This is my favorite chart from To Sell is Human, one that I explain in greater detail in a new Washington Post column.

GrantExtraversion

Here’s what it means and why it matters.

This summer Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study that explodes the myth of the extraverted sales star. He examined a software company with a large sales staff, assessed where each salesperson stood on a 1 to 7 introversion/extraversion scale, and then charted how much they sold over the next three months.

His findings: The strong introverts (the people represented on the left of the chart’s horizontal axis, around 1 and 2) weren’t very effective salespeople. No surprise there. But the strong extraverts (those over to the right, around 6 and 7) weren’t much better. As you can see from the chart, the folks who fared the best — by a wide margin — were the in the modulated middle. They’re called “ambiverts,” a term that has been in the literature since the 1920s. They’re not overly extraverted. They’re not overly introverted. They’re a little of both.

In sales, leadership, and perhaps other endeavors, ambiverts have an advantage. And as I spell out in the Post, the odds are pretty good that you’re an ambivert yourself. Intrigued? Test your own ambiversion here and read more about how to develop this quality in Chapter 4 of the book.

20 Responses to “Why it pays to be an ambivert. (And why you probably are one.)”

  1. Nate says:

    That Myers-Briggs test still gives me nightmares!

    It would be interesting to see how professionally trained actors would perform in this study. The empathic ability to mimic and be “in tune” with others might be more powerful than any type of intro-extrovert scale.

    • Hillary says:

      Nate, that is very perceptive. I am an introvert who has succeeded in several jobs more suited to extroverts, and I have often thought of myself as “acting” my way through them.

      • Nate says:

        I find that some of the BEST actors I have worked with are introverts. They are good at studying emotions because they LISTEN so well.

  2. Martha says:

    Yeah for ambiverts! (And drat – thought I’d come up with this term for someone who wears sunglasses and carries an umbrella.) It’s high time for people to get over the idea that extroversion is good, introversion is bad or vice versa.

  3. John Voris says:

    Nate,

    You are right. Carl Jung who made extraversion and introversion popular, argued constantly with Isabel Briggs on many levels including her inaccurate interpretation of these very terms. After all, they were housewives and not trained professionals exploring a very new field.

    You are right again: through all of my 20 years of cold-call selling and training, it was well known that the “Myers-Briggs” extravert trainee was the first to fail. They had difficulty in empathizing with the prospect and inflated expectations. Most actors and actresses are introverted as you correctly intimated. They need to absorb the personality of another person.

    Briefly, the introvert actually bases reality on internal criteria, while the extravert bases reality on external criteria. We do both but prefer one over the other. For this reason, there are quiet extraverts and boisterous introverts.

    One last point. I quote Wharton studies in my lectures as well. They rightly concluded that there are no common characteristics or abilities that separate sales people from the rest of the population. For me, the chart above is saying that sometimes we behave as an extravert and sometimes we don’t and not much more.

    • GP says:

      Wow, are you kidding? “… after all they were housewives and not trained professionals …” Hard to give much credibility to the rest of that comment after read that line.

      • John Voris says:

        GP

        Sorry if you were offended but I was using the terms used by those who commented on this issue in the early 20th century. At that time, the field of psychology was very new and people trained in psychology were still finding their bearings much less those who are not educated in the field at all.

        My issue now ,as it was at the time of the writing, is by being exclusively a “house wife” as a career, they were not qualified as a professor of psychology. I am not responsible for any added political commentary nor do I spend time researching political correctness. However, I have asked women about this term since your comment, and no one understands your concern nor could offer a recognized replacement.

  4. Wanda Tinasky says:

    Is there a corresponding study that controls for the salespersons’ target audience? My suspicion is that the real independent variable is the _correlation_ between the salesperson’s and the audience’s extraversion levels. This would explain the above data since Software Developers skew lower on the extroversion scale.

    • John Voris says:

      This is a good point. Most often there is a disconnect between the role played by the seminar leader and the innate identity of the audience member. This is why seminar attendees complain of their inability to follow through and adapt the actions and attitudes of the speaker.

      • Leo says:

        John whats your best recommendation test for introverts and extroverts? Myers-Briggs or DISC… Are there more references?

  5. Jezra Kaye says:

    Dan, thanks for your chart, and the very affirming perception that good salespeople (who, ideally, are good listeners AND good communicators) combine introvert and extravert qualities.

    Sadly, introverts, or ambiverts who learn in that direction, are still underestimated by almost everyone in our culture — hence the popularity of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet.”

    Maybe your work will help to dispel the idea that a successful person must have the mouth of a Donald Trump.

  6. Pam Kennett says:

    This is in line with research I did with regards to optimism and entrepreneurs. Everyone assumes entrepreneurs are optimistic – they have to be to try to succeed in an environment where there are so many failures. But there is indeed no one size fits all and no evidence to suggest that being (overly) optimistic helps nascent entrepreneurs either. Better to understand what makes individuals in a particular role successful, rather than try to label them. I suspect there are many different models of salespeople, just as there are entrepreneurs.

