable traits.” She then shared a study where babies who salivated at sugar water (a blast of stimulation) were more tentative in play groups. To show why both tendencies can be important, for her veterinary audience, she also brought up a study by biologist and distinguished professor David Sloan Wilson with a pond of fish. In the study, Sloan Wilson dropped a trap in a pond, agitating the fish. Some swam right into the trap and were caught (perhaps like extroverts fascinated by novelty and stimulation?), while others swam away (the introverts). Introverts rule, right? Sloan Wilson then took the extrovert fish, as well as the introverts, back to the lab. In their new surroundings the extroverts were happily eating, mating and being fish, while the introverts were less likely to be at ease and living happily. The tendencies served the animals better in different moments.

Survival depends on both ways of being, Cain said. “And when you look at humans, you start to see the exact same thing.”

But now what?

Cain’s advice for veterinarians and veterinary team members focused on meetings, a place where introverts can struggle to shine and where sometimes the best ideas are squashed by the loudest ideas.

She had two suggestions for introverts. First, speak up early. “Ideas that get advanced early carry disproportionate weight,” Cain said. In her own experience, in law school, Cain said she forced herself to answer professors’ questions on the very first day of class. She hoped the professor would be “less likely to call on me in the next few months,” but she noticed a strange side effect: The law school professor seemed to remember her and her ideas more readily during the school year.

Second, Cain urged introverts not to curb their enthusiasm. Married to an extrovert, Cain has seen firsthand the power of vocal enthusiasm for things, and she pushes herself to express more enthusiasm openly for the things she cares about.

And what about those extroverts? She had two pieces of advice for them too. First, extroverts could stand to curb their enthusiasm a little to make room for introverts. “Both temperaments have work to do,” she said.

Second, she encouraged extroverts planning meetings to engage with introverts one-on-one and give them advance notice if the meeting leader would like their participation.

Most of all, Cain encouraged introverts and extroverts not to discount the power of introvert leaders in practice and the world. “There is a whole host of studies of introverted leaders with as-good or better performance than extroverted leaders,” Cain said, with successful CEOs described as “quiet, low-key, soft-spoken, shy.”

There is an “alpha, gregarious” path to leadership, she said. But also a path in service of the passions introverts have that lead them to build expertise, create networks and ascend to leadership positions in building organizations of people just as powerfully committed to these drives as they are. Introverts, it’s time to go forth and conquer … quietly.

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