By SANDY CLARKE
Traditionally, extroverts have been exalted thanks to their ability to put their communication skills to good use, particularly within the worlds of business and media.
In recent times however, introversion has been the flavour of the month following compelling evidence by researchers, which suggest that connecting with others takes more than a hearty handshake and a booming voice, requiring instead emotionally intelligent traits such as empathic concern and social awareness.
And lo, people were driven to google Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (famously known as MBTI) to determine which camp they fell into. Extroverts have social acceptability on their side; however, introverts are often seen as creative types with a thoughtful approach.
Humans like putting things into boxes and we are only too happy when we discover if we are an “E” or an “I”. But what about the poor souls who find that they don’t fit into either box?
Being left outside boxes can be socially damning but, thankfully, a new box has been provided for those previously left out in the cold—it’s marked “Ambiversion”.
Traits of an ambivert
Ambiverts are those who possess traits of both extroversion and introversion. They can be the life and soul of a party, and yet they will likely require sufficient alone time to recharge their batteries in time for the next round of social encounters.
While ambiverts can enjoy conversions and are happy to take the lead in subjects that are of interest to them, they can also be known to actively avoid people they know when they’re out on the street, for fear of having to engage in small talks.
As communication has become more nuanced within the realms of business and media, ambiverts are said to be ideal for engaging in sales, negotiating deals, and communicating messages to others.
According to research, particularly one conducted by psychology professor Adam Grant (who suggests that two-thirds of us are ambiverts), this is because ambiverts are “emotionally flexible” and therefore able to naturally adapt their approach to suit a particular environment.
Ambiversion allows for an ebullient touch and enough assertiveness to negotiate, persuade and close on a deal, while at the same time carrying the ability to pick up on subtle social cues of when to change tack, as well as being able to actively listen to what’s being said on the other side.
Conversely, introverts might possess the listening skills necessary but lack the confidence in an engagement, while extroverts can often “steamroll” overwhelmed associates with a brash, self-assured approach.
Downside of being an ambivert
Despite the good press, there are pitfalls to being an ambivert. While engaging with people can be traversed with relative ease, ambiverts who find themselves in a position where they are always having to spend their time around people, may find their energy and focus zapped very quickly.
On the other hand, ambiverts who find themselves in monotonous roles or long periods of isolation, risk feeling bored, jaded and dissatisfied. It’s important then, that ambiverts remain aware of their situation and when they’ve had too much of a good thing.
For business leaders, the dismantling of the false dichotomy—pitching the idea that personalities fall into one of two categories—means that further consideration is required when deciding who goes out to negotiate a deal or pitch a value proposition.
Previously, those on the extreme end of the extroversion scale were seen to be ideal for such jobs. However, it now appears to be the case that ambiverts could be key when it comes to strengthening existing customer relations and cultivating new prospects.
Nature vs nurture
Ambiversion appears to allow for a certain freedom, one that protects ambiverts from being defined by a proposed list of traits. I often wonder if some of us come to define ourselves by what we’re told, rather than by the natural traits that lie within us.
For example, should a child show signs of reticence and be told by others that they are shy and reserved? Is their personality primarily shaped in their formative years by their own doing or through the repeated suggestions of others?
In the same article, author and psychologist Brian R. Little mentioned that he, on the other hand, holds a different view in that “humans are essentially half-plastered” given that people’s personalities can change over time depending on a number of factors.
Research into ambiversion is a relatively new venture into personality psychology, and we are yet to know definitive statistics in relation to finding out how many people are ambiverts.
On the capacity for personality change over time, Little suggests, “One of the ways in which we have greater tractability and capacity to shift, is through engaging in what I call “free traits”; an introverted person can act extroverted, and they can do this for some period of time, but not for a protracted period.”
As with many other traits that encourage professional development and help businesses to grow, perhaps business leaders could consider asking themselves whether ambiversion is something that can be nurtured in order to help rein in the overzealous extroverts, while helping introverts to find their inner voice and establish sufficient assertiveness wherever it may be lacking.
Or, is it more important for team members to be developed according to their own characteristics and strengths, and utilised in ways in which they can perform to their best according to the contexts and situations that help them perform at an optimum level?
In his timeless classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote, “To define is to limit.”
Whatever the case, ambiversion has provided an exciting new dimension to personality psychology and offers a fresh perspective to leaders who were previously left with the challenge of deciding how best to manage their team based on two very different personality types.
