Vet meds Quiet quandary


How does an introvert-heavy profession like veterinary medicine take charge? Quietly and intelligently, says keynote speaker Susan Cain.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Kramer

Susan Cain, the writer 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 Fetch dvm360 Conference in San Diego this week. 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, making 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 ones who explored more freely 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 back the extroverts, 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.” 

4 quick tips for quiet people

Reward yourself when you exit your comfort zone. Going to be expending a lot of energy today in public? Carve out a solitary lunch hour for yourself and defend it.

Groom an “unlikely” leader. Find an introvert with impressive skills and sit down with them to find out their ambitions. See if you can help alongside them.

Bring resources at Susan Cain's to your team, especially the personality to jumpstart the conversation and keep it going so that these temperament differences are treated lightly and kindly, rather than hidden from view.

Know what's in your suitcase. Cain brought a suitcase of books to summer camp, because what else would an avid reader do? So, what's in your suitcase? “What's the thing that matters so much to you that you carry it around with you everywhere you go?” Cain asked. “It's natural for extroverts to share them with those around you. Introverts, it's probably natural for you to guard them closely, but every so often, I'd like to encourage you to take those things out and share them with the world.”

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 shared.

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 public meetings to engage with introverts one-on-one and give them advance notice if the meeting leader would like their participation and ideas.

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, go forth and conquer … quietly.

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