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One in nine Americans works in sales, persuading
people to purchase products and services ranging from
homes and telephones to insurance and cars (U.S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics, 2012). Given that selling is a vital part
of the economy, psychologists have a long-standing interest in the traits of successful salespeople. According to
conventional wisdom, productive salespeople are likely
to be extraverted, which means they tend to be assertive
and enthusiastic (DeYoung, Quilty, & Peterson, 2007).
Studies have shown that extraverted people tend to gravitate toward sales (Barrick, Mount, & Gupta, 2003) and
are more likely than introverts to be selected for sales
positions by managers (Dunn, Mount, Barrick, & Ones,
1995). As Costa and McCrae (1992) explained, â€œsalespeople represent the prototypical extraverts in our cultureâ€
Research points to three major reasons for why extraverts should have an advantage in sales. First, selling
requires engaging with a wide range of potential customers, and, by virtue of their assertiveness and enthusiasm,
extraverts tend to be outgoing, sociable, and comfortable
initiating interactions with others (Furnham & Fudge,
2008). Second, selling involves persuading customers to
buy a product or service, and extraverts tend to express
confidence and contagious levels of enthusiasm and
energy (Vinchur, Schippmann, Switzer, & Roth, 1998).
Third, selling often depends on convincing customers to
change their attitudes and behaviors, and extraverts are
more likely than introverts to be firm and forceful, refusing to take no for an answer (Stewart, 1996). As Barrick,
Mount, and Judge (2001) summarized, in sales, â€œbeing
sociable, gregarious, assertive, energetic, and ambitious
is likely to contribute to successâ€ (p. 11).
However, studies have shown weak and inconsistent
relationships between extraversion and sales performance. For example, extraversion was not significantly
related to performance in wholesale manufacturing sales
(Barrick, Mount, & Strauss, 1993), health and fitness
sales (Furnham & Fudge, 2008), or business-to-business
sales (Stewart, 1996). In pharmaceuticals, extraversion
was significantly related to performance in selling an
463706PSSXXX10.1177/0956797612463706GrantThe Ambivert Advantage
Adam M. Grant, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania,
3620 Locust Walk, Suite 2000 SHDH, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6370
E-mail: [email protected]
Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal:
The Ambivert Advantage
Adam M. Grant
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Despite the widespread assumption that extraverts are the most productive salespeople, research has shown weak and
conflicting relationships between extraversion and sales performance. In light of these puzzling results, I propose that
the relationship between extraversion and sales performance is not linear but curvilinear: Ambiverts achieve greater
sales productivity than extraverts or introverts do. Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and
listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are
more inclined to listen to customersâ€™ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident. A study of
340 outbound-call-center representatives supported the predicted inverted-U-shaped relationship between extraversion
and sales revenue. This research presents a fresh perspective on the personality traits that facilitate successful influence
and offers novel insights for people in choosing jobs and for organizations in hiring and training employees.
personality, social influences, personnel selection
Received 7/16/12; Revision accepted 9/3/12
The Ambivert Advantage 1025
existing product in the first two quarters of a year but not
the last two quarters, and it was unrelated to performance
in selling a new product (Thoresen, Bradley, Bliese, &
Thoresen, 2004). In three meta-analyses of 35 studies of
more than 3,800 salespeople, the average correlation
between extraversion and sales performance was only
.07, a value that did not differ significantly from 0 (Barrick
et al., 2001).
In this article, I introduce a new perspective on extraversion and sales performance. Years ago, Coombs and
Avrunin (1977) argued that â€œgood things satiate and bad
things escalateâ€ (p. 225). In line with this general principle, there is reason to believe that in sales, extraversion
may have diminishing returns and increasing costs. High
levels of assertiveness and enthusiasm may reduce the
effectiveness of extraverted salespeople in two key ways.
First, extraverted salespeople may focus more heavily
on their own perspectives than on customersâ€™ perspectives. Although selling may require a degree of assertiveness and enthusiasm, it also demands consideration of
the needs, interests, and values of customers (Jaramillo &
Grisaffe, 2009). Judge, Piccolo, and Kosalka (2009) suggested that people who are highly extraverted â€œlike to be
the center of attentionâ€ and often â€œquickly bounce from
one conversation or idea to anotherâ€ (p. 868). Recent
studies have shown that extraverts tend to gravitate
toward the spotlight (Ashton, Lee, & Paunonen, 2002)
and are more likely than introverts to dominate conversations, expressing so much excitement for their own ideas
that they may inadvertently suppress or neglect othersâ€™
perspectives (Grant, Gino, & Hofmann, 2011). As a result
of these tendencies, extraverted salespeople may spend
too much time delivering assertive, enthusiastic pitches
and too little time asking questions and listening to customersâ€™ answers.
Second, extraverted salespeople may elicit negative
responses from customers. As they enthusiastically assert
the value of their products and services, extraverts may
be perceived as overly excited and confident (Ames &
Flynn, 2007; Judge et al., 2009). Customers may interpret
this excitement and confidence as a signal that salespeople are attempting to influence them (Campbell &
Kirmani, 2000). Once customers recognize persuasive
intent on the part of a salesperson, they are likely to
strive to maintain control and protect themselves by scrutinizing the message more carefully, marshaling counterarguments, and resisting or rejecting the salespersonâ€™s
influence (Friestad & Wright, 1994; Williams, Fitzsimons,
& Block, 2004).
