What It Means to Be an Ambivert, and How to Know if You Are One
You like to go out, but you’re not one to party so hard you close down the bar. At work, you share ideas in meetings and also feel for those who stay quiet. You don’t identify with your best friend who can chat with anyone for hours, but spending an entire weekend alone would make you feel cagey and bored.
Guess what? Sounds like you're a classic ambivert.
An ambi what? You’ve heard of the terms extrovert and introvert; each describes a specific personality type. Yet if you don’t see yourself as outgoing enough to be extroverted or not shy and reticent enough to be introverted, you may be an ambivert, which means your personality falls between the two.
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While it’s easy to think that extroverts and introverts are two strictly different types, the reality is that we all lie somewhere on a scale, William Revelle, PhD, a psychology professor at Northwestern University in Illinois, tells Health. On one end, there’s the very introverted. On the other, the very extroverted. An ambivert will fall somewhere in this middle space. “Ambivert simply means in between,” he says.
In fact, most of us occupy this personality middle ground. “We’re talking about being average, and by definition, you expect people to be average,” Revelle explains. While being in the middle might sound like kind of a downer, average can actually be pretty great and offer big advantages in life.
Are you an ambivert?
An extrovert generally loves to go to parties every weekend—or at least have a packed calendar. An introvert tends to avoid social activities; being at home is their bliss. “Ambiverts don’t avoid social situations, but they also don’t seek them out very actively,” Barry Smith, professor emeritus in the department of psychology at the University of Maryland, tells Health.
In the office, introverted team members avoid gossiping with coworkers. When they do chat it up, it’s all about the job. An extrovert is hard to shut up sometimes; they may plant themselves at your desk to talk about everything. They go to happy hour or other work outings as often as possible and tend to be the first to arrive.
What about ambiverts at work? When called to an in-office party, an ambivert will stay at her desk and work if she's under deadline. If she’s free, she’ll head over briefly, make nice, and then hightail it back to her desk, says Smith.
Still not sure where you fall? “If you can’t tell if you’re an extrovert or an introvert, you’re an ambivert,” confirms Smith.
It's worth noting, however, that some experts skirt around the term. Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, PhD, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, explains that she sees more people strongly identify with being an introvert or extrovert, rather than an ambivert. Identifying with either of the first two helps open up their understanding of themselves, she says. “I do believe we all flex to the situation, but that doesn’t mean we don’t inherently prefer one preference over another,” she tells Health.
Certainly, not all ambiverts are the same. With such a large number of people fitting into the ambivert category (Smith pegs it at 68% of the population; Revelle says 50%), some of us are simply going to skew more extroverted, some more introverted.
How to tap into your ambivert strengths
If you've sized up the situations above and are pretty sure you're an ambivert, here are a few pointers for playing up your natural strengths.
Flex your flexibility. “Ambiverts tend to be much more flexible in their behavior,” says Smith. This comes in handy in the workplace, particularly in how you relate to your boss. Some managers love collaboration with employees, others want to run the show, he says. Ambiverts are well-suited to take stock of the environment and respond accordingly.
Make sure you're communicating right. That said, if as an ambivert you sometimes act introverted and other times extroverted at work, “your fellow team members might be confused about how to communicate with you,” says Kahnweiler. If you, for instance, need downtime to recharge during the day and close coworkers don’t know it, you’ll be frustrated. You might need to tell them upfront that you’ve learned you need breaks during the day to be at your best, she says, so you’ll all get on the same page.
Don't feel obligated to overschedule. When you're facing the occasional busy week of events or parties, know that you're not likely to do it all; it'll make you unhappy and you'll feel out of sorts. Focus on the activities that bring you meaning and happiness rather than expend energy on things that don’t. For example, opt to go to your college roommate's holiday party, but skip the bar outing on Saturday night, suggests Smith.
Switching jobs? Maybe try sales. In a now famous 2013 study, researcher Adam Grant, from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that it wasn’t the extroverted people who excelled the most at sales (as one may expect). Instead, it was the ambiverts. In fact, ambiverts produced 32% more sales revenue compared to extraverts and 24% more than introverts. They may have that perfect balance of assertiveness and enthusiasm that can often come off as overbearing in an extroverted person.
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