Introvert, extrovert or other? Welcome to the age of the ambivert

Photograph: Betsie Van der Meer/Getty Images

We are not just tick boxes on a personality test. In these tediously unprecedented times we need a more nuanced understanding of ourselves and others

In the spirit of getting your kicks where you can, I was tickled by former deputy chief medical officer for England Dr Jenny Harries’ recent Omicron-related advice to “be careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to”. What would necessary socialising look like? Can I cancel the stressful bits of Christmas and replace them with some quietly necessary drinking with a dear friend, or possibly just a cat? Could I pretend that I have responsibly chosen not to attend parties, when I haven’t actually been invited to any? I’m ready for these upsides.

Harries’ advice actually feels like something of an ambivert’s charter. Ambiversion – combining introvert and extrovert traits – is very “now”. There is a theory that Covid and its attendant stresses and circumstance changes recalibrated our preconceptions about how we relate to others. Extroverts have been forced to explore a quieter life that some found they appreciated to an unexpected degree, and introverts are flourishing in a less hectically connected world, or alternatively, realising how much they need and miss human connection. We are becoming, or realising we already were, ambiverts with contradictory and complex needs in our relationships with others, not just tick boxes on a personality test.

That is probably a good thing. In the corporate arena, research in 2013 described an “ambivert advantage”: ambiverts in sales outperform other groups, because they relate better to a range of people. Dr Karl Moore, author of the upcoming We Are All Ambiverts Now, argues that responding successfully to Covid challenges requires business leaders to listen, observe and reflect (introvert traits) but also to enthuse, energise and inspire (extrovert). In our personal lives, having a more nuanced understanding of ourselves and others as social animals feels like a forgiving way to approach these tediously still-unprecedented times.

With eye-rolling inevitability, the PM rejected Harries’ recommendations, urging us to press ahead with all possible mulled Dickensian jollity, but I will be taking the ambivert’s approach. “All I want for Christmas is a measured amount of necessary socialising” might not seem very celebratory, but I quite like the sound of it.

  • Emma Beddington is a freelance writer

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