We’ve all heard of introverts and extroverts, but what if you feel like you’re a little of both? You might be a third personality type—an ambivert—and it can give you an edge in business.
"Introversion versus extroversion is all about where you get energy, not how social you are, which is often confused," says Todd Hall, professor of psychology at Biola University. "These are broad categories, and the reality is there is a continuum of introversion to extroversion. So the people who fall in the middle are not easily categorized as an introvert or an extrovert, and we have this ‘special breed’ combination of ambiverts."
If you are energized by intimate conversations, writing, solitude, focusing deeply on a topic without interruption, and working on your own, but you’re also energized by large groups, working with others, processing by talking through things, staying busy, and multitasking, you’re most likely an ambivert, says Hall.
"The trick is to figure out in what contexts each of these types of things energize you," he says. "You have to get more specific than these general categories. For example, it may be that you’re energized by large group gatherings that are focused on developing people because that is a core motivation of yours. But if a large group gathering has no purpose other than mingling, or general networking, that might drain you."
Knowing your personality style is an advantage at work and in life. It allows you to anticipate where you’ll be most comfortable and naturally confident, says leadership consultant Liz Bywater. "It also lets you make accommodations, prepare, and ask for support in situations that stretch you beyond your comfort zone," she says.
Management consultant Linda Henman says in her work with executives, she most often encounters ambiverts. "These individuals have successfully learned to integrate the parts of their personalities that are like both introverts and extroverts," she says. "They can work alone, and often prefer to do so, but they also find interaction invigorating."
Ambivert leaders have learned to self-regulate, says Henman, author of Challenge the Ordinary. "When they feel their energy draining, they switch gear and do something that will restore it," she says.
Ambiverts who are flexible, adaptable, and self-aware are able to bring what’s needed to a given situation, adds Bywater.
Ambiverts make some of the strongest salespeople, says Adam Grant, professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Grant has studied ambiverts and published a study in Psychological Science called "Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal."
"Despite the widespread assumption that extroverts are the most productive salespeople, research has shown weak and conflicting relationships between extroversion and sales performance," he writes. "Ambiverts achieve greater sales productivity than extroverts or introverts do. Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale, but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident."
Personality labels can bring loaded generalizations that lead to discriminatory behavior, says Wes Higbee, president of the management-consulting firm Full City Tech Co., and they can become self-fulfilling, self-effacing prophecies.
For example, you might label certain employees as introverts and decide to never let them talk to customers. Because they never talk to customers, they don’t become comfortable talking to customers, reinforcing the introvert label, he says.
"I have yet to see any productive generalizations come from these labels," says Higbee. "People change. Let's keep in mind that the balance of features any individual exhibits today, is not the same set of features they'll exhibit a year from now, nor is it the same necessarily tomorrow."
The dictionary defines an ambivert as "a person whose personality has a balance of extrovert and introvert features." Says Higbee, "That's all of us."