How to Tell if You're Actually an Ambivert

Whatever brand of personality test you take, the chances are you will be described as being one of two types - Extravert or Introvert. Broadly, we think of Extraverts as people who gain energy from others, whereas Introverts recharge by spending time alone. If you never refuse an invitation to the party, you're an Extravert. If you'd rather stay home and read a book, then you're probably an Introvert - or so the theory goes.

These are extreme examples. In reality, many of us display both Extravert and Introvert tendencies, depending on the situation we find ourselves in. To be sure, some people fall squarely in the Introverted or Extraverted camp and will feel comfortable using these labels. But it is more helpful to think of Introversion/Extraversion as a spectrum. Most of us cluster in the middle of the spectrum rather than at one of the polar extremes, even if our type preference is clear.

What about the people who lie smack dab in the middle of the spectrum? Carl Jung himself argued, "there is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum." Rather, Jung identified a "third group, and here it is hard to say whether the motivation comes chiefly from within or without." We've come to recognize the third group as Ambiverts. According to Jung, they make up the majority of the population.

What is an ambivert anyway?

Personality theories such as that created by Briggs and Myers work on the assumption that we all gravitate towards Introversion or Extraversion, but can learn to adapt and use skills from the other type. Someone who tests in the middle of the scale is an Ambivert. But so is the person who can comfortably bounce between the two extremes.

Consider the meaning of Introversion and Extraversion. This scale measures where we get our energy from - whether we recharge our mental batteries alone (Introversion) or in the company of others (Extraversion).

Back in the 1960s, psychologist Hans Eysenck proposed the "arousal theory" of Introversion/Extraversion. Instead of framing the spectrum in terms of energy, he described it in terms of arousal, or how responsive our minds are to stimulation. According to Eysenck, Extraverts have low internal arousal, and thus seek out stimulating environments and people. In the absence of external stimulation, Extraverts may feel bored and agitated. Introverts, by contrast, have high arousal and can easily become overstimulated by noise, activity and crowds. Excess arousal stresses the Introvert, who must seek out a quieter environment to lower the stimulation.

Ambiverts are right in the middle when it comes to stimulation, either because they sit in the optimum center of the scale, or because they oscillate between Extraverted and Introverted behaviors that level out over time. As a result, the Ambivert is comfortable with multiple degrees of stimulation. They enjoy their own company, but don't need solitude to refuel their tank as the Introvert would. They seek out social situations, but perhaps don't venture forth with confidence as the Extravert might do. They work well alone; they work well in groups. Significantly, they need both settings equally to be truly happy.

The ambivert advantage

Which personality type makes the best salespeople? Common wisdom suggests that it's the charismatic, fast-talking Extravert. But recent research by Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Management suggests that Ambiverts are in fact the sales superstars, earning significantly higher average revenues than the strong Extravert or Introvert.

Ambiverts achieve greater sales productivity because they're socially bilingual. They know exactly when to be assertive and push for the sale, but at the same time, they are capable of shutting up and listening to customers without appearing pushy. In fact, Ambiverts are the only personality type that can toggle back and forth between the strengths of Introversion and Extraversion without paying the price of restlessness or burnout. They can be the good cop and the bad cop, the yin and the yang, at the same time.

The Ambivert advantage can be summed up in one word: balance. Ambiverts offer the approachability and charisma of an Extravert, but they are also capable of deep focus and self-reflection - traits that are commonly associated with Introverts. It's fair to assume that this sense of balance would translate into success in other areas besides sales.

Curious if you're an ambivert?

Ambiverts often struggle with self-assessment personality tests, especially those that ask participants to express how much they identify with a statement ("You prefer not to initiate conversations," "you are usually motivated and energetic"). Since an Ambivert's behavior is likely to change with the situation, it can be very hard for them to know what their default mode actually is.

But if you recognize yourself in the following descriptions, there's a fair chance that you may be an Ambivert.

  • You aren't afraid to talk, but you intuitively know when to stay quiet and observe.
  • You enjoy networking events, but are more confident when you take a friend or colleague along with you.
  • You are emotionally stable without being overly sensitive or overbearing.
  • You are good at connecting people with others.
  • You avoid confrontation and don't tend to assert yourself unless you have to; then, you prepare well and get your point across effectively.
  • Your professional persona may be different from how your friends see you outside of work.
  • You want others to pay attention to you, but you have no interest in "proving" yourself to a crowd of strangers.
  • You enjoy social gatherings, but would rather be alone than settle for second-rate company.
  • You can take charge of a situation if needed or step down and let someone else lead.
  • You change your approach to fit the situation.

