For the longest time through my engineering career I labeled myself an ‘introvert’. You know, the typical engineer stereotype: reserved, shy, maybe a bit nerdy. OK, maybe seriously nerdy. In any case, I just considered myself the stereotypical engineer introvert.
This was despite the fact that I was leading people, talking in front of groups of peers, and working in project teams. In each of these situations, I was actively communicating with other people and doing so with a specific intent: to move them. Move them to do something. Change a behavior, react to tasks they were assigned, maybe help me accomplish a co-goal.
In reality, I wasn’t just an introvert. I was bit more than that. But I wasn’t an extrovert either. So what was going on?
Enter the Ambivert
It wasn’t until more recently that I came across the work of Adam Grant, psychologist, researcher and professor at the Wharton School. Grant helped me to discover a new label: ambivert. There’s a lot of power in a label.
The ambivert is part introvert, part extrovert; what Daniel Pink defines in To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others as “people neither overly extroverted or introverted.” So what does that really mean and what does it have to do with moving people?
First, an ambivert is able to strike a balance between being overly gregarious and talkative (extrovert) and being reticent (introvert). They know when to engage and when to shut up. In studies performed at a sales call center by Grant, he found that the people who identified themselves as outright extroverts and introverts under-performed those who fell in between the two extremes.
Wondering if you fit this category of person? Try Pink’s assessment based on the detailed study profile that Grant used in his research.
“Ambiverts know when to speak up and when to shut up. Their wider repertoires allow them to achieve harmony with a broader range of people and a more varied set of circumstances. Ambiverts are best movers because they’re the most skilled attuners.” – Daniel Pink, To Sell is Human
Get A Move On
Second, an ambivert is better able to move others. What does this mean exactly? It means that they are best equipped with the skills most needed to convey an issue in a way that makes other people do something. This is also known as “influence”.
The skills that come into play here include empathy, listening, and what Pink terms “attunement”: bringing oneself into harmony with individuals, groups, and contexts. I think the best way to understand what Pink means by the term “harmony” can be found in this article I wrote about the 7 Attributes Required to Become An Emotionally Intelligent Engineer Leader:
- Able to communicate by more than just words.
- Trusting and trustworthy.
Seldom does movement come about willingly through badgering or putting boot to posterior. It comes through a much more complex, human interaction that falls directly in the wheelhouse of the ambivert.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t have a successful engineering career as an extrovert or an introvert. You can. You simply need to be aware of how you show up in conversations and what the unintended outcomes will be from the way you do showup.
How does one develop the skills of the ambivert if they fall to one side or the other? The first step is awareness that you are truly an extrovert or introvert. The next step is to dig into the material on this website! Some additional resources to tap into include:
Adam Grant | 5 Myths About Introverts and Extraverts at Work
TedTalk with Susan Cain | The Power of Introverts
“A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall. So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey which catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the highroad to his reason.” – Abraham Lincoln
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
The Engineering Career Coach