There are a lot of myths surrounding the concept of introverts versus extroverts — one of the main ones is that it’s an “either-or” situation.
But reality is a bit more complicated.
Extroversion and introversion live on two opposite ends of a spectrum. The way you get and put out energy helps determine where you fall on this spectrum. But you can fall anywhere on this spectrum, not necessarily at one end or the other.
The other huge myth? Introverts are shy and extroverts are outgoing.
Megan MacCutcheon, LPC, further explains that “people sometimes assume introverts always have social anxiety or dislike being around others while extroverts are always loud, aggressive, and boisterous.”
Here’s a more realistic look at what the extrovert-introvert spectrum looks like and why one end isn’t any better or worse than the other.
- openness to experience
You can be high or low on a particular trait, or fall somewhere in the middle. But your “level” of a trait — for example, how extroverted you are — is thought to be stable across different situations and times in your life.
Let’s focus in on the extroversion trait. In our day-to-day lives, we tend to call people high in extroversion “extroverts,” and those low in extroversion are the opposite, “introverts.”
People who tend to fall near the extrovert end of things draw their energy from the outside world: the people, places, and things around them.
You enjoy working in a group
Extroverted people tend to feel most comfortable when working with other people, whether the task is a work project, party planning with friends, or a school assignment.
You might organize the group, keep it running smoothly, or even jump in as the leader.
No matter how you participate, you most likely feel energized to do your best work when that work involves active collaboration with other people.
You’re always ready to try something new
Are you confident and outgoing? Not afraid of taking a chance on something you’ve never done before, even if it’s a little risky? Maybe you find it easy to change plans or adapt to a new situation.
If so, you probably have a more extroverted personality.
Extroverts tend to take action rather than ponder. Once you decide to do something, you usually just go for it without worrying too much about what might happen.
You may not spend a lot of time considering all potential outcomes, and people might even describe you as impulsive.
On the bright side, some studies suggest that people who are more extroverted are also more innovative.
Talking through a problem often helps you solve it
Extroverted people often find it easier to understand and solve problems when they can talk through them, restate them in their own words, or seek input from other people.
What’s your go-to approach when faced with a challenge or difficult problem?
Say you’re dealing with a homework assignment, sticky situation with a friend, or tough task at work. Do you talk about it to as many people as you can to get different perspectives? Sort through your thoughts out loud?
If so, you’re likely more of an extrovert.
You find it easy to express yourself
Extroverted people usually have little to no trouble expressing thoughts, feelings, and opinions. These can range from minor preferences, such as the foods you dislike, to deeper emotions, including romantic feelings.
While some people might think of you as blunt, the ability to clearly communicate how you feel without hesitating or worrying what others might think can often be a positive trait.
Spending time alone can drain you
Extroverted people recharge best in the company of other people. You might move from one social setting to another, like to have people around you most of the time, and avoid spending time by yourself whenever possible.
“If spending time with other people energizes you after a long, stressful day, you’re likely more extroverted,” MacCutcheon explains.
Feeling tired, cranky, or out-of-sorts after too much time on your own also suggests you’re an extrovert.
You find the good in everything
Optimism is one key way extroversion often shows up.
Keep in mind that being optimistic doesn’t have to mean you’re relentlessly cheerful and never sad. If something bad happens, it still affects you, and you probably still have days where you feel down — just like most people.
But you may have an easier time finding silver linings in a negative situation. You’re also more likely to focus on those and bounce back more readily when something bad happens instead of feeling drained and overwhelmed.
You make friends easily
Extroverted people are generally known to be very sociable.
If you fall on this end of the spectrum, you might:
- have a large circle of friends
- enjoy meeting new people
- find it easy to have heart to heart conversations with strangers or people you don’t know very well
Some people might view your expansive social circle as a sign that you aren’t that close to anyone in particular, but this isn’t necessarily the case. You likely have a few best friends or people you feel extra connected to.
Folks on the introverted end of the spectrum sometimes get a bad rap.
It’s often said that they’re:
- shy or socially awkward
- lack strong interpersonal skills
- don’t make good leaders
But these characteristics don’t really have anything to do with introversion, which simply means your energy comes from within — instead of from people and things around you.
You consider things carefully
When faced with a new opportunity, or any big decision, you probably spend a good amount of time thinking it over before you make any plans to proceed.
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This means that extroverts may use less rational methods to make decisions than more-reflective introverts do.
People with a more action-oriented approach may not always understand why you devote so much time to reflection, but this tendency to look before you leap may help you feel confident you’re making the right choice for yourself.
You prefer to avoid conflict
Generally speaking, introverted people are less likely to strike up conversations with people they don’t know well, or even with people they do know well.
This can relate to a preference for internal dialogue and reflection. But a dislike of conflict can also play a part.
Research suggests introverts often have a higher sensitivity to negative feedback. If you’re worried someone might criticize you or view you in a bad light, you won’t have much interest to put yourself in any situation that leads to that outcome.
If you do join a debate or discussion, you might be more likely to share your ideas in written form, anonymously, or both. Responding in writing gives you the chance to think over what you want to say first, which is probably what feels most comfortable to you.
You’re good at visualizing and creating
People on the more introverted end of the spectrum often spend a lot of time in their heads. Your friends and loved ones might say you’re always off in your own world, or something along those lines.
But that world is where you do your best work. You might think through challenges or use your imagination to brainstorm new ideas.
Sharing those thoughts and feelings out loud may not come easily to you, but it might seem completely natural to write, illustrate, or set them to music.
You’re a natural listener
If you’re introverted, socializing can drain your natural energy reserves, so you prefer to listen and absorb what’s happening around you.
When at work, among friends, or in other social settings, you usually settle comfortably into the background.