Final thoughts

For anyone who has ever answered "it depends" to a personality quiz, the possibility of a third option makes sense. The most shameless attention hog has her insecurities, and the quiet one at work can be the life of the party.

The fact is, we inhabit a complex world. The majority of our behavior is driven by the situations we find ourselves in and our level of comfort within those situations. Ambiverts are living proof that nothing is fixed, and that most of us are behaviorally fluid to some degree. It's time to celebrate those contradictions and break down the myth that our personalities have to be either/or.

Molly Owens

Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. Since 2006, she has specialized in helping individuals and organizations utilize personality assessments to develop their potential.

In 2012, Molly founded Truity with a mission to make robust, scientifically validated personality assessments accessible to everyone who may benefit from them.

Molly is an ENTP and lives in San Francisco, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and racing toy cars with her son.

Comments

JudyGuest (not verified) says...

I can really relate to being an ambivert although my type indicatior is an ISFJ. I do want to retreat from "the attention hogs" you mentioned and find it hard to remain in a friendship with them. I don't want to compete with them .....I .just find that extroverted kind of behavior frustrating.
I do visit with most everyone in social circles and find it enjoyable. I am, however, not wanting to sustain conversation in large groups for long periods of time. I find I will retreat and become quiet and reflective. I have had sales positions and did quite well in those areas. I enjoy being an ambivert.....feel like I have the best of both worlds.

Guest (not verified) says...

Interesting post. However isn't Ambivert just another label in which to categorise personal characteristics?

I agree with the fact that as humans we adjust/adapt to situations in accordance with how we are feeling at the time, so I would suggest that it's the fluidity of personality we should perhaps focus on rather than labels of introversion/extroversion/ambiversion.

Rebekkah (not verified) says...

Grea article that describes my personality well. Keep on the good work!

Dr.P. (not verified) says...

Thank you for this commentary. I believe it invites the majority of readers into a greater understanding of personality and society. Most aspects of life and behavior are a continuum. Even in medicine, most diagnoses express themselves as a variable expression of symptoms. For example, it is easy to understand that there are both mild and extreme forms of arthritis and that this variability will play out even to old age. This applies to many aspects of behavior and intelligence as well. Understanding this continuity give us tolerance and wisdom and helps us develop our own flexibility by giving us permission to soften our personality label.

Guest (not verified) says...

This is excellent! Perfect description of my balancing between introvert and extravert behaviors depending on situations.

J. (not verified) says...

Amen! The bulletpoint descriptions perfectly describe me.

Tomi (not verified) says...

I scored 51% extrovert and 49% introvert, absolutely an ambivert!

Guest (not verified) says...

This article has been a great read. It helps to provide insights into myself. I definitely identify with being an ambivet and even one of the other MBTI tests I took cited me as a 51% Extravert and 49% introvert. This Explains why I graviate towards the middle.

Guest (not verified) says...

Very nice and precise!

Jackiepr (not verified) says...

Very interesting article Molly! I crave alone time and can spend a week in the house without leaving! I have a home based business as a publicist. I love to write and read. I prefer emails to phone calls. But when I'm out I can be the life of the party and am viewed as very extroverted and as a leader. Depending on the people I'm with I can either draw energy from others (I can get very lazy at home) or I can have my energy zapped. Still I always come out as an extrovert on assessments. With your list I had 6 true and 4 false, so does this mean I lean more towards extroversion, but am an ambivert or that I lean more towards introversion? I know I'm a highly sensitive person/empath which draws me towards people but if they are uplifting or I feel I've really helped them, I feel fabulousl! If they drain me I need to recoup. I hate crowded malls and stores. If a party has great music to dance to and I'm among friends I'm energized! Your thoughts? Great article!!!!

Dizzyd (not verified) says...

That's me to a T!

Franky (not verified) says...

Thank you for this article. I have often found the extreme ends of the spectrum to be too limiting, but the center too ambiguous. It is nice to hear that being "in the middle" is an actual place and not just a failure to commit to being an introvert or extrovert.

ramendra singh (not verified) says...

Extremely well written and interesting post.
Makes you ponder and judge yourself and realize at the end that you oscillate between two poles .

Guest (not verified) says...

I never thought of myself as a good salesperson. Basically my personality is nothing like an aggressive used car guy. Yet,in spite of myself I an successful in sales. Finally,the missing link. Thank you thank you thank you. There is a name for it, and I am not nuts.
Happy New Year, Annie

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