  7. Geronimo says:

    Introversion-extroversion is the only scale that the Myers-Briggs Indicator and the academically well-regarded Five Factor Model have in common. A nationally known executive coach and recruiter (bio in Fortune magazine) told me that if you had to use one factor to predict someone’s behavior, introversion-extroversion would be the one.

    Just occurred to me that you could think of the I-E scale as a preferred air-time ratio in conversations. Hyper-extroverts are always “on,” which suppresses sales. Hyper-introverts may not interact enough to engage and coach the client across the decision threshold. Not surprising that people in the middle do best. Scales can be thought of in ratios also: if you’re a 95th %-ile extravert, it means you’ll only meet one person in 20 who’s as expression-biased as you, and you’ll need to adapt to relate will to the other 19. Ditto in reverse for introverts.

    The MBTI and the 5-Factor Model didn’t create introversion / extroversion. It seems to be a naturally occurring distribution, reflecting variation in preference for stimulation and interaction. Some want a whole lot, others prefer to control it and avoid exposure to unwanted stimulation. Too bad so many people have resentment, usually based on some authority figure’s insensitive use of the tool.

  8. John Voris says:

    Jezra,

    Those who study psychology, know that there are various paradigms regarding how to approach the study of the psyche. We in the U.S. are shrouded by what is termed the “Western” or scientific view of psychology. To qualify as scientific research there must produce measurable evidence as well as results.

    While this approach is essential to the physical sciences, looking for physical and measurable results in what motivates human behavior has generated very poor and unreliable results. From these results “Personality Profiles” have been developed. However, you don’t approach bridge building as you would build a model of what “Love” looks like or desire or any other abstract idea. We are not driven or molded by measurable “things” but what they mean to us.

    To answer your question, the tests you mentioned depend on the test subjects assessing themselves to answer questions that generate an ideal numerical average in order to offer that measurability. All tests are designed this way. So
    I cannot recommend one in this country.

    European therapists however, know that human motivation is driven by symbolic interpretation that is beneath personality. Personality is well known as our “fake” selves since Carl Jung wrote about the persona 100 years ago. Through using such a system of symbolic interpretation to capture the Identity of our clients, extraversion and introversion simply flows from our interactive process. These results also never change over time as do the tests you mentioned. To date I am not aware of anyone using this approach nor getting the results our clients enjoy.

  9. Denise Green says:

    While not for the faint of heart, The Highlands Ability Battery tests for Ambivert. It takes over 3 hours to complete but in my opinion is worth it. My MBTI fluctuates or is in the middle on any given day, therefore non-conclusive. I hadn’t thought about Amvibert in terms of sales before. I wrote this post on the topic last year http://brillianceinc.com/are-you-an-ambivert/
    Thanks Dan for the insightful post and conversation!

  10. Leo Tilmans says:

    I’d like to comment the Adam Grant’s chart on sales succes according to the introvert- extravert definition of Ned Herrmann.
    The HBDI definition is composed by two elements:
    1. The sources to which I refer when collecting information:they are insight myself or outside
    2. The output of my treatment of information: is brought inside or outside myself.
    When we create a grid whith these for combinations, I can imagine that the lower scores (1-2)in Adam’s model are the Inside/Inside combinations, while the upper scores (6-7) are the Outside-Outside combinations. Both are less succesfull because they are less oriented on dialogue and interaction. Middle score sales (3-5) are more equal combinations of inside source and outside output. They sell more because of the quality of the relation: they take in account the existence and the added value of the other.
    In my oppinion we should manage (in leadership for exemple) to develop the four ‘styles’ occording to the situation, the level of expertise, the need of interaction, the urgency, the specificity of the goal, …
    In my 40 year old coaching career I invite my coachees to choose the situational ‘right’ mix: IN-IN, IN-OUT, OUT-IN or OUT-OUT.
    Leo

  11. Mary L says:

    Hello,

    I’m curious where you’re getting the data that most people are ambiverts? Could you provide the source?

  12. Molly says:

    I think the most important point here is that most consumers don’t respond well to being “pressured” – which is how it feels when you meet up with an overly extroverted salesperson. Ambiverts are those who are genuinely interested in their product or service and show others that they are willing to share what they know. Most folks are pretty sensitive to a person’s genuine interest.

  13. A very interesting post.

  14. Just saying someone is an ambivert doesn’t say if they are strong or weak in either area. That is, someone could have an equal mix by being equally strong in introversion and extroversion or by being equally weak in each.

    Since the concepts of introversion, extroversion, and a spectrum between them are just made-up mental models (that is, not proved, derived from first principles, or anything like that) that I consider limiting beliefs, I found a more useful model that says that introversion is not the opposite of extroversion: http://joshuaspodek.com/introversion-opposite-extroversion (I’ll follow up that post in a few days with more explanation).

    Anyone can develop skills to behave and feel like an extroverted AND an introverted person. Both modes can be useful at different times.

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