Ambiverts have contemplative ideas like an Introvert and also possess the ability to sell or implement those ideas in a competitive environment like an Extravert. This ability to ‘flex’ with the situation is widely valued in society. Known as the ambivert’s advantage, even blends of extraversion and introversion are in demand in the workplace and in personal spheres. As a result, ambiverts tend to find greater opportunities in their relationships and careers than people who sit at the more extreme ends of the personality spectrum.
If you’ve always been described as either a shy child or a ham for the camera, you might be surprised to learn that you are, in fact, an ambivert—as I was. My discovery led me to wonder whether all personalities, even those at the extremes, could evolve towards a balanced energy type. How can we, E or I’s, gain some of that advantage for our relationships and careers too by occupying this middle ground?
Are we born this way?
According to personality theory, we’re born with a general proclivity for either an E or I personality trait. In Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers describes the leaning towards one energy style over the other as a born inclination like right- or left-handedness.
My modus operandi is introversion, yet I played alto clarinet in my high school marching band. A safe choice, because I was in the middle of the group responsible for the occasional bump bump in “Louie Louie.” Even though I practiced every day, when it came time to perform independently, my face would burn, my eyes would water, and I couldn’t even read the notes. I failed to reproduce anything to show for the work and time I put into it. If I couldn’t develop my supporting E trait, I’d certainly lose out.
We can be Ambiverts: 3 stages of development
It doesn’t always feel natural for an I to compete, nor would it be easy for an E to maintain a long contemplative solitude. Whether an I or E, we may not be born ambiverts, but we can become one.
We are best positioned to accomplish ambiversion when we first understand our primary or dominating energy form. Psychiatrist, J. H. van der Hoop classifies the development of our personality type traits into three forms.
Our psychological traits, in this case E or I, exist in a vague shape from infancy. We explore the natural energy style while environmental factors are put into play and tested against it.
The simple form gains further support from environmental and social feedback. The E or I traits become solid and foundational to our personalities. We learn to work within the needs of our dominating form. Van der Hoop theorizes that the dominant form is prioritized over the supporting form so that it can be allowed to reach its full potential.
At this stage, we can be aware of what’s at work within our minds. If we’re able to freely develop our energy inclination of E or I, understand its nuances and depths, and be able to provide for its needs, then we have an opportunity to develop our complementary side, too. We strive to be well-rounded and adaptable.
If we find and strike the right balance between the two energy styles, we open up potentially enriching opportunities.
Society and relational forces: Why we become ambiverts
As we depend more and more on brief online bio profiles, headshots, or elevator pitches to promote our ideas or work, it’s more important than ever to develop ambiversion. If we’re perceived as too much of an Extravert, our ideas may be received with skepticism. If too introverted, our ideas won’t be seen at all. Society rewards a balanced approach with success.
As a potentially negative impact, relational forces can drive us towards ambiversion by its you’re-too-much-of-this culture. This is especially worrisome when it influences personality development in the young. If a child is told they’re too quiet or too loud often enough, it may reinforce that their natural energy style is wrong. This will surely subvert or delay the person’s ability to grow in that aspect of their personality.
Interestingly, the E or I trait is the foundation for the expression of the other personality traits such as Sensing/iNtuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Perceiving/Judging. For instance, an Extraverted-Sensor (ES) will focus on the objective facts of what is sensed and an Introverted-Sensor (IS) will favor a subjective impression. Further, ET’s prioritize data whereas IT’s cherish archetypes.
The complexities of personality development make it imperative that simple and dominant forms are first understood to make the way for the continued growth of the complementary energy form.
If you’re Introverted: 3 ways to develop your E
As you become more accustomed to taking risks, it’s important to be able to rely on your support systems. Feel free to start small as you work out your rhythm.
1. Challenge yourself
There are many ways to challenge our latent extraverted sides. Though initially intimidating, we can learn to enjoy the adventure. So, have a sense of humor, and engage in new social situations.
If you relish going to the library, as I do, you can enroll in one of many community classes. The challenge for me was to show up and share my ideas with the group. I may have come off brashly as I sought to assert myself but I got much better at it. I found supportive acceptance and I know you will, too.
Being prepared increases your confidence. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, remember your goals and the groundwork you’ve laid out for yourself.
Before meeting new friends, I sometimes list one or two topics I enjoy thinking about before I leave. Even if these topics don’t naturally come up in conversation, I feel better knowing I can always have something to contribute.
Don’t be discouraged and please keep trying to put yourself out there. I’ve found that people usually don’t recall our stumbles as much as you might think. They tend to focus on their own social mishaps.
Roleplay to practice your delivery or recite a positive mantra. Don’t be deterred, to quote poet Alexander Pope, “ To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
If you’re extraverted: 3 ways to develop your I
I know many Extraverts. They’re involved with so many things they make me dizzy! If you call an E and invite them to coffee, they’ll consider if they can fit you in between back-to-back work meetings, windsurfing, or band practice.
1. Do nothing
Keep in mind, what appears to be doing nothing to an E, is doing something to an I.
Mindfully take a day for yourself and do nothing. Learning how to be still will allow your mind to find new ways to stimulate your senses. It might take some getting used to but you may find you have an inner world as interesting as your outer world.
2. Take a look at archetypes
I can think of no richer vein for the Introvert than Carl Jung’s archetypes and his theory of the collective unconscious. We’re all connected by common imagery, explaining why certain stories or characters really resonate within our psyches. Archetypes are the personifications of the universal themes found in humanity. They’re represented by the hero, the mother, the guide, the ally, and many others. Useful as a roadmap, archetypes enable us to interpret the instinctual motivations driving their behaviors.
A great place to start building your awareness of archetypal characters is to watch movies, read or explore art. When you find a wisp of something that holds your attention, ask yourself if you’re experiencing an echo of a truth you find in either yourself or others.
3. Be alone
You are your own best company and sometimes it takes being alone to discover that. Resist reaching for your phone or any social media.
I enjoy being alone in nature and listening to jazz or classical music. It creates the opportunity to tune into your mind. If you want to really test your comfort levels, take yourself out to lunch with your book!
Chances are, your ambiversion is hard-won.
Ambiverts call on their dual energy styles for various situations. Blending E and I gives you a sense of balance and empowerment. We gain momentum in social spheres. It helps us to present school work to a class, ask a person out for a date, or maybe tell an unexpected joke at a party.
We’re all driven to compete in some way to gain satisfying careers and personal relationships. Though challenging, this growth is usually proper for our personal development.
Find the right balance that works for you. Recharge as needed. It doesn’t matter if it’s with your closest six friends or with Jane Austen.