“Why do extroverts have voicemail? To never miss a call.
Why do introverts have voicemail? To never answer the phone.”
Okay. First. What’s With the Spelling?
Someone has no doubt noticed that the spelling of “ExtrAvert” in the title and the spelling of “ExtrOvert” in the quote are different. Welcome to the Internet. So, let’s escort that elephant out of the room right up front, so we’re not distracted by spelling differences.
One story, possibly apocryphal, has it that Carl Jung was asked in a letter whether the word was spelled with an “a” or an “o.” The father of modern personality theory conclusively declared it was an “a.” His reasoning? Because using an “o” would just be bad Latin.
But that’s kind of a moot point, isn’t it? Dusting off Latin to discuss modern spelling isn’t always helpful. Language is a beautifully dynamic thing and changes over time and often over regions. Dictionaries declare both spellings of Extrovert... uh, Extravert... acceptable – the “a” being the more archaic use, and with the “o” generally used in the 21st century.
However, the spelling often depends on who’s applying the word. The “a” is frequently favored by those who use it in a strictly academic/psychological sense. For example, The Big Five personality trait model uses “a.” So do we with our NERIS Type Explorer®. For the rest of this article, unless it’s a quote, you’ll likely see ExtrAvert. That’s because that’s the way we roll. For those who reasonably prefer the “o” version, know that the “a” version means basically the same thing – with perhaps a few nuanced refinements.
It Is What It Is... And Isn’t What It Isn’t.
Now, on to the question of “What Extraversion Isn’t.” For those not familiar with our framework, it may help to read our overview of Extraversion before starting.
Personality models are shorthands, and they’re representative. Someone new to such models can get caught up in the authoritative way the models sometimes present such ideas. A good model that answers a lot of questions can be very exciting, perhaps, at times, causing a little excess. Anyone studying personality types must abandon absolutes. Human nature is just too quirky. It’s rare that anyone is 100% any personality trait, and we usually speak of these things in the language of tendencies and continuums.
It’s always tempting to break things down into absolute binary values. “It’s either this, or it’s that.” It’s more accurate to say, “It’s more this than it is that.” As will be discussed later, assigning absolute characteristics to anyone can create some heavy and misguided expectations.
We typically say things like, “Mary is an Extravert,” which can sound pretty absolute. But we do so to make conversation easier. Saying “x is y” is much less clumsy than saying, “Mary prefers to behave like an Extravert more times than she doesn’t, and more frequently relies on an Extraverted attitude than not.” Whew. But absolute-sounding labels do not necessarily indicate absolute behaviors.
That said, there are plenty of similarities between all Extraverted personality types to justify grouping them together as people who share a trait. Such categories can lead to better self-understanding and the understanding of others.
Another thing about personality models is that sometimes words used in them can have a popular meaning that is very similar, but not the same as, the model’s meaning. It becomes easy to assume that the model is talking about one thing when it might have broader or more narrow meaning in a model’s context. Sometimes, it helps to clarify things when that’s the case, and we’ve attempted to do so below.
Our goal here is to describe some of the nuances and short-circuit any absolutism that might tempt us along the way. To oversimplify what it means to be Extraverted doesn’t do Extraverted people justice. It doesn’t do anybody who wants to understand people better any good, either.
Just About Being Social
Everyday use of the world “extravert” involves, almost entirely, the idea of gregarious people. And it is a fact that Extraverts usually enjoy the company of other people – often to the point of craving it. This take on the trait is directly on target. Sociability is a dominant feature. But, in personality theory, other related characteristics also come into play.
Our definition of Extraversion includes a more energetic approach to the world in a more general sense, whether other people are involved or not. Extraverted personalities are generally more adventurous and more willing to try new things than Introverts. They find things outside of themselves worthy of exploration and engagement, including other people but not strictly limited to them. They gain energy and motivation by responding to their environments, and they need more external stimulation (read “things happening”) than their Introverted cousins.
The Extraverts’ adventurous spirit may be moderated by whether they are Judging or Prospecting and Turbulent or Assertive. Nonetheless, much suggests they are bolder than Introverts, all other things being equal. Just as an example, 59.44% of Extraverts responded to the statement, “A day without taking a chance is a day wasted,” affirmatively, compared to 35.33% of Introverts. While it may not say how much they act on this sentiment, it’s clear that more Extraverted personalities tend to like the idea of having a little risk in their lives. They also like to start things and often lead others on their adventures when they do.
So, by our more complete definition of “Extravert,” seeing them simply as social mavens doesn’t do them justice. They are that... and more.
Necessarily About Having a Better Social Life
This is tricky. It all comes down to what one believes is better. Is a good social life measured by the quality of relationships, or the quantity of relationships, or some mix of the two? Are the 15 social contacts Extraverts enjoy at the noisy club on Saturday night a better social life? Or are the few friends the Introvert is sharing deep thoughts with at the cafe down the street better? Would you trade all the Saturday night acquaintances in the world for a few loyal and steadfast companions who would stand with you through thick or thin? It probably depends on whom you ask. But quantity may not mean “better.”
That’s not to say Extraverted personality types never have deep relationships. In our surveys, more Extraverts typically claim to have more skills that involve emotional intelligence (EQ) than Introverts. This might suggest tighter, more genuine connections. Extraverts may have more practice dealing with the feelings and needs of others, and are, consequently, simply better at it. But if they try employing those social skills with too many people, it also seems reasonable that they could spread them too thin.
