Widely portrayed as two opposing poles, introversion and extraversion come with various stereotypes. Introverts are said to be shy and reclusive, while extroverts are more confident and sociable. According to Psychology Today, Western cultures and professional spheres tend to favour extroverted personalities, which can lead to a sense of anxiety and low self-esteem among those quieter people who don’t seem to “fit in”. In an effort to sing the praises of introversion, Susan Cain released a fascinating book back in 2012: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She criticised how extraversion is correlated with success and happiness, while introverts are often pathologised and prescribed “self-help” books on “making friends”…
While I agree with Cain that quieter people should be listened to more, I do not believe that her adherence to introvert/extrovert dichotomies is the best way to solve the problem. Reducing ourselves (and each other) to categories in a fatalist manner simply does not reflect the diversity of personalities that make up society. According to the Myers-Briggs-Type Indicator, a psychological questionnaire, most people are neither introverts nor extroverts, but rather ambiverts. Cain, and many others, fail to explore this middle-way. Here is an idea of what the ever-so-common ambiversion is like:
As an ambivert myself, I can certainly relate to this. One the one hand, I love being around friends, going out and socialising. Yet I could also spend a day on my own writing and reflecting, and I tend to be more reserved around people I don’t know. Ambiversion recognises this – that introversion and extroversion are not binaries but lie on an endless continuum that is subject to the individual.
So what are the benefits of ambiversion? Forbes cites “social flexibility”; ambiverts can adapt themselves according the the situations they are in and the people around them, which often requires a certain level of “self-awareness” and “emotional intelligence”. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should pretend to be someone we are not. It’s all about learning to step in and get involved when you feel it is right, and learning to step back and let others take over when a situation is better suited to them.
Wherever you lie on the ambiversion spectrum, I believe that something we should all learn to do better is to listen to each other. Louder people should take more notice of their quieter peers, who may speak less but often have insightful comments to make. Conversely, quieter people should not dismiss louder people for their outspokenness, but rather judge them on what they have to say. Note that I have not used the absolute terms “loud” and “quiet” – just like ambiversion, they lie on a spectrum and are situation-dependent. Let’s get back to the point, however. Social interaction should be about overcoming preconceptions and consciously listening to and learning from each other – in other words, tolerance and open-mindedness.
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