The rise of the "ambivert"

Believe it or not, ambiverts make up the vast majority of the population. Current estimates show that approximately 68% of people are ambiverts.

October 21, 2021 · 4 min readQuiet Power

People often describe themselves as either an “introvert” or an “extrovert.” These terms were coined by Carl Jung back in the 1920s, and they’ve taken off since then. According to the theory, introverts draw their energy from being alone, while extroverts draw energy from being around other people. But did you know there’s a third, more populous category of people?

In fact, Jung believed that pure introverts or pure extroverts were the minority. Ambiverts — people with both introverted and extroverted traits — were, in his opinion, far more common. And that’s a good thing, because ambiverts may actually thrive in the business world more than either introverts or extroverts. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s the problem with the terms “introvert” and “extrovert”?

The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” are used as if they sit on two opposite sides of a scale with nothing in between. But the truth is that the human experience is rarely this black-and-white.

Think of the stay-at-home mom who is overwhelmed in large groups, but finds herself lonely and craving the company of her spouse after a full day at home with her baby. Is she an introvert or an extrovert.‌

What about a business executive who thrives in the workplace and is excited to lead a team on a project, but then comes home and just wants to sit quietly for a bit and read a book. Introvert or extrovert?

Clearly, it’s not as simple as that.

Worse yet, believing that you're either an introvert or an extrovert — rather than somewhere on a spectrum — can create a fixed mindset. If a person believes they’re an introvert, they may avoid social situations. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Individuals may not develop skills counter to what they believe their personality to be, which can then push them further to one side of the spectrum.

What is an ambivert?

"Ambivert" is the term for people who don’t fall into the extremes of “introvert” or “extrovert.” Believe it or not, ambiverts make up the vast majority of the population. Current estimates show that approximately 68% of people are ambiverts.

This aligns with Jung’s research. In fact, Jung believed that a person who was a complete introvert or a complete extrovert would — in his words — wind up in the lunatic asylum.

Why do ambiverts thrive in the workplace?

When you think about it, it’s easy to see why a complete introvert or a complete extrovert would be exhausting in the workplace. In a meeting, the “extrovert” would be loud and vibrant, missing no opportunities to make their presence known. The introvert, on the other hand, would sit back quietly and let the meeting happen around them without contributing their own insights.

Ambiverts, however, are better at understanding the nuances of their particular situation. They know when it’s appropriate to quietly take notes and observe versus when it’s appropriate to voice creative solutions. They know how to collaborate as a team as well as work independently. They represent the best of both worlds.

Of course, even the term ambivert isn’t perfect. Think of the introvert/ambivert/extrovert spectrum less as three static categories and more as a fluid spectrum. Some individuals may be quieter ambiverts — closer to the introvert side of the scale, but still able to voice their opinion when it matters. Others may be more outgoing and boisterous, but capable of sitting quietly and listening when it matters most.

Understanding that these personality traits fall on a spectrum can help you better support your employees and work culture. What’s more, this puts you in a better position to cultivate a work environment that encourages growth mindsets as opposed to fixed mindsets.

How can you support different personalities in the workplace?

Of course, just because ambiverts are the most popular personality type doesn’t mean you won’t have some true introverts or extroverts as well. The key to developing a workplace where everyone thrives is to learn how to support multiple types of personalities while fostering a community of collaboration and teamwork.

One of the best ways to support different personality types in the workplace is to avoid multiple-choice personality quizzes that sort your employees into categories. Instead, work on teaching your employees the importance of a growth mindset in the workplace. For example, outgoing ambiverts may benefit from being offered opportunities to lead group projects, while quieter ambiverts might enjoy chances to work independently on projects that only need one person to lead them.

Both types of ambiverts could benefit from being given specific growth-mindset coaching in the workplace as well. 

How do you teach a growth mindset in the workplace?

One of the most important things supervisors can do for their teams is to teach employees how to collaborate effectively.

A good supervisor knows that their team is only as strong as their weakest member. So, to improve the team, it’s important to guide team members and teach them the skills you want them to have. If workplace collaboration is important, this means teaching team members things like:

  • When it’s appropriate to speak up and provide ideas in meetings

  • When it’s important to listen and take notes in meetings

  • How to communicate ideas in a meaningful way

  • How to take constructive criticism and apply it to improve performance in the workplace

  • How to take responsibility for their own actions and their own mistakes

  • How to use failures to learn going forward

It’s important to remember that growth mindsets don’t always come naturally, even to seasoned team members. Regularly coaching your team is a great way to help them develop these skills naturally without making them feel bad about not having these skills when they first entered the workplace.

One way you can do this is to hold weekly or bi-weekly coaching sessions with each member of your team. Acknowledge both their strengths and weaknesses and help them set personal goals for professional development. These sessions can help them grow while also preventing certain team members from feel singled out. This also allows you to address the needs of individual team members based on their personality traits. 

For example, consider an outgoing ambivert who often interrupts meetings with creative thoughts and ideas. You don't want to squash their creativity, but you do need meetings to be more productive. Personal coaching sessions could be a‌ time where you can set a goal for your employee to write down their creative thoughts as they have them. 

How can you use positive reinforcement to coach team members?

When it comes to coaching your team members, positive reinforcement works far better than negative reinforcement. So, instead of telling someone not to think of themselves as an introvert, compliment them when they do something outside of their comfort zone. Consider phrases like this:

“I know you usually keep quiet during meetings, but I loved hearing you contribute your idea at our last staff meeting. It’s great for us to hear your point of view!”

You can also treat team members to individualized rewards when they go above and beyond. For example, more solitary ambiverts might appreciate a new book, a quiet note left on their desk, or a paid day off as a way of recognizing workplace accomplishments. More social ambiverts, however, might appreciate an office-wide celebration or a nice dinner for the same level of accomplishment. 

Positive reinforcement takes the focus away from whether employees are introverts or extroverts — and their limitations due to those labels — and instead puts it where it belongs: on working together as a team, using groks, to produce the best results.

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