So, possessing EQ skills doesn’t necessarily mean deep relationships. One can demonstrate EQ skills with a stranger who they probably will never meet again. (In fact, that may be the most generous kind.)
In addition, their EQ claims could also be more about the way Extraverts see themselves than an impartial view of how they relate to others. If some see social relations as being important in defining themselves, they may unconsciously inflate how often they hit the right interpersonal note.
So. It’s up for interpretation depending on what each interpreter defines as “better.” That may always be subjective. If quantity is the measure, then maybe “better” goes to Extraverted personalities. But if quality is the measure, the jury is probably still out.
A Golden Ticket to Happiness
Research generally shows us that Extraverts are more likely than Introverts to state they are happy. Often, you’ll see this mentioned in articles about Extraversion. And let’s face it... out there doing things with gusto like in a soft drink commercial... they just look like happier people. But it may be helpful to our understanding of Extraversion to point out a few counterbalances.
What might some reasons be for their claim on happiness? A lot of cultures favor Extraverted personality types, particularly in the West. Holding a more favored spot in society can make life pretty sweet. In some places, the trait may be more socially desirable. What’s not to be happy about there? But this connection may be difficult to definitively prove and will probably remain in the realm of theory.
Some also have suggested that since Extraverts don’t spend as much time alone as Introverts, they may be less likely to indulge in introspection. As a result, they may not pay as much attention to some of the existential questions that bring their Introverted cousins down. “Life is so short. And what does it all mean, anyway?” some Introverted personalities might ask with a long sigh. Some Extraverts might answer, “Interesting question. But I’m a bit busy right now.” It’s another interesting theory.
Whatever the reason – and there is probably a mix of many – there are some dangers in highlighting Extraverted happiness or life satisfaction too much. We must vanquish the old temptation to think in absolutes again. We don’t want some unhappy Extraverts somewhere thinking they’re broken because they can’t muster the level of happiness others think they are supposed to have.
To illustrate why a balance to the common “Extravert happiness” paradigm is needed, one of our research questions revealed that 78% of Extraverted personalities said they were satisfied with their lives. That’s probably a fair measure of a global sort of happiness. Rounded up, about eight out of every ten Extraverts who answered our poll were satisfied. That’s a lot of Extraverts. That’s clearly more Extraverts than Introverts, who answered the same way at a significantly lower 62%. But that’s still around six out of every ten Introverts who are satisfied with life.
There’s enough of a difference that it statistically matters – and shows that Extraverts have a stronger tendency toward feeling satisfaction (but not enough to vote Introverted personality types entirely off the happiness island.) And what about the 22% of Extraverts who said they weren’t satisfied?
So, in summary, more Extraverts see themselves as happy, and that suggests a pronounced tendency toward happiness. But, that said, they don’t quite corner the happiness market, either. Some Extraverts aren’t happy. That alone would suggest there isn’t something about Extraversion that guarantees happiness. Foster it? Maybe. But guarantee it? No. (And by juxtaposition, Introversion by no means indicates there’s no chance for blissful contentment.)
About Living Without Some Introverted Moments
In one of our research questions, 52% of Extraverts said they avoid being alone, compared to 22% of Introverts who said the same. Here, there’s a non-disputable gap between Extraverted and Introverted personality types. But, reversing things, 48% of Extraverts say they’re okay being alone. This is an example of how absolutes don’t work. We can say that Extraverts are more likely to avoid being alone than Introverts, but that doesn’t mean “all” or “none.”
And would this statistic mean even the 52% who avoid being alone never want to put on their jammies and curl up with a good book or a movie in front of a fire at home? Probably not. They just may not need or like it (or love it) as much as their Introverted counterparts, or the 48% of Extraverts who said they were okay by themselves. However, well-rounded Extraverts know the value of occasional alone time and can spend time with themselves without feeling lonely or needy. For them, letting their inner Introvert out on occasion is likely a sign of having greater balance in their lives.
We find that this is generally true with all traits. The more people can add aspects from traits that aren’t native to their personality type into their lives, the more balanced they tend to be. Being too extremely dedicated to one trait without some counterbalance can cause all manner of difficulties. For Extraverts, those who suppress any and all Introverted impulses may find they have too little time to process who they are or to become as self-aware as they might. There’s also just plain burnout if these personality types are always being social, starting things, and expanding their catalog of experiences. Everybody needs to catch their breath occasionally.
What Extraversion Is and You
Exploring personality types is a powerful tool for understanding people, and there is a significant difference between what it means to be Extraverted and Introverted. We can learn much from exploring those differences. However, such definitions aren’t meant to stereotype or neatly contain all the unique Extraverted folks who walk the earth. Creating a blunt, cartoon image of Extraversion can do more harm to understanding these often-complex people than it helps. So, it’s as important to know what Extraversion isn’t as to know what it is.
One way to find out more about where you are on the Extraversion/Introversion continuum is to visit our Trait Scholar section and take our more specialized tests that refine people’s definition of their own personality traits.
Whether you’re a person with an Extraverted personality trait or an Introvert who knows a few, what are your observations about what it means to be an Extravert? What have you noticed? When do you (or the Extravert in your life) seem to defy some of the stereotypes? We’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment below.