You may already have a sense of whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert (or somewhere in the middle) or perhaps you’ve never thought about it before. Determining which one you are can help you better understand yourself, and can help you relate better to others, especially if they are the opposite type.
“Introversion and extroversion are all about energy and how we recharge and refuel,” says Michael Alcee, a clinical psychologist and two-time TEDx speaker who specializes in the psychology of introverts and ambiverts.
“I liken extroverts to gas-powered cars. They can easily find a gas station just down the street because of the many social options there are in our highly extroverted culture to reconnect,” he says. “Introverts are like the electric-powered cars of our world, often needing to go back home to get recharged, especially since there are so few charging stations out there on the road. Ambiverts – those in between – are like hybrid cars – the Priuses of the personality set, having the best of both worlds.”
Each of those three personality types has different needs, Alcee explains.
“Ambiverts need both their gas (extrovert) and electric (introvert) sides adequately filled up in order to truly feel energized and fulfilled. Extroverts need to have adequate levels of social time and engagement with the stimulating outside world. Introverts, on the other hand, need adequate time to steep in the world of their ideas and imagination, and have time to regroup from how much the external world can bombard them.”
How to tell which one you are
Introversion or extroversion is part of our temperament, Alcee explains, our fundamental operating system. Like being left-handed or right-handed or ambidextrous, it’s “the mode that is the most comfortable and well-developed” for us.
To figure out which one you are, there are a number of online tests you can take –– but you can also simply do a little self-reflection to figure it out. Notice how charged up or drained you get in large social situations, Alcee says, compared with more solitary or small group situations.
Each personality type has its own strengths and unique attributes. Introverts, for example, are “perceptive, insightful, deliberate, sensitive, modest, and empathic folks,” Alcee says. “They think and process deeply (‘still waters run deep’) and as a result, have a lot to contribute in relationships, in work groups and in [a] school setting. They just might take a bit longer to share it or do so in another form, like their writing, or do so in a quiet, more understated way.”
Extroverts, on the other hand, are “outgoing, energizing and adventurous folks who love to get into the mix of things with people, often have the ‘gift of gab’ and thrive in situations where there’s lots of stimulation,” he says. “They are the trailblazers in another kind of way and have an uncanny knack for bringing people together.”
Understanding each other’s differences
Introverts and extroverts need to recognize each other’s differences as complementary and see them as creative ways of relating to the world, Alcee says.
“Each style has its own benefit and drawback, and each can truly learn from the other.”
Stereotypes often accompany these personality types, and they are, unfortunately, typically negative. By learning about each type, we can open our minds to their benefits.
“Extroverts need to learn that introverts need time to recharge inside because they are, in fact, so sensitive and tuned in to what is happening around them, not because they are antisocial or disinterested,” says Alcee. “They also need to recognize that introverts feel perfectly satisfied and happy when they are alone because this doesn’t make them feel lonely.”
Most importantly, he adds, it’s important for extroverts to know that “introverts are not misanthropes, loners or socially anxious – they just need to have the proper energy and venue to bring out the best in them.”
For introverts, Alcee says it’s important they recognize that the reason extroverts typically find it difficult to be on their own is not because they are insecure, but because they feel it is under-stimulating and disconnects them from their fuel source.
“They need to recognize that extroverts have a gift for taking social risks and that [introverts] can learn from their confidence in this domain. Finally, they can also help to teach extroverts how to learn how to appreciate and trust their inner worlds and learn how to develop a stronger connection to it.”
Ambiverts, on the other hand, get the best of both worlds, but are also often misunderstood by both worlds.
“Introverts and extroverts need to recognize that ambiverts need to have both of these areas fulfilled in proper measure in order to really feel like they are charged up and thriving,” says Alcee. “They can often be misunderstood by their extrovert peers, who don’t understand why they need time for recharging on their own when they can also be so gregarious. The introverts in their lives don’t understand how they [can] be so … self-assured in social situations when they claim to need time to charge from the inside-out.”
By understanding these three personality types better, we can learn how to maximize the potential of each type in group settings. We can tailor meetings, events, group projects and even parties to different types of people by understanding what they need, how they operate and what helps them thrive. And ultimately, we can relate to each other better and create richer interpersonal experiences.