I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert: I definitely seek out my fair share of alone time; I feel in need of a recharge after spending a full day with people; and it’s never bothered me to leave a party early if I’m not feeling it. In recent years, though, I’ve realized the label doesn’t quite fit, simply because there are plenty of times I crave big, raucous gatherings of friends, and other times when I want to be the center of attention in a social setting. As I’ve gotten a bit older and gotten to know my personality better, the introvert-extrovert thing has started to seem like an oversimplified dichotomy.
That’s why an article in The Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein struck such a chord. In it, she highlights recent research suggesting that everyone’s missing out on a third, middle category: ambiverts. Ambiverts, as the name suggests, have both introverted and extroverted characteristics:
You can tell if you’re an ambivert by asking yourself how you’d behave in common situations. What do you crave after a long day at work when you need to refuel—a happy hour with friends, or your couch and the remote control? At a social event, at what point do you want to leave—as soon as you get there or after the last person has left? In a conversation, do you prefer to think through your answers before speaking, or throw out whatever idea comes to mind and bat it back and forth? … If you’re an ambivert, your preference will often be somewhere in the middle—you choose to have a drink with a friend after work but then afterward go home and take a long walk with the dog.
Citing Adam Grant, a Wharton School of Business researcher who has studied ambiversion, Bernstein notes that this characteristic brings with it a challenge: “it can sometimes be difficult for [ambiverts] to know which side of their personality to lead with in a given situation.” When do you act outgoing, and when do you recede into the background a bit? Sometimes one feels right, sometimes the other feels right, and sometimes you feel a bit caught in the middle.
Wharton thinks more than half of the population is ambiverted, which suggests that not only is the introversion-extroversion dichotomy oversimplified (even if it is fun to debate), but that it actually excludes most people. Whatever the true numbers, the more we learn about introversion and extroversion, the more nuanced things get, as Melissa Dahl explained in her fascinating recent piece about the four types of introversion.
So are you an ambivert? Bernstein links to a brief, not megarigorous-looking quiz you can take here. I did, and even if my result didn’t surprise me, it feels good to have a personality “diagnosis” — I just don’t know whether to celebrate by getting a drink with friends after work or relaxing with my Kindle.