Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Often we categorize ourselves and others as one of the other so that we can file people away into quantifiable categories in our minds and attempt to understand and relate to human behaviors. What if it’s not that simple? Keep reading to learn what I strive to be: an Ambivert. You can learn to adapt your social style, as well.
Am I an Extrovert?
Back in 2012 I participated in the Ford Institute Leadership Program with my husband, Jeffrey. It was a fantastic course for leadership development training. As part of this course we had the fun experience of taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. We found this fascinating, and one of the most interesting pieces was the Introvert-Extrovert spectrum.
According to the Myers-Briggs, I am an ENTJ: Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging.
The interesting thing was that I was ONE tiny little point into the extrovert side. Jeff was ONE tiny little point into the introvert side. This opened up a lot of great conversation between us about our needs, our habits, and what this might mean. Years of self analysis later, I have discovered that it is much more complicated than choosing which side of a line to fall on. At that time, I had no idea that being an ambivert might be an option.
How do you recharge?
The main thing that separates introverts from extroverts is how you refill your batteries. It is said that extroverts replenish their energy through social interaction, while introverts recharge through alone time. I might be going out on a limb here, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that we all need both. It’s really all about balance. Ambiverts recognize the need for both.
Routines and Habits
At that time in 2012, I had just opened my office, hired my first team members, and I spent most of each day interacting with people. By the time I got home in the evening, I was usually exhausted. I wanted to curl up with my computer or a book somewhere dark and quiet, and I didn’t want to interact with anyone.
At that same time, Jeff was spending most of each day by himself in his woodworking shop. He would get home, and he would want to turn on music, talk, and make social plans with our friends for the evening.
According to the Myers-Briggs, I was the extrovert and he was the introvert. Perhaps that would have been true, if each of us had not already overdosed on our supposedly dominant style. Little did we realize that we were probably both ambiverts.
Now let’s think about that on a bigger scale: What if the very parameters we use to define and understand ourselves are holding us back? How do you measure something when the scale you are using to quantify it is flawed? If that’s the case, why measure at all? Could it be that these parameters are only judgments that limit our perceptions? Do we need them in order to apply language to our complicated thoughts and feelings?
What if we could use these terms to simply express our needs without judgement? Does being an ambivert communicate any of that differently?
What do you mean you’re an introvert?
For over a year now I have identified publicly as an introvert. To heck with that one little point on the Myers-Briggs. More often than not, I find myself thirsting for a much-needed recharge through privacy and quiet. I get more than enough social interaction through my work, and I rarely find myself in the mood to go out and socialize in public just for fun. Plus, most people have never heard of an ambivert before. Ambivert doesn’t fit in the “which of these two boxes do you go in” mindset.
When I tell people that I’m an introvert they often simply don’t believe me. Clearly I am there talking with them, so I must be more outgoing than I’m letting on. It’s all to easy to make a snap judgement like this when relating through shared experience takes time. They see the confident leader teaching classes on networking and entrepreneurship. Most have no idea how hard I have to push myself to do those things. Now that’s me judging them. Welcome to the vicious cycle. Let’s get off the merry-go-round.
I have found that claiming to be an ambivert is sometimes taken as the equivalent of saying that you are a super hero who can do anything at any time. Telling people that I am an introvert is usually the best way to politely let them know that I need a little space and alone time without offending them.
Siding with the introverts also allows me to relate to and support other introverts when we are feeling overwhelmed in social situations. Often we just need a permission slip from someone who understands in order to take the time and space we need when we need it.
The need for a permission slip is particularly true for people who experience FOMO, the delightful acronym for Fear of Missing Out. FOMO is one of the main things that pushes me beyond my limits at conferences. I am getting better at realizing that I don’t need to be everywhere before I totally hit a wall.
Leadership, Performance, and Outgoing Behavior
People often ask me how I can perform music in front of groups, teach classes, and actively network in a room full of business colleagues when I’m an introvert. My answer: lots of practice. People often tell me that I’m a “natural” public speaker. They didn’t know me 20+ years ago. The truth is, I’ve been unconsciously working to develop these ambivert skills for a long time because they are not at all natural for me. I see these skills as being very necessary to accomplish the changes I want to see in the world, so I work at them.
Don’t get me wrong; I do enjoy those opportunities and challenges. Nonetheless, they are far from “natural.” When I have finished with a big social engagement, like a conference or performance, I generally need to crawl into a deep, dark, quiet hole to recoup my energy. It takes a lot out of me, but it gives back in so many ways in the long run. It is worthwhile and I love it, but I don’t know if it will ever be “natural.”
I don’t flaunt the years of hard work and practice it took to learn to be an ambivert, and I don’t generally bring up my social anxiety with a stranger who is complimenting my performance. It’s not until someone implies that they could never do what I’m doing. Then I call shenanigans. Being a leader is intimidating enough without having people put me on a pedestal. I’m afraid of heights. You can do anything you set your mind to, and so can I. When someone tells us otherwise, we prove them wrong.
Enter the Ambivert
It was just a couple of years ago Carol Oliver of the Woodard Institute first asked if I was an Ambivert. I had never heard this marvelous new word before, so I started doing some research. I found a great article from Thought Catalog. Then I started thinking: what if we could stop trying to define and judge ourselves, and just get more in tune with what we really need in each moment? Could anyone learn to be an ambivert?
In the same way that I taught myself to juggle, I have been training myself to be more of an ambivert. I didn’t even realize that I was doing it until recently. I am very right-handed, yet I there are certain things I am better at with my left hand. In the same way, we each have an introverted and extroverted side to our personality. Those different facets of ourselves may have different strengths. Just like a muscle, we increase our ambivert strength and coordination through use and practice.
Who would you like to be? How would you like to define yourself? What would you like your strengths and skills to be? Each of us gets to choose and find our own ambivert balance. Introverts can start by scheduling a bit more focused networking. Check out this video for some tips on where to start. Extroverts might consider starting with 5 minutes of quiet meditation each day. Either way, by making a focused effort to step outside our comfort zones and attempt new things, we will certainly be on a path of learning and growth.