Can you be an extraverted Introvert?

Posted 28 December 2023 by
Kevin Wood, The Myers-Briggs Company

6 min. read

Have you ever been caught off-guard by an outgoing, energetic leader or high-profile celebrity who claims to be an Introvert? 

On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. But a better understanding of Introversion—specifically, the different types of Introverts out there—not only helps remove the mystery of the “extraverted Introvert”, it helps to make people development efforts more effective because it allows coaches, managers, and individuals to target specific, actionable areas.

Gone missing

Anyone who’s a practitioner or is familiar with the MBTI® assessment knows not to fall into stereotypical traps about Introverts being shy, unsociable, isolated, and so on. Those things may be true—but often aren’t. And they aren’t a defining characteristic of having a preference for Introversion.   

“Introverts can be very sociable and very friendly,” says John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company. “Suppose you're at a party. You might find that the introverted person is doing things and interacting with people. Often, people with an Introversion preference at an event like a networking meetup or a party really like it if they have a role which allows them to show  competence.

“They interact with people but, as the evening goes on, you might suddenly find that those people with introverted preferences are missing,” he continues. “Maybe they're just outside taking a break, recharging batteries. Then they come back in, and they can be as sociable as before. It's not about social confidence. It's about energy, it's about how we recharge our batteries, it's about where we focus our attention, it's about the way that we talk about things.”

So, we know that MBTI preferences for Extraversion and Introversion explore where energy is drawn from and where people like to focus their attention. But how do we explain the things that look contradictory?  

The first step to a deeper understand of Introversion is to get more data. 

More data, please    

This is where the MBTI Step II assessment comes in. 

The Step II assessment offers a huge leap from the Step I™ assessment when it comes to understanding a person’s MBTI profile. It shows where those seemingly contradictory behaviors are expressed (they’re described as ‘out-of-preference’ behaviors) and provides clarity for people who feel they’re either straddling preferences or are unsure of their type. With the MBTI Step II assessment, people get a deeper understanding of the nuances of their unique personality preferences. 

For example, if you have a client who’s a gregarious leader but often feels the need to shut themselves off for a while, understanding Step II preferences will help you know why. And it’ll help that leader better understand their own behaviors. 

More importantly, you’ll be able to help them understand why this need arises and how they can build strategies—to stop being drained, for example—to cope effectively with extraverted demands. You can help them be their authentic self at work so they can be more effective.   

The more information we have about people and their preferences, the better we can understand what’s happening. It helps us to explore the grey areas.

And the grey areas really matter because personality type is complex. It’s not binary, it’s not ‘this or that’. No-one is 100% an Extravert or Introvert, as Jung said. People are different degrees of both, and all of us introvert some parts and extravert other parts of our personality.

“There's been a lot of research into using type and the basic statistics say, as a generalization, that about half of what we do or say in terms of our personality is essentially genetic,” says John. “Half is our inborn type, and half is about our upbringing, the situation, organizational pressures on us, all those other things.

“What the MBTI Step II approach tries to do is to get into all that by looking at the flavor of your Extraversion or Introversion.”

Finding flavor in personality type

What differentiates the Step II assessment from the Step I assessment is the deeper dive into each preference pair. This is done with facets. Facets are like mini preference pairs within the main preference pair. They show how an overall preference—like Introversion—is composed. For each preference pair (such as Extraversion and Introversion), there are five facet pairs. And each side of the facet relates to the preference pair it sits under. 

One example of an E–I facet is Initiating–Receiving. “People with an Initiating score, whether in a group of people or meeting new people for the first time, will go and initiate most conversations,” says John. “They're generally comfortable introducing themselves to new people and introducing other people to themselves.

“People with a Receiving preference tend to wait to be introduced, typically. They're usually more comfortable with others initiating that contact. If they need to meet new people or they meet people at an event, they tend to go and talk with the people they know rather than brand new people, at least to begin with. They might not necessarily enjoy small talk, although they will do it when they need to. 

“Most, but not all, extraverted people have the Initiating score,” he continues. “And most, but not all, introverted people have a Receiving score. But some Introverts are Initiating Introverts. They’re similar to Introverts in most ways, but they're actually different in terms of initiating,” explains John. “In this way, when it comes to introducing or being introduced, their behaviors are more similar to those with extraverted preferences than their fellow Introverts. Initiating is considered “out of preference” for someone with introverted preferences.” 

Why does this happen?

”It might be from all sorts of places—it might be from upbringing, it might be from where they are in their lives, but they behave in a slightly different way.” 

Each MBTI preference pair has five facets. The five facets for Extraversion–Introversion are:

A respondent’s scores from all those facets add up to the overall preference for E or I. Or, viewed the other way round, the overall preference for E or I can be broken down into component scores.

This presents a lot of detailed information about the way a preference is composed. It shows what type of Introvert a person is, and how their behaviors might be similar or different from others with the same MBTI personality type. And because it’s possible for someone with an overall preference for Introversion to have a score in the Initiating, Expressive, Gregarious, Active, or Enthusiastic facets, there’s an endless number of combinations and variations within just this preference for Extraversion or Introversion (let alone all 16 MBTI personality types).

MBTI Step II results are as unique as the person who takes it.

Does this explain the paradox of the outgoing Introvert?

It’s a good start. It shows the presence and direction of preferences in a detailed way, even if it doesn’t explain why they happen—as John Hackston said earlier, external factors are a significant influence. 

But with the many combinations of scores within facets, the Step II assessment shows there are endless ways to ‘be an Introvert’—not just one or two.

Equally useful is to be mindful of people making assumptions about those preferring Introversion. Using visible behaviors as the basis for understanding someone is partial information at best, and often encourages stereotypes. For Introverts especially, it can be way off track. Their dominant side (favorite function) is internal, so it’s behind the scenes. You can’t see it. But the Step II assessment is a data-rich tool to start understanding it better.

Note: the MBTI Step II assessment explores all the preferences in greater detail, not just Extraversion and Introversion. Each of the other preference pairs—Sensing–Intuition, Thinking–Feeling, and Judging–Perceiving—have five facets too. Here’s a visual