A Shy Extrovert
One of the many misnomers of the Myers-Briggs Personality Test is that the results give you a clear-cut personality trait in 4 categories. Judgmental vs. Perceiving. Sensing vs. Intuitive. Thinking vs. Feeling. Introvert vs. Extrovert. One reason why M-B has fallen out of favor in psychology circles is that the test may not accurately capture all dimensions of personality and may overemphasize certain dimensions. Another, and one I want to focus on today, is that the pop culture assumption behind the test is that you have an Either/Or result. In truth, when you take the longer and more official tests, you usually get a result on a spectrum. 0% extrovert means you’re an absolute introvert, and 100% means you’re extrovert.
So what happens if you land close to the middle? Like 52% extrovert? Or what if you take several different tests in a row, and end up narrowly on either side of the divide? Are you just unable to make up your mind?
My coworkers and I have acknowledged for ourselves that the extrovert/introvert scale may have a second axis, that I would call shyness, social anxiety, or lack of social skills.
How is this possible? One has to remember that being extroverted means you derive energy and satisfaction from being with people, while introverted individuals perfect times of solitude to regain the strength to face the world. How your “energy” is directed through social interaction has little to do with your competence in social settings. One does not need to be the life of the party to be extroverted, as long as they are enjoying the party. Your work-life balance may be out of balance, such that your routine locks you away from the party, no matter how much you want to be there, or fear you may struggle once you get there.
So what does this second axis mean for us?
First, you have the well-known extrovert who does quiet well and thrives in social settings and an introvert who does not. Then, a shy extrovert has some degree of social anxiety. He or she may want to be involve in group activities or have lots of friends, but they are frustrated or even depressed if or when they may not have that in their life. Similarly, he may love trying new things and meeting new people, even if he is more interested in listening to them do the talking. A sociable introvert is highly-skilled in the chit-chat world of social interaction and can make friends quite easily. even if they get tired of it quickly and would much rather be back home reading a good book or clearing their DVR. You may also find a relative extrovert or relative introvert among you; this person would stand out in an office full of quiet introverts if he exhibited any interest in leadership roles or conversely was less interested in Happy Hour but was still the life of the party when he went. The relative extrovert may not be an extrovert even according to M-B, but only appears so because his energy in social settings exceeds most of the group. They may also discover their self-perception of being an introvert was wrong in light of their relative extroversion. Lastly, there is the ambivert. This person occupies the middle-ground between extrovert and introvert and may exhibit traits of both personality types, often based on the demands of the situation at hand. Managers are often taught the skill of “situational leadership” where you tailor your leadership style to get the most out of each individual; an ambivert does this as a second nature.
Life is too complex. There are 7 billion people on the planet. I refuse to believe that our personalities are an either/or dichotomy. We are far too interesting to be so limited in how we interact with one another.