Thom Dennis, CEO at Serenity in Leadership, talks about the advantages of being an ambivert.
Would you know an ambivert if you met one? If you are someone who possesses both introverted and extroverted traits, and your behaviour can naturally shift depending on the environment you are in, then you might be the ideal candidate for just about any role and a future leader in the making. But does that mean we should all aspire to be one and is this a skill set that anyone can master?
There are various tests and assessments that measure introversion and extroversion. Perhaps surprisingly, a YouGov study revealed that 50% of Britons say they are introverted, with 9% saying they are ‘very introverted’ and more British men than women (53% vs 48%) describing themselves as introverts. The term ‘Ambivert’ is a relatively recent concept in psychometric testing and personality psychology and while it is gaining popularity in everyday language and in self-help literature, it is not yet widely accepted or recognized within the scientific community. There is currently no universally accepted definition of ambiversion or a standard measurement tool, so it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of ambiverts amongst us. We can also all exhibit different levels of introverted and extroverted tendencies, making it challenging to categorise.
Ambiverts vs introverts vs extroverts at work?
Traditionally, personality traits have been measured on a continuum between introversion and extroversion, with individuals falling somewhere along this spectrum. Ambiverts can easily adapt to different situations, enjoy a mix of being outgoing and in their own company, know when to listen and when to talk, can adapt to use different methods of communication, and often show flexibility in their actions. Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama and Mahatma Gandhi are believed to be or have been ambiverts.
Introverts often learn through observation, have good listening skills and reflect before making decisions and think before they act. They are often innovative partners and attentive listeners with excellent attention to detail. They tend to feel energised after spending time alone and enjoy intimate conversations rather than large events. Bill Gates, Malala Yousafzai, Mark Zuckerburg, Emma Watson and Eleanor Roosevelt are high-profile introverts.
Extroverts typically feel energised after socialising and tend to quickly make decisions, take risks for success, have strong communication skills and build relationships easily. They are confident, charismatic, bring energy to work, are organised and enjoy collaborating and taking charge. Winston Churchill, Arianna Huffington, Tony Blair, Whitney Wolfe Herd and Richard Branson are well-known extroverts.
What is the ambivert advantage?
Ambiverts can be highly successful in a variety of settings, including sales, leadership, and negotiation. Professor of Psychology Adam Grant at University of Pennsylvania studied The Ambivert Advantage. In his research, he found that ambiverts can be extremely productive and effective in the workplace because they possess both introverted and extroverted qualities.
Grant says: “Ambiverts achieve greater sales productivity than extraverts or introverts do because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening. Ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.”
Grant also challenged notions of extroverts being more successful and productive revealing that in a sales environment, the worst performers were the workers who were either extremely introverted or extremely extroverted.
Grant developed The Ambiversion Scale as a self-report measure of ambiversion. It consists of 14 items that assess an individual’s preferences for socializing, including statements such as “I like to mix with people, but also need time to myself” and “I’m equally comfortable in quiet and loud environments.”
We can develop our ambivert skills through conscious practice and goal setting, and learning from both introvert and extrovert role models, but it is important not to get worn down by trying to be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades and to be in flow. You can work on developing your social skills, confidence, and assertiveness to become more extroverted, whilst also creating the space to take time to recharge and reflect as an introvert would. Being aware of your tendencies and making a conscious effort to balance your social and work interactions can also help.
The pandemic effect
The pandemic may have helped ambiverts to shine in the workplace as that period of time required leaders to call upon the strengths of both extroversion and introversion. For example, bosses needed to listen and take feedback in order to provide flexible and empathetic work environments for staff, but they also needed to show clear and demonstrative enthusiasm to rally and guide the team through the unknown.
What can businesses do to nurture the talents of all personality types?
Ensure a diverse team of introverts, extroverts and ambiverts to benefit from good interpersonal communication, creativity, emotional intelligence and productivity.
Check your bias – In the same way schools celebrate children who volunteer to read out loud and take on the main roles in a school play, win the running races or perform in the school band, employers often celebrate people who speak up the most in meetings and put themselves forward. While these types of extroverted skills greatly benefit business, so do introverted traits. Do not assume that quieter staff members have no interest in taking on leadership responsibility. Ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to lead and collaborate.
Embrace CQ – It enables us to understand the decisions that are made in a business and how our decisions are influenced by attitudes and beliefs.
Analyse how you reward – Pay attention to what tasks and rewards feel meaningful to your employees. Consider the different ways you can reward and acknowledge their work, from a private word in-person, to email and public recognition.
Understand the importance of visibility – Visibility is not necessarily a sign of productivity or engagement. Ensure the business culture aims to bring the best out of all its employees. Check in with people and ask about their preferred communication style and build trust that you are interested in what all employees have to say.
Do not rely on team meetings for communication – In large group meetings, introverts can be less visible if they are not as talkative as their extrovert team members. Not everyone thrives in big meetings – some people prefer to catch up one-to-one or in a smaller group, or need more time to prepare and not to be put on the spot. Instead, invite shyer members of staff to share their input in a couple of days, either vocally or via email if that suits them better. Their ideas may be the deal breaker in finding a solution or creative result.
Create an inclusive, positive culture – Prioritise building a positive, employee-centric culture that gives people the space to work in a way that suits them.
Thom Dennis also shares his views on how men can disrupt sexism at work.