The introvert and extrovert spectrum
January 2 is World Introvert Day
Introvert or extrovert: People tend to see themselves as one or the other of these two main personality traits, but introversion and extroversion are actually on either end of a spectrum – and people typically fall somewhere in the middle, with characteristics of both.
“Most theories agree that introversion/extroversion exist on a spectrum, so chances are most individuals will find themselves to be a blend of the two, with one being more prominent than the other,” says Jodie Voth, manager of Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program.
Introversion is defined by a more inward focus and those who consider themselves introverts tend to be more reflective and reserved, enjoy more time on their own rather than with others and often find that too much time with others will drain their energy. Extroversion is defined by more of an external focus and those who lean more toward this trait tend to enjoy or be energized by more human interaction and may describe that too much time alone can make them feel low or depressed.
Where you fall on the spectrum can vary based on the situation before you, whether you’re surrounded by people or just a few friends, in the workplace, at home or at a party.
“I’ll use myself as an example,” says Voth. “I’m a classic introvert in that I enjoy spending time alone and usually find a lot of time spent with other people drains my energy. That said, I’m still capable of performing as an extrovert when I need to. In my professional life, I work with people all the time, and often engage with groups, make presentations, and need to be gregarious and assertive. In order to be successful in my career, I’ve learned two things: what conditions I need to create for myself to be able to do this stuff, and what skills I must use to do it well. What might appear to be extroversion to an outsider is actually a well-trained and self-aware introvert!”
The term ambivert has been used to describe someone who possesses both introvert and extrovert qualities equally and will adapt to the situation, people and purpose before them. True ambiverts generally reside right in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, whereas most people will have stronger qualities from one end or the other.
If you find you sit more closely to one side of the spectrum, it is possible to cultivate the skills or characteristics of the other end that don’t come naturally to you. Depending on your natural traits, you can use these newfound abilities to nurture relationships, strengthen your skills at work, become comfortable in crowds or alone, and gain new perspectives.
Developing extrovert skills
If you are more of an introvert, here are ways you can strengthen your extrovert skills:
- Know what makes you tick. What energizes you or gets you pumped up? What circumstances make you feel confident? Those are helpful things to use to prepare for a presentation, a party, or any other setting that isn’t one you’d naturally gravitate to, but you need to navigate.
- When speaking with someone, make good eye contact and say their name. (This will help you remember their name, something many introverts don’t excel at naturally, and make a strong connection.)
- Smile as you’re speaking.
- Ask questions about the other person to facilitate conversation with someone new.
Developing introvert skills
Here are ways that classic extroverts can strengthen their own introvert skills:
- As extroverts most often struggle with time alone, you can put focused energy and intention toward finding comfort with solo activities. Take time to find hobbies and things you enjoy doing that don’t involve another person.
- Hone your relationship development skills by getting to know one or two people in your social circle or workplace a little better. This is best done by spending some time with them one-on-one, over lunch or working on a project together.
- Develop great listening skills through regular practice. When someone is talking to you, listen to understand rather than to reply. When listening, focus on questions you might ask to understand the other person or their position with greater depth, rather than thinking about a story from your own experience that you can share.
Take an interactive personality test to measure where you fall on the introvert-extrovert scale.