It often feels like everyone must belong to one of two groups: extroverts or introverts. The extroverts are brash, outgoing and impulsive; while the introverts are introspective, quiet and reserved.
But some people don’t fit into just one of these categories. One night, happy hour seems like the best idea; while the next, cuddling up with a book feels just right. What does this mean?
Can someone be both an extrovert and introvert? Yes. They’re ambiverts and they’re everywhere.
“Ambiverts make up 68 percent of the population,” said Barry Smith, professor emeritus and director of the Laboratories of Human Psychophysiology at the University of Maryland.
“This whole distribution of introversion/extroversion is strongly influenced by genetics … ambiverts inherit a tendency to be ambiverts.”
Balance exists as the defining characteristic of ambiverts.
“Ambiverts are kind of in the middle of the road,” said Bernardo J. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute, Indiana University Southeast. Ambiversion is “a combination of both” introversion and extroversion.
While experts have known about the concept of ambiversion since Carl Jung defined extroversion and introversion, little research has been conducted on ambiverts. Still, experts know there are a few characteristics that define ambiversion.
At a party, an ambivert engages in boisterous conversation, fluttering from person to person all night, much like the extroverts at the gathering. But that same ambivert also enjoys dinner and a movie alone. Ambiverts act like extroverts in social situations and introverts when alone.
“Ambiverts are more strongly influenced by situational factors,” Smith said. “I think the big advantage here is that this person is comfortable in a much wider range of situations.”
Ambiverts know when to be outgoing, such as at the work happy hour; and when to be reflective, such as during an important meeting. They don’t feel drained by either situation.
“When we think about ambiverts, it shows a greater degree of flexibility,” said Carducci “If they are in a social situation, they are going to respond to it.”
That doesn’t mean ambiverts will love every social situation and all alone time. One expert urges ambiverts to understand what mix of introvert and extrovert they are and pursue what they enjoy.
“If you find that a certain type of situation consistently leaves you in a bad mood, stop banging your head against the wall. Change the situation or find an approach that works better. Customize your definition of yourself,” said Laurie Helgoe, chair of the social science division at Davis & Elkins College.
Ambiverts don’t play it too safe or take too many risks
Extroverts often take risks: They might be the first to jump on a plane to Las Vegas for the weekend just because. Introverts would behave in a more reserved way, weighing the pros and cons of the impromptu trip. Ambiverts would sometimes agree to go and sometimes pass.
“Extroverts tend to be much more impulsive than introverts. The ambivert is in the middle,” Smith said. “Sometimes, she is going to be impulsive and run off to the party when she should study for exams; and sometimes she is going to make the other choice.”
Ambiverts know when to be quiet and when to gab
Ambiverts know when to talk and when to listen. One of the few studies on ambiverts — by Adam Grant of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania — found ambiverts make the best sales people. Why? Because they understand when to make the pitch and when to pause.
This makes a lot of sense, said Helgoe, because sometimes sales people sell to both extroverts and introverts, who require different approaches.
“[Ambiverts] can have a bigger repertoire of responses and be more flexible in situations,” she said.
While ambiverts exude balance, there can be a disadvantage to not being purely extroverted or introverted, Helgoe said. Extroverts feel energized by social interactions, while introverts feel energized by alone time. Ambiverts feel unclear about what drives them and could make the wrong choice because they’re not always sure what they want.
“If you are not real clear on your preferences, you might not have a ready response,” she said.
Still, Carducci warned against forcing ambiverts to be introverted or extroverts.
“You’re not a better or a worse individual. You are just a different kind of individual. We need all kinds of people,” he said. “We are going to push people to think about sense of identity a little differently. [Ambiversion is] this combination and blending.”