Personality labels can make it seem easier to understand ourselves and others. But sometimes what we think is a useful label isn’t much more than an accessory to who we are.

Take the good ol’ extrovert-vs.-introvert debate, for example.

Extrovert and introvert stereotypes

Extrovert: an outgoing, loud person who thrives in social interactions

Introvert: a quieter, more introspective person who needs more alone time

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While these labels seem helpful, they’re also very simplistic and may not account for the variety of ways we get our needs met.

So think of personality traits less as definitive labels and more as part of a spectrum. You exist on a spectrum of introversion vs. extroversion where, depending on the situation, you can land anywhere between the two ends.

Or think of it like this: The way you prefer to get energized and the way your energy gets depleted could define how much of an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert you are.

Let’s dive into the spectrum, common traits of the personality types, and how they might apply to you.

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Illustration by Mekhi Baldwin

Research, including a small 2011 study, suggests that people who lean more toward the extroversion side of the spectrum have a specific way of processing information through social stimuli.

For example, an extroverted person may find facial expressions more significant than words.

The theory is that a more extroverted brain gives preference to social stimuli. But this doesn’t mean all extrovert energy is the same.

Here are five other ways extroversion might appear for you:

1. You’re energized by interacting with others, especially new people

First dates, going to bars, meeting friends of friends, and just generally being able to feel someone else’s physical energy really excites you. While you don’t always feel like you have to be the leader, experiencing interactions where you give and receive attention is key to your rejuvenation.

You might also:

  • make new friends easily
  • find yourself labeled as naively optimistic
  • have a large circle of friends that may or may not overlap
  • enjoy starting a conversation with a stranger
  • get anxious when you’re forced to be alone too often

2. Your communication style is more animated and physical

While most people might conflate extroversion with high volume, research suggests that extroversion has a larger impact on how someone might use physical gestures.

If you lean more toward extroversion, you might find yourself gesturing or initiating physical contact more when you feel like your message hasn’t been received or understood.

You may also exhibit behaviors like:

  • thinking out loud
  • needing someone to verbally bounce ideas off of
  • being easily expressive

3. You’re more likely to make quick decisions in the moment

One study found that higher extroversion was associated with lower rational decision-making style.

This doesn’t mean extroverts make uninformed decisions. It just means they tend to lean more toward intuition — which suggests they’re more likely to make quicker decisions than those who lean toward agreeableness or conscientiousness.

Translation: You’re quicker to trust yourself.

4. You get more out of new experiences than repeated ones

While some people enjoy a certain amount of repetition, those who skew toward extroversion prefer to seek out new experiences.

For example, consider your workplace. An environment that motivates you, allows you to be emotional and develop interpersonal relationships, and measures success based on performance will result in a more positive work experience.

5. You’re more likely to take the positive or optimistic approach

People who identify as extroverts have an easier time finding the silver lining on a cloudy day. This doesn’t mean they engage in toxic positivity or are constantly smiling, but research suggests that self-identified extroverts tend to use more positive language.

One small study also suggested a link between extroverted behavior and increased happiness, even among participants who were introverts.

But as with anything else, take it with a grain of salt. Faking extroversion could actually backfire if you’re not acting authentically to your personality or needs.

Shy, awkward, less energetic, not as open to new experiences, etc. These stereotypes don’t do introverts justice and are often based on the idea of the “extrovert ideal” — a concept introduced by Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

It’s “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight,” she writes.

This ideal has heavily influenced the way people believe introverts should act. But again, introversion is about where your energy comes from and less about how you put it out.

Here are five ways introversion might appear:

1. You take your time when making decisions

This isn’t to say that introverts aren’t action-oriented. In fact, a good leader with introverted tendencies will have learned to verbalize the need for more time before making any plans or taking next steps.

Another word for this type of person is “processor” — introverts are more likely to be processors because they want to reflect privately without interruption.

2. You feel more comfortable with less stimuli

If you feel like your emotions and internal thought processes take up most of your energy, you’re probably on the introverted side of the spectrum.

The research on this is older but still worth noting: A small study back in 1999 suggested that introverts tend to process information internally, which may lead people to think they’re shy. But in reality, they may have just used up a lot of energy to take in their surroundings.

This could lead to traits like:

  • being a good listener
  • wanting to be alone more frequently
  • enjoying quieter or more focused activities
  • preferring small social groups or short hangs

3. You recharge better when you’re alone

People who misunderstand the need to recharge alone may describe it as an aversion to socializing, but this isn’t true. Alone time is another way of decreasing stimuli.

For example, people who feel more exhausted after spending time with others, especially those they don’t know, are more likely to need alone time. If you feel more relaxed and recharged after retreating from the world for a bit, then you might be an introvert.

You may also find yourself:

  • avoiding back-to-back social activities
  • preferring smaller but close-knit groups of friends
  • enjoying activities like journaling, listening to music, or watching TV alone
  • drawn to jobs where you can work independently or have fewer meetings

4. You like to observe or listen to others

This might seem contradictory, especially when the idea of being around people sounds exhausting, but hear us out: If you’re an introvert, you might make a good boss.

