July 23, 2024

The ContactSunny Blog

Tech from one dev to another

Introvert, extrovert, ambivert. What are you?

13 min read

I googled ‘define introvert,’ I got this:

a shy, reticent person.

I googled ‘define extrovert,’ I got this:

an outgoing, socially confident person.

Googling ‘define ambivert’ gave me this:

a person who has a balance of extrovert and introvert features in their personality.

Broad definitions, I know. You probably already know in more detail what each of those three words mean. I’ll try to pen down my opinion of each of those later in this post if possible.

I’ll start this with what we think is obvious. Gradually, I’ll try to make more sense of this by looking at what a few of my friends have to say. There’s no scientific research behind all this, by me or my friends.

Each one of us is either an introvert, an extrovert, or an ambivert. Some of us know for sure what we are; but some of us are still not sure where we fit. And its actually not important to be sure, as long as you are happy with who you are. But there are people who want to change themselves to be more outgoing, or be selective and secretive, or just shut off everything outside and get some peace once in a while. Nothing wrong in that.

The thought of writing about this came to me because people usually tell me that being an introvert or ambivert is sometimes difficult. Extroverts, as you could imagine, have no complaints. I’m an ambivert, as certified by some of my friends. And I don’t find it difficult, or uneasy to be an ambivert, its actually nice to be an ambivert. More on that later.

I decided to talk to some of my friends about this again and gain more perspective. My friend Ridhi identifies herself as an introvert; and she has this to say:

Being an introvert hurts sometimes as people may shout at you and because of being an introvert you can’t shout back.
People take advantage of this.
Otherwise I feel it’s great to be an introvert.
As you can stay home on weekends and enjoy reading a book over a cup of coffee 🙂

I agree with her on the last sentence, it really does feel great to stay back home on weekends and read a book. And I agree with her on the rest of it as well. Because introverts are soft spoken and keep to themselves, people tend to take them for granted, and end up taking advantage of this.

As Criss Jami writes in his book, Venus In Arms,

In an extroverted society, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that an introvert is often unconsciously deemed guilty until proven innocent.

And Susan Cain writes:

Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe

But it turns out, introverts are usually strong. Dau Voire has said,

I’m very picky with whom I give my energy to. I prefer to reserve my time, intensity and spirit exclusively to those who reflect sincerity.

Drew Barrymore puts it more clearly:

There is a tremendous difference between alone and lonely. You could be lonely in a group of people. I like being alone. I like eating by myself. I go home at night and just watch a movie or hang out with my dog. I have to exert myself and really say, oh God, I’ve got to see my friends because I’m too content by myself.

I can relate to all of these. And I’m pretty sure if you meet me tomorrow and ask me to talk about stuff, about myself even, I wouldn’t be able to utter this much. The reason? John Green gives it precisely:

Writing is something you do alone. Its a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t make eye contact. I do, even when I’m talking to strangers. But as some people like to put it, “textbook introverts” or socially awkward people might find it easier to hold a conversation without making eye contact. Its off-putting, and I know that.

And I can’t forget this famous quote:

Quiet people have the loudest minds. — Stephen Hawking

When I meet new people, I come out as an introvert to them. That’s because I am shy, and I like to listen more than to talk. Listening to people is sometimes entertaining, and sometimes informative, especially when they are not from my profession or geographical region. There’s lot of knowledge around you if you know where and how to look for it. I find it in listening to people. I’m not sure how much I’ve learned from it, however, I do enjoy it.

But once I get a little comfortable with people, I start opening up, and pitching in thoughts and opinions into the conversation if I know anything about it. Or I end up asking questions.

When I got the idea of writing about this, I approached a few people close to me and discussed about it. After understanding what each one of them had to say, I realized that you can’t label a person as being of one type or the other. Being an introvert or an extrovert or even an abmivert doesn’t essentially mean your personality is like that. As I have now understood, its more of a behavioral trait than a personality trait. Extroverts sometimes do show signs of introverts, and its equally true the other way around as well. I guess it basically boils to having the much required “me space” every now and then. In that case, can we say that introverts and ambiverts prefer to have more “me time” than extroverts, or that they find the “me time” more rewarding than others. I guess even this would be very wrong.

Your behavior doesn’t only affect or have an impact on your personal life, but also your professional life. Another friend of mine, Bhagirath, who considers himself to be an ambivert, tells me how the behavior helps him in being a professional:

I wouldn’t say I’m an extrovert, neither an introvert. The way i see, I’m selectively extrovert or may be a more accepted term would be, an ambivert.
Being an ambivert really helps professionally as you need to know where you are supposed to be outgoing and where the vice versa. Being an ambivert has it’s perk. The primary being, you don’t feel the urge to talk and make friends with everyone nor do you feel the need to stay aloof. An ambivert actually maintains the optimum necessary professional social contact with his/her peers. This really helps in maintaining a professional image of one’s self among his/her colleagues. Ambiverts choose to be extroverts only with selective people and they could be their family, close friends or a selective few colleagues who share the same interest. Being an ambivert helps a person in better understanding and judgement of situations. Thus being an ambivert, one has less chances of finding himself in a sticky situations in a corporate atmosphere where word of mouth travels faster than the emails.

