3 Ways to Be a More Effective Ambivert

In a world of extroverts and introverts, there is a group that often goes underlooked: ambiverts. These are the people in the middle of the introvert-extrovert continuum. They can act like both introverts and extroverts at certain times. They are people who are energized both by quiet respite and by a party. Navigating the world as an ambivert may seem extremely advantageous- who wouldn’t want to be comfortable in both solitude and company? As an ambivert, Sara (one of the co-authors of this article) can tell you that it is not all it’s chalked up to be. She is not alone. Of the +300 C-Suite execs we have interviewed, about 1/3 are natural ambiverts.

Wharton’s Adam Grant found that because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are among the best sales people. Adam’s research highlights one of the greatest advantages of being an ambivert: they can go from exhibiting the strengths of an introvert to the strengths of an extrovert at the appropriate time (see Psychological Science, 24(6), 2013, Rethinking the Extroverted Sales Ideal, p. 1024-1030). This is a spectacular strength, but there is a downside.

One of the biggest traps ambiverts fall into is assuming they cannot experience burnout. In fact, if they aren’t careful, ambiverts burn out twice as quickly. The key to leading a healthy life is balance, and this area is no exception. The downsides of too much socialization include crabbiness, stress, and strained relationships. On the flip side, spending too much time alone can lead to feeling isolated, demotivated, and lonely. Too much of one can have serious ramifications in both personal and professional life. It’s really easy to keep feeding either the extroverted or introverted side while ignoring the other. There have been many times where Sara has been surprised by the sense of relief she felt after a quick 10-minute conversation, but she experiences the same relief when walking into her silent house after a party.

Based on interviews with over 50 ambiverts, we have found that introverts and extroverts have clear strengths, and ambiverts have those same strengths but not quite to the same degree. For ambiverts to be comfortable public speaking they need to push themselves a little more than extroverts. For ambiverts to properly reflect before acting, they need to remind themselves to slow down. Extroverts and introverts are naturally inclined to do these things, whereas ambiverts might need to be more deliberate in their efforts.

Extroverts and introverts generally have the advantage of identification over ambiverts- extroverts know they are extroverted and introverts know they are introverted. As such, they know what types of interactions they need. Introverts are well-known for needing to take time to recharge, and extroverts can sense themselves getting antsy if they haven’t socialized in a few days. Ambiverts need to be both outgoing and independent, seemingly at random and sometimes with very little regard to what disposition would be best suited for the present moment.

So what do ambiverts need to do to be effective workers? After careful observation, here are a few tips we’ve composed to help ambiverts maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

  1. Control your environment. The easiest thing to do to make sure you’re productive is to place yourself in the proper environment. If you need a break from everyone, you can try shutting your office door or putting on noise canceling headphones for 30 minutes. If you haven’t spoken with anyone all day, getting coffee or calling a friend on your break can be extremely energizing. Flexibility is key.

  2. Plan ahead. Recognize that a weekend full of socializing will probably leave you feeling burnt out by Monday, so take steps to make sure that you have enough “me time.” For example, you can try to reserve Sunday for solitude so that on Monday you are ready to meet with people first thing. The same applies for a lack of socializing- too much time alone and it’ll be harder for you to get back into the swing of things socially. By planning ahead, you can mitigate the effects of either over- or under-socialization.

  3. Learn to say “no”. It’s easy to be swept into obligations that you shouldn’t take on if you are in an extroverted mood. If you overcommit, you will start to feel burnt out and anxious and it will be apparent in your work. In a corporate world that is becoming increasingly focused on openness, communication, and group efforts, it is crucial that you take the time to reflect individually. By learning to say no, you recognize your need for quiet time and allow yourself to be a better worker overall.

By controlling your environment, planning ahead, and learning to just say “no,” ambiverts can respond to their needs, and start working to the best of their ability. Let us know in the comments section what you do to better manage your ambiversion!

This article was co-written with Sara Avramovic, a McGill undergraduate studentKarl Moore, Ph.D. is associate professor at McGill University and an associate fellow at Green Templeton College, Oxford University.

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  • LuAnn

    I plan my alone time more than I plan a social or people- filled event. Working a
    block of solitude in to my life ahead of time helps me see that it is in my sights when social time threatens to overcome my peace of mind. Solitude fits in between social things yet is equally important. Like an appointment I must keep with myself. My husband is the same way. Often if one weekend day is busy, the other day must be a clean slate for being home doing whatever we want to do. Separately or together. If he has an evening obligation during the week, then that’s my alone time block- no phone, no computer, just me and my thoughts or a creative project.

  • Joyce Gerber

    This is so interesting. I often tell people my self-identification as an introvert (I’ve been dubbed a “quiet revolutionary” by my hero, Susan Cain), but usually I get push back because I know how to speak in public and love planning parties. Over many years of trying to understand how I fit in, I’ve incorporated all three of your suggestions. I think the most difficult one is controlling the environment. And if I had to choose, I would still say I am more comfortable in the quiet spaces of my life.

  • mom2luke

    This is me! Thanks so much. There’s so much about how extro and intros get their energies and neither resonated with me completely. For a reunion, I know I am only good for 1 or 2 social events…the first is great. the second less so. Anymore than that DRAINS me and I make a bad impression. That’s why I need lecture events at reunions where you just sit and listen instead of having to socialize.

    I think many (most?) humans are ambiverts. Reading Quiet was the first time I heard the term and it made me question the entire thesis of the intro/extro labels. I love this paragraph. (I’m just like Sarah):

    “One of the biggest traps ambiverts fall into is assuming they cannot experience burnout. In fact, if they aren’t careful, ambiverts burn out twice as quickly. The key to leading a healthy life is balance, and this area is no exception.

    The downsides of too much socialization include crabbiness, stress, and strained relationships. On the flip side, spending too much time alone can lead to feeling isolated, demotivated, and lonely.

    Too much of one can have serious ramifications in both personal and professional life. It’s really easy to keep feeding either the extroverted or introverted side while ignoring the other. There have been many times where Sara has been surprised by the sense of relief she felt after a quick 10-minute conversation, but she experiences the same relief when walking into her silent house after a party.”

  • Stephen G Houston

    Proper spacing (events, people, thinking) and pacing (intense, relaxed) allows an ambivert to start strong and stay strong. The 3 suggestions above “frame this world”, controlling it is a daily battle.

  • Farah Putri

    Hi Sara, how you differentiate between ambiversion and mood swings?