5 Psychological Reasons You're Not an Introvert or an Extravert

Are you an introvert? Or an extravert? Are you exhausted interacting with others? Or energised? Do you prefer a quiet night in reading? Or a big night out partying? Do you do your best thinking alone, or in a group? Or maybe you're an 'ambivert' - someone who can and does do all of the above? 

I have been reading about, studying and assessing personality for over 20 years. It's a topic that continues to captivate me.  I have debriefed hundreds of personality profiles with individuals.  I love hearing, 'Oh wow, that's so interesting' when a client and I pore over the results of their personality questionnaire with a view to uncovering more about themselves and why they operate and interact with the world in the way that they do.  

I am thrilled that a major personality dimension such as introversion and extraversion now gets mainstream media coverage and the benefits of understanding your own personal style is discussed in the context of work and beyond.  After all, this is stuff that I have been doing for many, many years and it's kind of nice to see it grow and flourish.

However, there are a few misconceptions about 'introverts' and 'extraverts' that I wish were better understood (and don't get me started on 'ambiverts').

  1. Like most human characteristics, personality traits exist on a continuum.  When we're talking about introversion and extraversion, you might score towards one end or the other (more introverted or more extraverted) but the vast majority of us will sit somewhere in the middle.  So you're probably not an 'introvert' or an 'extravert' - you're somewhere in between.
  2. Introverted people do not all think, feel and act alike.  Aside from the fact that some people might score further along the 'introverted' end of the scale than others, the introversion-extraversion scale can be further broken down (according to some models of personality) into subscales.  So you can be an enthusiastic, sociable 'introvert' or an 'extravert' who loves people but who's very shy in a work setting. It's more complex than just 'introverts' in one box and 'extraverts' in the other.
  3. Just because you are 'more introverted' than others does not mean that you are more sensitive, more interested in ideas or more creative.  Just because you are 'more extraverted' than others it does not mean that you are more social, confident or have more energy.  Introversion-extraversion is just one dimension of personality and it tends to describe how much gratification or reward you feel from engaging in certain type of social activities.  Characteristics like interest in learning and ideas sits on another personality dimension altogether.  It's got nothing to do with introversion and extraversion.  The same goes for confidence and sensitivity and creativity and energy.
  4. How you score on a personality questionnaire depends on the group you're compared against.  You might score as quite extraverted when compared with a group of accountants but introverted when compared with salespeople.  This is why those of us who work in the field are really particular about the questionnaires we use to assess personality and we stress the importance of the results being interpreted by people with expertise.  If you don't know who you're being compared with when your questionnaire spits out a result, you don't have very helpful or meaningful information.
  5. Your personality profile can change over time.  It can also change depending on which questionnaire you complete -  but it won't change much.  You might (like me) discover that while you consistently scored towards the more introverted end of the scale when you were younger, your score is now creeping a little closer to the middle of the scale as you get older and your confidence grows or your preferences change.  This occurs for two reasons.  First, your personality does continue to evolve as we age although not nearly as much as it does in our earlier years.  What you see at 30 is pretty much what you've got for the rest of your life, give or take. Second, your score on a personality questionnaire will be influenced a little by what's going on in your life at the time.  It's only a little though.  If you're quite introverted you won't get a high extraversion score (from a reputable questionnaire at least) no matter what's going on for you right now.  

Have you taken personality questionnaires in the past?  Have you found the results to be accurate? Have you completed one and had a debrief with a psychologist or trained professional?

If you're interested in completing a free but reputable and reliable personality questionnaire try this one.  If you'd like a free debrief of your results with me click here, send me your contact details and we can set up a time to chat.  

If you have any other questions about personality, drop them in the comments.  I can talk about this stuff all day :-)

P.S. There's no such thing as an 'ambivert'