I can definitely relate to that. When you join a new startup, because there are comparatively fewer people than an MNC, you usually get introduced to everyone, thanks to the HR. But for me, I don’t usually remember the names of the people I just shook hands with, or feel to urge to get inside their bubble and try to know them better. I’m usually more interested to know what I’m going to be working on, or what new discoveries I’ll be making.

Slowly, as the days go by, I eventually get to know the people I’m working with. Also people from other departments as the tech guys usually get requirements from the other departments. This happened at my current job as well. Even though I can’t say I know everyone at the 100+ people strong startup that I work at, I’m acquaintances with most of them. When I do get invited for lunch or for coffee, I do tag along. This is not because saying no would be rude, or because the “me time” at my desk would be better; but because I do like to know and read people before I open up to them. It doesn’t matter if they judge you, even though it could have an effect on your professional growth sometimes. But more importantly, at least for me, it is the trust factor. Am I asking for too much? Maybe a topic for another discussion.

When I initially show the signs of being an introvert, I do get judged. People think I’m rude. In some cases it might be true. But most often than not, I’ll be figuring out how and where I fit in, its as simple as that to me.

Having the traits of an ambivert could sometimes make you socially awkward as well. This could be on the professional side of life or the personal. But I’ve seen this closely with one of my friends. He is confused, period. This guy, Bharath, writes:

I am an ambivert, which means I am a combination of an introvert and an extrovert. It could be quite confusing as to how I could be both. Well, being an ambivert makes me socially awkward. In a group of unknown people, I just don’t feel like talking. Why? I sometimes don’t know myself. But things do change rapidly. Once I get comfortable with the people around me, I am probably the most loudest person in the group. Come to think of it, I do sometimes feel confused about my behavioral trait.

Even though he believes himself to be an ambivert, I do see him as an extrovert sometimes. It doesn’t take him long to start animatedly talking to people he just met, just a couple of minutes and he’ll be talking about everything under the Sun non-stop. Find nothing interesting to talk? Don’t worry, he’s good with bad jokes as well. But ask him to go talk to that cute girl at the bar counter, or that dude smoking his lungs dry by the shop, the introvert in him starts piloting the ship.

So its actually very difficult to classify people based on this. The more you think about it, the more you realize that its not a personality, its behavior. Or is it? I guess you’ll find enough people to debate that out from both sides.

Then there are those personality tests. A few people who study this at a university or do a diploma course are usually more than eager to classify your personality into one of the types mentioned in their textbooks. I get it. Its scientific and all that. But the questionnaire you provide isn’t ideal for the conclusions you come to. For example, one of the questions these people ask me is, would you rather go to a party or read a book? Well, that depends. That depends on various factors. What day is it? What party is it? What book is it? What time is it? How tired am I? Its completely contextual. Give me a situation and I’ll be able to answer that better. Makes sense?

There have been a lot of studies, researches, tests on this. This has been happening for a long time, and at least once in every generation lately. The results are not consistent, rather, are not the same contextually. Some say that you are either an extrovert or an introvert, can’t be a combination. Some say the majority of the human population is ambivert with varying degree of introversion and extroversion. Some say that we are all ambiverts. (These are not conclusions from any one or two tests, just a generalization.) For example, Carl G Jung has said:

There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.

Would you disagree? Tell me why or why not in the comments.

People who think extroverts are always in a crowd, don’t give enough time for themselves, or are not worth the time and emotions, I’ve got a good text on that too. This guy, Aswin, another good friend of mine, is known to be an extrovert. Last night when Aswin, Bharath, and I were discussing about this particular post, we did tell Aswin that he’s textbook definition of an extrovert. And I guess that did prick him somewhere. Because he decided to write on it, and boy did he write on it. Below is the copy-paste of the stuff he gave me. This pretty much explains what a person labelled an extrovert feels. Does he consider himself an extrovert? Err… kind of? Well, let’s not dwell on it. Read on, its pretty interesting.

