Extrovert or introvert? Think again. The pandemic probably made you something in between.

Karl Moore

About two weeks into lockdown, Karl Moore, a professor of strategy and organization at McGill University and a self-professed "extreme extrovert," decided he couldn’t take it anymore. 

Craving connection, he began commuting to the university in downtown Montreal to teach his classes over Zoom. The lecture halls were empty; students had been sent home. But he longed for the opportunity to roam the campus and bump into someone, anyone — even a stranger — and chat.

Yet, he said, being cooped up at home wasn’t all bad. Without distractions from colleagues and students, he focused more intently on his work. His thoughts were clearer, his writing more succinct. Being alone didn’t leave him wanting; rather, he felt energized. 

It got him thinking: These changes were probably not unique to him. Natural-born introverts and extroverts all over the world were likely having similar experiences adapting their personalities and work habits out of pandemic-induced necessity. Moore decided to put all that focused concentration to use and write his 11th book, "We Are All Ambiverts Now," which will be published next year by the Stanford University Press. 

Research shows that personality traits are distributed along a bell curve. On one end of the spectrum are extroverts, those who derive energy from being around others. Introverts, on the other hand, prefer to spend time alone, with one other person, or with a small group. They often find social interaction and crowds draining. Ambiverts are a combination of the two and fall somewhere in the middle.

Moore acknowledged that most of us already had some elements of both introversion and extroversion before the pandemic. But, he said, the coronavirus crisis — a period marked by isolation and uncertainty — compelled us to capitalize on these traits in new ways.

"Extroverts like me couldn’t go out in the world, so we tapped into our inner introvert, even though it wasn’t our nature at the time," he said. "We learned some depths we weren’t aware we had, like the strength and joy of deep concentration."

At the same time, lockdowns gave introverts new appreciation for the benefits of connection. "Introverts had an abundance of riches: solitude and alone time. Because they were starved of interaction, they had an epiphany: They missed it," he said. 

Many found Zoom and other video apps a poor approximation for in-person conversation, he said. "They recognized the value in seeing their coworkers in an office or having lunch with a colleague," he said.

Ambiversion in the post-pandemic workplace

Research shows that personality traits are, for the most part, stable throughout adulthood. Traits can change, but they do so gradually and in subtle ways. Many people see positive changes in their self-confidence, warmth, self-control, and emotional stability as they age, according to a study in the National Library of Medicine’s database. 

But we are also shaped by our life experiences, and major traumatic events — like a pandemic — can change us in surprising ways, Moore said.

He said he viewed our collective shift toward ambiversion as, on the whole, a positive development. It’s a good thing for people who aspire to senior leadership, which demands flexibility to meet the varied requirements of the job, he said.

"Good CEOs have to act like an introvert some of the time — they can’t do all the talking," he said. "They need to listen to other people’s perspectives, get ideas on the table, and find out what other people know.

"But good leaders also need to know how to work the room and give that inspiring message to their people."

As the economy reopens from pandemic-related lockdowns, Moore said that managers should talk to their teams about how the pandemic changed their workplace personas and practices. Employers should also embrace hybrid work schedules to take full advantage of the new skills and behaviors people developed, he added. 

"They should ask: What did we learn about ourselves in terms of how we do our tasks, the nature of our work, what we love doing, what we don’t?" he said.

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Rebecca Knight August 11, 2021 at 10:00PM

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