Suppose your company is putting together a team for a new project – perhaps it’s a new sales team, a product development team, or a marketing team. Naturally, it needs to be a high performing team, capable of working together to get results while still welcoming innovation.
What should the personalities on that team be like? More to the point, should it be composed mostly of introverts, extroverts, or both?
While these are commonly asked questions, they get two important things wrong: They assume people are one or the other, and they put the emphasis on what people are rather than what they could be. When it comes to social traits like introversion and extroversion, the best approach is not necessarily to select the right mix of skills and personalities when forming the initial team. The right move is to train your team to achieve the right combination.
Let’s break down these claims a bit to demonstrate why this strategy is advantageous:
The right people for the job are neither extroverts or introverts, but ambiverts.
In Dan Pink’s 2013 best-seller, To Sell is Human, he suggests the best salespeople are neither pure introverts or extroverts, but rather a mix of the best features of both.
Introversion and extroversion are terms used to describe behavioral tendencies people have when around or interacting with others. While it’s easy to label someone as being one or the other, introversion and extroversion are really two extremes along a continuum of human conduct. All of us can think of people we know who exemplify those extremes, but this does not mean the extremes are common. Most people are somewhere in the middle, exhibiting introvert behavior in some contexts and extrovert behavior in other contexts. These are the ambiverts.
Being an ambivert might well be the ideal, Pink argues. While pure extroverts tend to be sociable, they also tend to be forceful, sometimes to the point of being pushy or needy. They also worry too much about whether or not people like them, and not enough about results. Introverts, on the other hand, often fail to assert themselves. Even when they’re in the right, they might not make their voices heard.
The ideal, then, is a balance: Team members who know how to assert themselves, but are neither pushy nor need to be the center of attention.
So, if most people are ambiverts, putting together a team of them should be simple…or so you would think. The truth is, few people hit the right mix of introverted and extroverted behavior. Searching for a team of ideal ambiverts is like searching for the “ideal” family or the perfect product offering. It is a search for an ideal that is very, very rare.
Getting the right combination for your team
The alternative to finding ambiverts “in the wild” is to train people to have the right balance of behaviors – to be better ambiverts.
When labels like “introvert” and “extrovert” get applied, the implication is that these are stable personality traits which do not change over time. This is a misleading picture because people can change over time with the right training and a little sustained effort.
Take, for example, someone who gravitate toward introversion. Maybe she has learned to be social and work well in small group settings. She asserts her ideas, but also listen to others. This is all good…but can you depend on that person being good at giving a presentation in front of a larger group? Would they handle group conflict well? Would they challenge the more extroverted team members when they knew they were in the right?
Maybe not; but all of these scenarios require skills that can be learned: Presentation skills, conflict resolution skills, and assertiveness. Being a true ambivert means not just being less of an introvert, but also displaying the right extroverted tendencies when they are needed most.
Likewise, imagine a team member who leans more toward extroversion. He or she is not so extroverted as to push their agenda on the team or monopolize meetings with chit chat. Maybe he or she is even fairly introspective when working alone. But can this person be trusted to really listen to the other team members without judgment or defensiveness? Will they be able to take a step back from social interactions and really assess what is going on?
Again, these are skills that can be learned: Active listening and critical observation. The ideal ambivert is not just someone who is well-adjusted enough to avoid being pushy or needy; it is someone who can step back and display those introverted tendencies when called for.
In short, while it is true that few people lie at the extremes on the introvert/extrovert scale, almost no one exhibits the ideal mix of traits across all situations. The most highly functioning ambiverts are ones who are trained to deploy the right social skills and the right communication skills in the right situations.
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