What’s in it for me?
Yup, this is mostly the thought running in my mind while making any tiny decision, be it socializing, hanging out with a specific person or a group of friends, being the noisiest one at work, being the most proactive at discussions, being outspoken about how I feel about people and situations. Yes, I do have a strong egotistic behavior and a more-often-than-otherwise branding of being an extravert. Mind you, I do agree with research that being overt, being social, being vocal and being energetic are factors of being extrovert, but I challenge the idea that this subset of behaviors is enough to ‘label’ me.
How I see it, I do notice evident differences, as I see in comparison with many other people I encounter, in the choices I make to respond to situations, rather act in situations. Less mulling over pros and cons, less introspecting how I feel and how I feel people should be, less zoning out to a ‘me time’ anywhere and everywhere. My actions, I believe, look for a WIFM (I might be borrowing a management term here) in every situation. Not a <defined> selfish version of what am I gaining; I look for how resourceful an experience is for me and the people involved, how much of a win-win can be created for all persons involved, and how to make it worthwhile.
Oh, well, I do have to be selfish when I decide what’s worthwhile. Like, this once, I drove over to a friend’s place to meet a bunch of 20 new people. I was definitely excited all the way. Getting there, I met the most interesting people, quick interactions ensued for a brief ten-or-so minutes. After a few sips and nibbles over babbles, I found myself a cozy little spot, spent time listening to my favorite music over earphones, and then snored away to glory. At that point, it was a very calculated decision to let people know that I acknowledge them, and would like them to acknowledge that I need my energy reserves replenished for a long day next!
I am not the one to endure a stretched meeting, a boring lecture or a pointlessly heated debate with utmost excitement, unless I find a way to do something about how things are taking place. And if I find a way, I will put forth my opinion, with due regard to making sure I bring a change for the better and not bring things up to disrupt a process or offend a person.
I do enjoy seeing a smile on everyone I meet, every auto-rickshaw ride with a hard-working opinionated driver who ends up sharing his beliefs and motivations in life, every security guard who always greets me as a peer acquaintance and not a boss, every shopkeeper who shares as much of his personal and social life with me as with a friend of his; every stranger in a queue, whom I find it challenging and exciting to find a ‘click’ with. You will not find me sitting and ‘lecturing’ in any classroom I teach, possibly so very animated and part-taking in the classroom that the only thing giving me away as the facilitator would be my age and size.
I am driven by rewards, and the rewards more-often-than-otherwise extend from being mine alone. And sometimes the rewards come from stereotypical introvert behavior. I need my workout time, I need my time with books and coffee, I need my getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday and everyday-ers. There have been many occasions when I have not extended my energy bubble to people unless they strike an interest in me or I share a common agenda.What kills me is that the branding of being an extrovert keeps people around me in a space of ‘knowing’ my personality, or
so they decide. I am asked, “is everything okay” when I am not up and high; People complain about the constant smile and stride I carry around, usually. People get angry at me for not having held anger against them, for having expressed how they have hurt me and how I think they could act differently next time, and reason out how I would act differently next time they act the same.
People do express expectations of herding newer crowds when my personal state is to be someone else. People do find the need for me to ‘tone down’ at the same situations when they otherwise look at me for ‘bringing things up’. People find me ‘fake’ and oblivious to human compassion and emotions — This I might be: if ‘experiencing emotions’ and ‘giving in to compassion’ means dwelling in the shadow of what hasn’t worked and staying unresourceful, then I am better off being a stone cold happy person.
A friend asked me to write something about being an extrovert, and I figured this would be a good investment of me learning how I feel about the word. It has been. Now, I did spend a few minutes writing this, making a conscious choice away from distractions, away from people, away from jumping out energetically, away from the party I could have been at right now…, so does that make me an introvert???
I think we are better off asking ‘how is this behavior useful?’, rather than ‘what is the best label I can give as a personality trait to this guy behaving this way?’
Go ahead, I dare you! (I like this line even though it might sound that there’s nothing ‘daring’ I am asking of you in what follows, or is there?) Pick out 5 instances when you have been an extrovert or an introvert, and pen down 3 ‘wins’ which prompted that behavior in that situation.
There is no talent, only skill. The person is not the behavior. <- There’s a lot in this for me…

He kind of drove the point home. As I, and many scholars have already mentioned, Its difficult to classify a person an introvert or an extrovert. You have to be a combination of both, because that’s just logical? You always choose to behave either introvertly or extrovertly based on the situation you are in. I might choose to go to that party if its Saturday night and if my friends are going and if there’s a potential to meet a few new, interesting people. However, I might choose to stay back home in my cozy bed and get some mileage on that book if its Wednesday night and I have to go to work in the morning. Am I an introvert or an extrovert now? I most probably am an ambivert.

This is not to say that being this is better than being that. Its just to say that it doesn’t matter. You are what you are and your behavior is probably usually backed by some logical reasoning which makes sense to you. Haters gonna hate.

If you are still wondering what you are, go figure!

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