March 4, 2013 - FILED UNDER Agile Business
Balancing Act: Why Ambiverts Succeed in the Workplace
Ah, labels. People either avoid them entirely or identify with them wholeheartedly. I myself am a Libra (see what I did there?), and a textbook example of one: always walking the line, tenaciously looking for balance in pretty much everything. I’ll usually argue both sides of an issue even if I only agree with one of them, and one time, Myers-Briggs’d myself and found that I’m an introvert hiding out in an extrovert’s personality.
What this means for me professionally is that, while I can speak publicly and am not completely horrified by the idea of meeting new clients, I’m at my most creative and productive when I’m alone.
Lucky for me, that might be a good thing.
Into the Wild
Historically, that statement is totally accurate. Or, I should say, evident: many of the great artists and minds of our collective story have dwelled in isolation. Going off into the wilderness to create majestic things or find yourself is a romantic notion, sure, but it just works for some people — Hemingway, Mozart, Kafka, Tesla. Creatives from realms encompassing the written word, composing masterpieces or even harnessing lightning have all found inspiration in introspection.
This is all very conspicuous: fewer distractions means greater concentration, quiet amplifies the inner voice, and without fear of judgment or obstruction, ideas fly free. Artists are often introverts with entire inaccessible worlds flashing across their synapses, and if we don’t leave them to explore those worlds, they’ll stay hidden forever.
Extroverts, on the other hand, live very presently. They think aloud, and they’re masters of collaboration who literally run off of the energy of their surroundings. They make excellent leaders and are naturally empathetic, since their feelers are always out picking up signals and cues, and due to their inherent confidence, are less afraid of failure.
But there are many of us that don’t fully exhibit one side of the spectrum. So what the hell are we?
Straddling the Fence
Answer: ambiverts. Probably. As the term indicates, ambiverts are a melting pot for a variety of different qualities. As a result, their moods and attitudes are often confusing — affable and open one minute, locked in a dark room the next. Their personality tests are inconclusive, and they fluctuate between team roles and taking the lead. Self-identified ambivert and leadership coach Denise Green attributes this to the fact that “humans are more complex than any automatic assessment can capture.” True, but in business, it’s important to type and arrange different personalities for certain roles and teams, so we can maximize innovation and capitalize on strengths.
Unfortunately, we’ve been doing it wrong.
Being Common: It’s a Good Thing
More often than not, archetypal extroverts are hired as salespeople, introverts as content creators. But according to a recent article in the Washington Post, our assumptions about what kind of personalities fit best within certain roles is straight up wrong. It points out that social scientists have found little to no evidence that extroverts make better leaders or garner more profits.
Journalist Daniel H. Pink writes, “extroverts can talk too much and listen too little, [and] overwhelm others with the force of their personalities.” This is not to say that the opposite is true, either — it’s about balance. “Introverts can be too shy to initiate, too skittish to deliver unpleasant news and too timid to close the deal,” but ambiverts “know when to speak up and when to shut up, when to inspect and when to respond, when to push and when to hold back.” The good news? Studies suggest that most of us are, in fact, ambiverted, and it makes us more successful. Author Susan Cain notes in her TED talk that “the key, then, to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.” The biggest takeaway from all of this is that, if you want to truly and fully utilize your people (or yourself), listen, don’t assume. Pay attention to how the work you do — and the approach you take — affects your productivity. Finally, determine whether you tend to vacillate between extroversion and introversion depending on environmental factors, or if you stick to one side of the gamut.
Think you’re an ambivert? Find out here.