Extrovert, Introvert, Ambivert – Which is more successful at Work?

I came across this article today which is incorrect in its main assertion. I wanted to point this out given that it seems more and more people without expertise and regulation in psychological practice believe they are qualified to offer their anecdotal opinions with authority.  At the bottom of the article you find a comment where somebody agrees with the writer on the basis of her subjective experience.  This is not science. Psychology is a science and I want you to know just a small part of the science behind personality type.

Firstly, in general terms, talking about aspects of personality which are as broad as extroversion and introversion is not useful when referring to people at work. We want to be able to make predictions about performance. To do so accurately, it is better to assess at a narrower or more specific level than extroversion. Extroversion is comprised of a number of facets (aspects). It is better to assess those facets and predict success from those rather than to be overly general and talk only about the type.

In addition, success is not attributable to one personality type or trait. An individual is a complex interaction of multiple aspects of personality. Job success can be predicted by looking at the entire “recipe” of traits and interactions between them.  Even then, psychologists always say that a psychometric test should not be used on its own to predict job success – other assessments and previous experience are also important factors to consider.

The article in question makes a prediction about being successful.  It does this partly on the basis of a single study and partly through reflection. Erroneously, the writer makes the assumption that if you have both aspects of extroversion and introversion (he calls this ambiversion), you are supposed to be happy and flexible in a wide range of situations and hence this is attributed to job success.

Now, rather than categorizing people as being on one of three discrete points (i.e., introvert, extravert and ambivert), let’s place this in the realm of modern psychometric theory and practice, and place people on a continuum from extroversion to introversion. Let’s say the continuum runs from 1 to 10 and that the majority of people score in the middle.

The reality is that indeed, whilst those scoring in the middle will be more flexible in their preferences and able to move reasonably comfortably from one situation to the next, it does not stop there. Those who score in the middle have a preference for that middle area. They will work best in roles that enable them to move slightly along the continuum. However, if the role requires them to move further up or down the continuum, the middle band scorer will feel increasingly less comfortable.  That is, if my preference is (in the terms of the original article) to be in the middle of extroversion and introversion, I will not do very well if you need me to work in a role or task that sees me spending long hours working alone. Likewise, the opposite is likely to be true. If you need a middle band scorer to spend a lot of time in a team, perhaps being in the limelight and getting little time to themselves, they will be less likely to be successful.

The problem with the type approach is that it categorizes people and, in doing so, it over-generalizes its predictions. Being an ambivert does not make you more successful across all jobs! Being an ambivert may lead to greater success in roles that require individuals to be flexible in moving along the continuum. For example, jobs that require an equal amount of time working alone as they do working in a team. However, being an ambivert is less likely to be associated with success in a role that requires individual concentration, or full-on pushing a team to success with no time for self!

Bottom line? Are introverts, extroverts or ambiverts more successful?

1. Being an introvert, extravert or ambivert does not make you more or less successful per se.

2. There needs to be a match between the personality of the individual and the requirements of the job.

3. Although people talk most often about introverts and extraverts, personality is far more complex than that. Some personality tests assess 34 or 36 personality traits and by looking at how the candidate’s scores on these traits interact we can start to make meaningful predictions about likely job success – but, only if we also understand the requirements of the job.

4. It is tempting to categorize because it makes things simple. However, we humans are not simple, we are complex. To be fair in predicting job success (and therefore in our hiring processes), we should use better personality assessments that assess many aspects of personality. Ask yourself if you would be happy to be rejected for a job simply because you are an extrovert or introvert? Seems far too broad and sweeping doesn’t it?

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Author: Dr. G. Tyler, Registered Psychologist | Chartered Psychologist
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