by Althea Ocomen
I’m sure you’ve been asked many times whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. For some people, it’s an easy and simple choice, but for most of us, it’s difficult to choose one way or the other, especially because of the wide range of difficulties in the spectrum. It’s hard to choose because the introvert/extrovert dichotomy reflects a tired and outdated view of personality. Personality traits exist along a continuum, and the vast majority of us aren’t introverts or extroverts—we fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Personality consists of a stable set of preferences and tendencies through which we approach and respond to the world. Personality traits form at an early age and are fixed by early adulthood. Many important things about you change over the course of your lifetime, but your personality isn’t one of them.
The continuum between introversion and extroversion captures one of the most important personality traits. It’s troubling that we’re encouraged to categorize ourselves one way or the other because there are critical strengths and weaknesses commonly associated with each type. Adam Grant at Wharton set out to study this phenomenon, and his findings are fascinating. First, he found that two-thirds of people don’t strongly identify as introverts or extroverts. These people (a.k.a., the vast majority of us) are called ambiverts, who have both introverted and extroverted tendencies and personality traits. The direction ambiverts lean toward varies greatly, depending on the situation. Think of introversion and extroversion as a spectrum, with ambiversion lying somewhere in the middle of both ends.
Ambiverts have a distinct advantage over true introverts and extroverts. Because their personality doesn’t lean too heavily in either direction, they have a much easier time adjusting their approach to people based on the situation and the environment. This enables them to connect more easily, and more deeply, with a wider variety of people. Grant’s research also disproved the powerful and widely held notion that the best-performing salespeople are extroverts. He found that ambiverts’ greater social flexibility enabled them to outsell all other groups, moving 51% more product per hour than the average salesperson. Notice how sales increased as extroversion increased, peaking with those who were just moderately extroverted.
How Ambiversion Works In The Brain
How social you are is largely driven by dopamine, the brain’s feel-good, and pleasure hormone. We all have different levels of dopamine-fueled stimulation in the neocortex (the area of the brain that is responsible for higher mental functions such as language and critical thinking). Those who naturally have high levels of stimulation tend to be introverts—they try and avoid any extra social stimulation that might make them feel anxious, worried, or overwhelmed. Those with low levels of stimulation tend to be extroverts. Under-stimulation leaves extroverts feeling bored, so they seek social stimulation to heighten their joy. Most people’s levels of natural stimulation don’t reach great extremes, though it does fluctuate. Sometimes you may feel the need to seek out stimulation, while other times, you may avoid it.
Why Ambiverts Are Amazing
Many people assume that extroverts are the best at sales, the best leaders, and the most successful at work—wrong! Adam Grant analyzed 35 separate studies and found the statistical relationship between extroversion and income was basically zero. He conducted a personality survey and collected three-month sales records for more than 300 salespeople, both male and female. The people who ranked right in the middle for extroversion and introversion–ambiverts–turned out to be the best salespeople.
“Ambiverts pulled in 24% more revenue than introverts, and a mind-boggling 32% more revenue than extroverts!” Grant theorized that ambiverts seem to strike a balance between the two more extreme personality traits: “The ambivert advantage stems from the tendency to be assertive and enthusiastic enough to persuade and close, but at the same time, listening carefully to customers and avoiding the appearance of being overly confident or excited,” Grant said.
The trick to being an ambivert is knowing when to force yourself to lean toward one side of the spectrum when it isn’t happening naturally. Ambiverts with low self-awareness struggle with this. For example, at a networking event, a self-aware ambivert will lean toward the extroverted side of the scale, even when it has been a long day and he or she has had enough of people and socializing with others. Mismatching your approach to the situation can be frustrating, ineffective, and demoralizing for ambiverts.