They should also be careful to exercise caution when considering introverts, extroverts and ambiverts. There is no set “personality type”, and it’s often the case where even the most irredeemable extrovert or introvert can hop into the opposite box, if only for a short while.
Furthermore, to label ambiverts as being free from either extreme puts us in danger of ignoring Wilde’s warning.
Having said that, it does seem that ambiversion can, when managed properly, provide the best of both worlds in relation to business goals and objectives.
As is always the case, it is up to leaders to recognise and nurture the strengths of their team members in order to ensure business continues to thrive while the needs and well-being of team members are being looked after.
Advantages of ambiversion
Ambiverts are much more able to adapt easily to different situations that they find themselves in. By contrast, introverts and extroverts tend to thrive solely within contexts and environments that resonate with their personality type.
By definition, ambiverts are neither introverted nor extroverted. Instead, their personality type is a balance between two extremes, meaning that they can avoid being overly sensitive, as some introverts can be, and domineering, as a number of their extroverted counterparts.
Refined gut instinct
While introverts might remain silent when faced with an uncomfortable situation, and extroverts may become bullish when a particular goal is within reach, ambiverts are able to attune themselves to any given situation.
This means that they know, for example, when to speak up and when to listen when negotiating a business deal or pitching a sale.
Signs that you may be an ambivert
1. You balance out the company you happen to be in.
If others in a group are loud, you’ll be comfortable playing the role of an observer. If the group is introverted, you’ll be just as comfortable filling in the silence.
2. Your friends can’t seem to agree on whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.
These are the people who know you the best. If they can’t decide whether you’re a bookworm or a party animal, you’re probably an ambivert.
3. You enjoy spending time with groups of people but, after a while, you feel a sudden urge for some alone time.
Being the life of a party isn’t something that makes you feel uncomfortable. But too much of a good time with others can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained. Time for some camomile tea and a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the bedroom door.
4. Your work persona is very different to the persona that friends and family see at home.
You may be the buzz of the office from Mondays to Fridays but, after a long day, the first thing you want to do when you get home, is to collapse on your bed.
Alternatively, you’ll be the cool, calm and collected professional during working hours, but friends will insist that your Instagram account is heavily influenced by The Hangover.
5. You’re quite happy to meet new people, so long as you’re joined by friends.
New experiences and encounters are to be welcomed. However, you need to have some element of familiarity when stepping into the unknown. Friends act as a great buffer when meeting new people. Otherwise, there are always plenty of new people in books.
6. When you’re out on your own, you’d rather perform cartwheels in public than converse with a complete stranger.
Sure you’re comfortable in your own skin, but the thought of talking to strangers when you’re out in public is nothing short of terrifying. You have more straight-ahead focus than a great white shark. If you don’t make eye contact, no one will notice you!
7. You’re thoughtful in your communication, most of the time.
Ambiversion can sometimes see you running headlong into extroversion without forethought. Nine times out of 10, you’d never dream of telling your boss the extra weight they’re carrying makes them “look healthier.” Wait… you didn’t actually just… yes, yes you did.
8. Weekends are for living, and sometimes forgetting to return home.
When ambiverts find themselves having a good time, they can try to make the moment last forever. As the energy of others start to wane, ambiverts are catching their second, third and even fourth wind and are probably still singing karaoke when the barman has gone home.
9. Too much alone time feels like such a waste.
Where many introverts can happily spend most of their time in solitude with little more than a pot of tea and a good book, ambiverts often view such preferences as unproductive. Life is, after all, for living. You know what carpe diem means, and you’re not about to let Mr. Keating* down anytime soon.
10. Just like your friends, you also can’t figure out what you are.
You embrace your inner introvert for the thoughtful, unassuming, reserved soul that it is. There’s no judgment when all you want to do is curl up and enjoy your own company.
On the other hand, you love the freedom and confidence brought to you by your exuberant extrovert, and so you decide to embrace both parts of your psyche and rejoice in the fact you get to experience the best of both worlds to the glorious bemusement of all others.
*Mr. Keating is a character played by Robin Williams in the movie ‘Dead Poets Society’ who delivered the famous ‘carpe diem’ speech that inspired a class of male students.
Sandy Clarke has his feet planted firmly (and happily) within the “introverts” box, though he harbours a secret envy for ambiverts who can attend networking events without feeling like they’ve just stepped in front of a charging quarterback in black tie. To connect with Sandy, you can find him on Twitter @RealSClarke. To engage us on self-awareness through MBTI modules, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Consulting Corner articles, click here.
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.