The myth that introverts are shy or socially anxious stems from this natural tendency to quietly observe.
Sure, you might avoid small talk, prefer to let the noise of the crowd wash over you, or feel better when you can tune everyone out with headphones. But you also listen and weigh ideas carefully, and when asked for your opinion, you often have quality ideas to contribute.
And the whole thing about introverts not being leaders? There’s a lot of value in a carefully considered perspective, especially one that includes not only your thoughts but those of your coworkers and peers.
You need plenty of time for yourself
Needing to recharge your batteries after a long day by enjoying some quiet downtime alone tends to suggest an introverted nature, according to MacCutcheon.
This doesn’t mean you always avoid people, but you probably don’t have a large social network. Instead, you most likely share your available social energy with a handful of close friends.
Even if you don’t make friends easily and see no need to widen your circle, you highly value the people you do feel comfortable with.
“But wait,” you’re thinking, “neither one sounds like me!”
Maybe a combination of traits from the two lists best fit your personality. For example, you might take a little time to think over a decision that involves some risk, but then you take action decisively without looking back.
Well, there’s a word for that.
Ambiversion describes a personality style that lies somewhere in between introversion and extroversion. If you’re an ambivert, you’re closer to the middle of the spectrum, so you might feel more introverted at times and extroverted at others.
If the signs below ring true for you and you’ve never fully identified with introversion or extroversion, you just might be an ambivert.
You do well in social settings and alone
Introverted people usually feel exhausted and worn out after a lot of socializing. On the other hand, when extroverted people spend a lot of time alone, they often notice a drop in mood and energy levels.
As an ambivert, you might not feel too drained by either situation. Maybe you enjoy spending time on your own and around other people in fairly equal amounts.
You might notice small changes in your mood if you’ve been doing more of one than the other, but it may not deplete your energy as much as it would if you were closer to one end of the spectrum.
Active listening comes naturally to you
A key communication skill, active listening goes beyond simply listening.
When you actively listen, you’re engaged in the conversation. You consider what’s being said and offer thoughtful responses.
In conversations, you’re more likely to listen carefully and respond, often helpfully, instead of quietly absorbing the conversation or immediately jumping in with your take on things.
You’re flexible when it comes to problem solving
Ambiverts may not feel too committed to any one approach to figuring things out. You might be comfortable talking over some types of problems, while you might like to take notes or doodle when solving others.
This can be really helpful since trying a new method can sometimes offer a new viewpoint you hadn’t considered.
You’re more decisive than impulsive
Introverts tend to think things over carefully, while extroverts may show more of an inclination to take chances without spending too much time pondering possible outcomes.
As an ambivert, you might be willing to take chances after giving them some brief thought. Once you make up your mind to do something, you generally don’t devote too much time to reconsidering.
You do spend some time considering choices before you make them but generally make a decision fairly quickly. And while you might get some background information about what you want to do, like moving to a new area, you don’t feel the need to do exhaustive research to support your decision.
Drawing others out is a natural talent
Ambiverts often have a knack for keeping group dynamics running smoothly.
In a group of people, you’re comfortable speaking when needed, but you’re also ready to give others a chance to say their piece. If a conversation falters, you might add a quick comment or ask a thoughtful question that gets people talking again.
This can also help you balance out friend groups or other social situations. You likely find it easier to understand how both introverts and extroverts might feel in the same setting. As a result, you might have a good instinct for the best ways to engage someone of any personality type.
You adapt easily to new situations
Even if you don’t always need to have people around, you might feel fairly comfortable engaging with others on short notice.
Maybe you don’t feel too bothered by putting down your book to talk with the person next to you on a plane, switching from a night out to a night in (or vice versa), or giving an impromptu speech at a meeting.
This may not have been your first choice, but you’re generally able to work with what’s happening around you.
Your personality can help you make important life choices: the kind of work you do, the environment you want to live in, even the type of person you want to date.
Like other aspects of personality, your position on the introversion-extroversion scale is an innate part of who you are. Your unique combination of genes contributes to your personality, and your genes aren’t something you can change.
Research suggests there are some key differences between brains of introverted and extroverted people, including differences in:
Extroverted people may also have higher levels of dopamine in their brains. Experiencing more of a dopamine release when trying new things, making new friends, or simply engaging with surroundings can link these activities to increased positive feelings, strengthening these extroverted traits.
It takes all kinds
Some people see extroverts as more successful and consider this an ideal personality. Others may think of ambiversion as “the best of both worlds.”
If you’ve ever wished you could change your personality style, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- No personality style is right, wrong, or better than any other style.
- Introversion and extroversion simply indicate preferences for getting and expending energy, but there’s room for variance.
- People generally aren’t exclusively an introvert or an extrovert. Understanding your nature can help you learn more about how you see and deal with the world.
“If you feel compelled to change your introverted/extroverted/ambiverted nature,” MacCutcheon says, “ask yourself why you want to change.”
Do you feel like there’s something lacking in your life? Or something you wish you were better at?
Instead of trying to change your personality, try to put that energy toward learning and developing new skills that will help you meet those goals.
You may not be able to change your nature, but you can play to your strengths and work at developing new skills.
Your personality is uniquely yours — whether you tend toward extroversion, introversion, or ambiversion. There’s nothing wrong with any one of these styles. They’re just ways to describe how you get your energy and relate to the world.
It can help to know where you fall on the spectrum, since knowing more about your personality style can teach you more about your decision-making process, your emotional needs, and your ideal self-care toolkit. But don’t let this knowledge hold you back.
“In reality,” MacCutcheon concludes, “we all utilize both sides of the spectrum in various circumstances. In order to be most successful in the world, it’s important to develop skills to exercise both ends.”