A small 2010 study by Harvard Business Review found that introverted leaders in the workplace tended to be more engaged listeners and more open to suggestions. These traits made employees feel valued and allowed the introverts to be strong leaders.

In addition to being known as a good listener, you might also be called:

  • perceptive
  • analytical
  • empathetic
  • agreeable
  • cooperative

5. You prefer to be out of the spotlight

The spotlight here mostly refers to being the center of interactive situations, like presentations with an open Q&A, and not performances, although the aftermath of a performance may be draining.

It’s not that you don’t enjoy attention or validation. You do! But you might find it more meaningful to receive praise individually, rather than in a group setting where you’re required to respond.

If you don’t necessarily feel like you lean toward one side of the spectrum but rather have a combo of extroverted and introverted traits, you could be an ambivert. Ambiverts tend to vary in the ways they recharge and exert their energy.

Someone with ambivert qualities is also more likely to flip back and forth between extroversion and introversion, depending on who they’re with, what the situation is, and how they feel.

Here are four expressions of ambiversion:

1. You enjoy social settings and alone time equally

If introverts feel energized after being alone and extroverts feel more energized in social settings, then an ambivert’s energy levels can go up or down based on the situation.

For example, someone who’s more of an ambivert may get energy from hanging out with people in a low-key setting, like watching TV together. Or an ambivert may need equal opportunities for socializing and alone time to feel their best.

2. There are times you feel in charge and times you feel secondary

Do you sometimes feel like the smartest person in the room and love the attention you’re getting? And are there times you feel less confident and enjoy taking a back seat? That ability to flip-flop comfortably is an ambivert trait.

You may also find that you enjoy both internal and external processing, like journaling to get your thoughts in order before taking action, or talking through a situation with close friends and then writing down your feelings afterward.

3. You’re good at adapting to different situations

Flexibility and collaboration, especially when encountering social friction, is an ambivert trait. You might find yourself changing strategies depending on the situation or looking for alternative routes and solutions before taking action.

You might also be less impulsive than an extrovert but more quick to act than an introvert. Surprise interactions may be less stressful but also not as exciting.

4. You’ve been called a social butterfly

While extroverts tend to be known as the “life of the party” and introverts are seen as the “wallflowers,” ambiverts can be considered “moderators.” In social settings, they keep the conversation going in such a way that everyone feels comfortable giving equal input.

As an ambivert, you might also feel like you have a good grasp of how extroverts and introverts feel, because you’ve also been in their shoes.

Despite all the stigmas, no one trait is better than another. Rather, knowing where you fall on the spectrum is about understanding yourself so you can make choices that feel comfortable.

Knowing your personality traits can help you:

  • better communicate your needs
  • recognize when you need to recharge
  • understand why your instincts take a negative or positive read on situations
  • assess how you use language
  • find out what makes you feel happy or content
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Knowing your traits won’t just help you better explain yourself to others. It can also serve as a compass, guiding your preferences for communication, social interaction, and energy use.

Energydirects it outwarddirects it inwardboth
Recharge methodsocial situationsalone timeboth, depending on the context
Social behaviormore animated, using a lot of gesturesmore of a listenerboth, depending on the context
Info processinglikes to think out loud or bounce ideas off someonelikes to think alone or in a quiet settingboth, depending on the context
Experiencesenjoys new, varied experiences more than repetitionfinds comfort in predictable, familiar experiences rather than spontaneityenjoys both, depending on the context

If you’re thinking that one of these personality types seems better than the others, it might be worth analyzing what traits you admire and what social context you’re considering.

For example, if you admire someone’s networking capabilities, ask yourself what the goal of your networking is.

If your goal is to have more professional or personal-interest connections, you could try platforms like LinkedIn, which are specifically designed to make networking more accessible. If you want to get better at making and sustaining small talk, consider planning alone time to recharge right after those interactions end.

How the pandemic can affect introverts and extroverts

You might have seen the meme “check on your extrovert friends” floating around at the beginning of 2020. It’s an accurate reflection of the way the pandemic has minimized the channels through which extroverts tend to get energy.

But the reality is that everyone is having a hard time. While introverts need alone time, too much alone time can be very isolating and dangerous. tl;dr: Check on all your friends!

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Recognizing the methods of communicating, socializing, and recharging that you need to thrive is the first step in taking care of yourself and telling others what you need.

Another way to think of it: All plants are beautiful and require water, food, and sun. Some may need less or more water, fertilizer, or light than others, but they still need a degree of it.

In the same way, no matter how extroverted you are, you still need alone time. No matter how introverted you are, it’s good to dip your toes into stimulating situations every now and then.

In fact, developing skills outside your personality type can help you in many ways, such as achieving life goals and reducing anxiety when you’re out of your comfort zone.

Embrace who you are, but don’t close yourself off from trying on a couple of new traits now and again.