What is an ambivert?
You probably know what extroverts and introverts are, but there is a third type of personality: the ambivert. Think of ambiverts as a mix between the two – they are not as outgoing as extroverts or as quiet as introverts.
“If you look at the continuum from introversion to extroversion, it looks like a curve and bump in the middle,” says Laurie Helgoe, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the author of Introverted Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Power. “Most people live in the middle, and those who really don’t seem to lean over one side or the other and pull a bit from both orientations are considered ambiverts.”
Introverted, extroverted and ambiverted people
A good way to find out where you fall on the spectrum is to ask what you do when you’re tired at the end of the day, Helgoe says. Are you looking for stimulation, for example by meeting friends, going to a club or going to a party? Or do you turn inward, for example by going for a walk alone? Your answer gives you an idea of your personality type.
“Extroverts enjoy stimulation — it relieves their brains with dopamine,” says Karl Moore, PhD, an associate professor of strategy and organization at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who is writing a book on ambiverts. “Introverts love people, love stimulation, but at some point they fall over and say, ‘Enough. I need my own time alone.’”
True ambiverts, on the other hand, are more likely to say that their need to recharge depends on the mood they’re in, Helgoe says.
Even babies show signs that they respond differently to stimulation, and that’s because it can be tied up in us.
“The brain of an introverted person registers more activity when exposed to external stimulation. There’s just more internal processing,” explains Helgoe, who is also an associate professor of behavioral sciences at the Ross University School of Medicine in Barbados. “An introverted person is more likely to go in and try to process all the information.”
An extroverted person’s brain also responds to that external stimulation, but in a different way: “For an extroverted person, there are specific areas of the brain that deal with seeking rewards in the external environment,” she says. “So in a way, an extrovert is encouraged to get more involved.”
Signs you’re an ambivert
You can stay on track
Ambiverts don’t seem to be so distracted by external stimuli. Malaysian researchers found that when they hacked ambiverts on electrodes to measure their brain response, they found that they were better able than extroverts to stay focused on tasks, as judged by the more powerful response in the front regions of their brains.
You are more flexible
If you’re an ambivert, you can act like an introvert and an extrovert, Moore says. After studying executive-level managers, Moore found that smart bosses learn to embrace their inner ambivert — for example, by chatting to their employees while they’re in elevators, and listening carefully to their ideas in meetings rather than talking about them.
True ambiverts do this naturally, he explains. They know how to be outgoing when the circumstances demand it (like knowing the right things to say on date nights) and when to be quiet and listen carefully. “So there’s a bit of back and forth, but they have that flexibility,” Moore notes.
Ambiverts can also adapt more easily to different people, Helgoe says. “Being an ambivert doesn’t automatically mean you have emotional intelligence or social skills,” she says. “But there’s that ability to adapt — like maybe stepping back and listening a little bit more and being more comfortable with that.”
You are better at persuasion
One of the few studies on ambiverts found that they were better salespeople and made more money than introverts or extroverts.
Here’s why, says Moore: “Before I tell you I have something you need, I’ve listened to what you’re looking for. After that I become extroverted and excited about my product and how it makes your life better. So a good salesperson must both listen – introverted – and then be enthusiastic – extroverted.’
You know when to talk
Introverts don’t speak out in public until they connect the dots, Moore says, and they don’t jump to conclusions as quickly as extroverts. “Now there are some downsides that come with that,” Moore says. “One is a paralysis of analysis.”
That’s not you, ambivert. You’re more likely to share your ideas, even if you won’t quite express them the way extroverts do. And you know when to shut up, which is what extroverts have to work hard at, Moore says.
In short, you can express yourself more easily, both interactively and passively, says Helgoe.
Of course, not all are gold stars and good for you: Being that adaptable has its downsides, experts say.
Simple decisions can feel exhausting
“Carl Jung, for example, thought that ambiverts consume more energy because they don’t have a home base,” says Helgoe. For example, by knowing themselves, introverts can easily decide to skip an event because they know that parties and chats generally don’t work for them.
An ambivert may be more inclined to waffle. “So it can take more energy to really decide what to do,” Helgoe says.
Your strengths are not that strong
“In their better moments, ambiverts are more thoughtful and listen better, but they’re not as strong as real introverts,” Moore says. And your social skills might not be as fine-tuned as an extrovert’s, either.
You may have no direction
Being so flexible and easy going gives you a wider range of choices, Helgoe says, especially if you’re self-conscious (more on that later). But all that freedom can be overwhelming, making you lose direction. The result: you can become indecisive.
You are unpredictable
“One time you’re like this, and the next time you’re like this,” Moore says, adding that your flip-flops can confuse other people — and yourself. For example, people know that Moore is outgoing, so if they happen to see him sitting alone, they’ll assume he’s sick. “That’s predictable behavior,” he says.
Ambiverts have to explain themselves by saying, ‘Oh, I’m actually an ambivert. So sometimes I’m like an introvert; other times, as an extrovert. And I’m not quite sure when I’ll do it,” Moore noted.
The key: know yourself
“Ambiverts who are very self-aware are really good at tailoring situations to what their energy and needs are,” says Helgoe. “Maybe some ambiverts really like certain kinds of stimulation, or they know that ‘I hate public speaking, but I like spontaneous discussions in large groups’. They know the variants of extroversion and introversion that they like. ”
So how do you gain self-awareness? You can take personality tests that help you spot your patterns. “That would help you be aware that in general you like things that are toned down or stepped up more,” says Helgoe. You may not have a general rule, but even know it’s helpful, she says.
As you switch back and forth between introversion and extroversion, you need to become more sensitive to what works for you and when. Journaling is a way to check in with yourself and track your thoughts, Helgoe says.
“If you notice how things work for you when you get more out of extroversion or introversion, you get more of what you want,” she says.
That’s a lesson anyone can learn, whether you’re ambivert, introverted, or extroverted.