Caught in the Middle: The Ambivert Struggle

How to know if you're an ambivert—and tips for living as an ambivert.
Whether it’s the DISC assessment or StrengthsFinder, I often find personality assessments to be helpful tools for self-reflection and for determining communication styles when interacting with colleagues. One of the most common of these assessments is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which outlines 16 distinct personality types.

When I took the Myers-Briggs a few years ago, it suggested I am an ESFJ. I read the description, and it sounded pretty accurate.

Sure, I’m an extrovert, I thought to myself.

If you had asked me in high school, I absolutely would have said I was an introvert, but throughout college and my early young adult life, I became more outgoing, so the E did not strike me as too much of a surprise.

For my wife, on the other hand, there is zero doubt she is an extrovert. She thrives being around people, and in her perfect world, we might be the absolute last to leave every party and every Mass.

I enjoy socializing, but I am also often completely content to spend a weekend day or evening in the quiet of our apartment, catching up on chores and getting ready for the week ahead. I don’t love making small talk with strangers, and at work, I am far from the most outspoken person in the room.

Over time, I started to ask myself, “am I really an extrovert?”

I watched Susan Cain’s acclaimed TED Talk, and picked up a copy of her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking at the library.

I was not more than a few pages into the introduction before I discovered a new term: ambivert.

It’s possible I have been living under a rock, but until a few weeks ago, I honestly cannot remember ever hearing this word.

Ambivert is so uncommon that when I first typed it, my computer automatically underlined it with one of those little red lines, as if it had been misspelled.

A quick Google search was striking, too — over 30.1 million results for introvert, 7.5 million for extrovert, and just 1.33 million for ambivert.

Yes, we generally categorize our personalities into one of the first two buckets.

However, as Cain notes and as some other researchers have estimated, including Dr. Adam Grant from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, more than half of us are ambiverts, falling somewhere between the true introverted and extroverted traits.

The personality spectrum

No matter which article you read, personality descriptions can almost always be whittled down to the same basic characterization.

If you’re an extrovert, you’re a social butterfly and the life of the party.

If you’re an introvert, your free time is spent with your head in a book, not speaking to anyone from the time you arrive home from work until the time you’re back in the office the next day.

Of course, these are two extremes, and many of us find ourselves somewhere in between.

But how do we describe ambiverts?

In this case, it might actually be helpful if there was an “ambivert stereotype.”

Because we do not have a clear picture of what ambiverts “look like,” it might be tricky for our friends and colleagues who land more clearly on one side or the other to understand us.
Here's how to know if you're an ambivert and tips for surviving as one.

The ambivert

As ambiverts, we have to seek balance between these two ends of the personality spectrum.

Between our different friend groups and involvement in our parish, sometimes it feels like every night could be filled with a social event or activity for my wife and me. Don’t get me wrong, these friends, people, and activities are a total blessing, but as an ambivert, at times it can also be difficult to not feel stretched thin.

The extrovert in me experiences a constant fear of missing out, but my inner introvert needs some quiet time to recharge and avoid getting burned out. While my wife only needs one “introvert day” every month or two, she understands I might need one per week.

I have grown to rely on my calendar, not just for meetings and work obligations, but for my personal life, too. It helps me stay balanced and allows me to find time to re-energize each week.

Because ambiverts do enjoy alone time, we may sometimes be mistaken for introverts, and we also need to find the right balance in the office.

Our colleagues might assume we’re comfortable spending every day behind our computers, but too much time without regular personal interaction and we may quickly find ourselves in a rut. Teamwork is important to ambiverts, so we can’t be afraid to speak up about our desire to be involved in more collaborative projects from time to time, too.

Whether it’s shutting your door for 30 minutes to get some quiet or taking a short break to step away from your screen and grab coffee with a colleague, this Forbes article has some other tips you might find helpful in order to incorporate both introvert and extrovert time into your workday.

At the end of the day, learn to adapt to each situation and be comfortable being yourself. Sometimes you will thrive off of conversation and other days you will need to sit back, listen, and soak it all in.

You might not be able to describe your disposition in one clear and concise sentence, but by being somewhere in the middle, you may find it easier to relate to your colleagues and companions across the personality spectrum.

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