Why introverted extroverts represent the future.
Posted June 3, 2019
There's a lot of confusion out there about the nature of the “introverted extrovert,” that seemingly rare bird that has become more visible today with the right pair of specs. I recently read a Facebook article that wittily cataloged ambiverts' maddeningly endearing contradictions and as a member of this tribe myself, I'd like to illuminate our ways.
Ambiverts are like the ubiquitous hybrid cars we see and don't hear these days—the Priuses of the personality set—only, imagine these cars arrived 30 years before their time. Do you remember the movie Back to the Future where Michael J. Fox's character Marty McFly travels in a DeLorean to 1955?
With its vertically opening doors, tinted windows, and wildly different fuel source (plutonium!), Marty's vehicle looked more like a space shuttle than a car. But even more, Marty himself represented that seemingly alien nature of being between two different worlds.
Ambiverts represent this too—a conundrum that doesn't fit as neatly now, but will make so much more sense in the future, a trendsetter harnessing the best of the old energy system with the quiet sustainability of the new, honoring both the earth and reaching like a rocket (sometimes!) for the sky.
In the past, we often relied on solid introverts and extroverts to team up and create innovative change, like Susan Cain rightly points out. This will continue, I'm sure, but my bet is we will more and more start noticing these personality hybrids out there on the road.
If you look closely now, you'll probably start spotting them. The start-up world has been selecting for and championing ambiverts, those deliberate, emotionally intelligent, and outgoing leaders who know how to pull from both the introverted and extroverted worlds.
And data supports the wisdom here. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant did a study to ascertain if the stereotype holds that extroverts are the best salespeople. Sampling from over 300 salespeople, he found that strong extroverts sold about as poorly as introverts. Demonstrated by a U-shaped curve, the folks who were the most productive were those in the middle—the ambiverts. Why? Because ambiverts have a knack for being both flexible and attentive listeners and talkers while simultaneously being adept at enthusiastically and assertively closing the deal.
By being more sensitized to ambiversion, we can see up close and personal how we are all trying to figure out the maddening contradictions of being fully human. What's more, they represent the future!
I can't help but picture the way the audience delights and then stops speechless when confronted by the strange mix of Marty's music. Starting with the basic blues of old-school rock-and-roll, he quickly shapeshifts through Pete Townsend's windmills, Angus Young's ecstatic floor-squirming spasms, and Eddie Van Halen's trance-inducing triplets, all to the seeming horror and consternation of the audience.
Ambiverts, too, mystify their friends and family with their capacity to both quietly accompany and then step out, seemingly out of nowhere, for a virtuosic moment of pyrotechnics. They conjure Whitman's refrain from "Song of Myself":
"Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"
What ambiverts do on any given day (and often throughout one day itself!) is highlight the natural tension and contradiction of us all, trying to belong and be part of the group while trying to stand out, have a voice, and declare our uniqueness.
As my mentor Jungian analyst Donald Kalsched says in his book Trauma and the Soul, we all have a dual destiny, between this and another world, attempting to find that connection through the mystical third that holds the tensions and possibilities together. Ambiverts hold a piece of the psychological puzzle that stands to help all of us become the best versions of ourselves, showing how to more fully develop and harness the power of our inner and outer capacities.
As an X-ennial (born on the cusp between Gen-X and millennials), I love how ambiverts are bringing the best of the analog and digital together, of quietly rocking out!
As Marty says:
"I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet—but your kids are going to love it!"
Ambiverts in a Nutshell
Equal parts social and solitary, ambiverts possess a balanced measure of extroverted and introverted traits.
1. Like switch hitters, ambiverts are well-poised to take in just about any pitch!
They are equally adept at being outgoing and gregarious in a large group or diving into a deep conversation with a smaller audience. They also love to just steep in the world of the imagination.
2. Psychologically ambidextrous, ambiverts are like good pianists whose right and lefts hands are each keenly developed.
They make rich & interesting music that transcends the expectations of what each hand can do alone! Listen to a Bach Fugue or a Chopin Etude & you’ll see the kind of otherworldly expansiveness that ambiverts bring out.
3. Ambiverts fully recharge and fuel up only when both the extroverted and introverted sides of their personality are truly satisfied.
They constantly need to have a solid amount of time socializing and connecting with others, while at the same time needing a comparable dose of reflective solitude.
4. There are more ambiverts out there than you think.
Ambiverts are thought to comprise anywhere from 38 to 66% of the American population. So not only are you not alone, you're in good company!
Cain, Susan (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. London: Penguin Books.
Grant, A. M. (2013). Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal. Psychological Science,24(6), 1024-1030. doi:10.1177/0956797612463706.
Kalsched, Donald (2013). Trauma and the Soul: A psycho-spiritual approach to human Development. East Sussex: Routledge.
Whitman, W. (1997). Leaves of grass: selected poems and prose. New York: Doubleday.