In light of these benefits and costs, I propose that
there is a curvilinear, inverted-U-shaped relationship
between extraversion and sales performance. More specifically, I predict that ambiverts, people who fall in the
middle of the extraversion spectrum (Eysenck, 1971),
should achieve higher sales than introverts or extraverts
do. Compared with introverts, ambiverts are more likely
to display the requisite levels of enthusiasm and assertiveness to stimulate customer interest in products and
services and convert this interest into sales. At the same
time, ambiverts may strike a balance between talking and
listening, avoiding the risks that extraverts face of failing
to understand customersâ€™ needs and appearing instrumental or pushy. Research has shown that the more
extraverted an individual is, the more frequently he or
she will engage in assertive and enthusiastic behaviors
(Fleeson & Gallagher, 2009), regardless of context (Little
& Joseph, 2006). Whereas extraverts may seek stimulation and social attention at the expense of listening carefully to customersâ€™ concerns, ambiverts are likely to be
more flexible in the ways in which they engage with
customers, drawing from a wider repertoire of behavioral
options to find the appropriate balance between selling
Thus, I expected that ambiverts should be
more productive salespeople than introverts and extraverts are.
To test the relationship between extraversion and sales
performance, I conducted a study of 340 outbound-callcenter representatives, measuring their extraversion and
tracking their sales revenue over the following 3 months.
The findings challenge the dominant assumption that
extraversion is advantageous to sales performance and
shed light on prior conflicting results. In terms of theory,
my research answers calls to explore the costs of extraversion in work settings (Bendersky & Shah, in press; Grant
et al., 2011; Judge et al., 2009) and the curvilinear effects
of personality traits on job performance (Grant & Schwartz,
2011; Le et al., 2011). In practical terms, the findings suggest that researchers should reconsider traditional assumptions about career choice, hiring, and training.
I collected data from a company that operates outbound
call centers around the United States. Employees were
responsible for generating revenue from new prospects
and existing customers. I sent a survey link to all of the
companyâ€™s 807 employees, inviting them to participate in
a study of the predictors of job performance. I received
complete responses from 340 employees, for a response
rate of 42.1%. Participating employees were 71% male
and 29% female, with an average age of 19.9 years (SD =
1.70) and an average job tenure of 6.14 months (SD =
Participants completed the 20-item Big Five personality measure (developed and validated by Donnellan,
Oswald, Baird, & Lucas, 2006), which includes 4 items for
each of the five personality traits. Responses were made
using 7-point Likert scales, from 1 (disagree strongly) to 7
(agree strongly). The measure of extraversion included
items such as â€œI am the life of the partyâ€ and â€œI keep in
the backgroundâ€ (reverse-scored; Î± = .85). In light of the
fact that extraversion often correlates with other traits
(Olson, 2005), I also controlled for employeesâ€™ scores on
measures of the other four Big Five personality traits:
conscientiousness (Î± = .78), agreeableness (Î± = .80),
openness (Î± = .71), and neuroticism (Î± = .75). I measured sales performance by tracking each employeeâ€™s
revenue, which was highly reliable from week to week
(Î± = .81), over the next 3 months while controlling for
hours worked and job tenure.
To test my hypothesis, I conducted hierarchical regression analyses following the procedures recommended by
Aiken and West (1991). As displayed in Table 1, the linear
term for extraversion was not a significant predictor of
sales revenue, but the quadratic term was, indicating a
These results held up even after
controlling for the linear and quadratic effects of conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, and neuroticism,
none of which were statistically significant predictors of
The negative coefficient for the quadratic term, coupled with the null coefficient for the linear term, indicated
a symmetrical inverted-U-shaped relationship (Aiken &
West, 1991), which is illustrated in Figure 1. According to
the regression equation, maximum revenue should be
reached by employees with a 4.5 on the 7-point extraversion scale, after which revenue should decline. Ambiverted
employees at the mean of extraversion are predicted to
generate $151.38 per hour, compared with $114.96 for
Table 1. Results From a Hierarchical Regression Analysis Predicting Sales Revenue
Predictor Î² t(325) Î² t(324) Î² t(320) Î² t(316) Î² t(314)
Hours worked 0.49 10.42** 0.50 10.69** 0.49 10.57** 0.50 10.57** 0.50 10.57**
Job tenure 0.22 4.79** 0.23 4.93** 0.23 5.02** 0.23 4.90** 0.23 4.97**
Extraversion 0.03 0.66 âˆ’0.01 âˆ’0.24 âˆ’0.00 âˆ’0.02 âˆ’0.01 âˆ’0.12 âˆ’0.00 âˆ’0.05
Extraversion2 âˆ’0.13 âˆ’2.76* âˆ’0.13 âˆ’2.66* âˆ’0.14 âˆ’2.73* âˆ’0.14 âˆ’2.71*
Conscientiousness âˆ’0.09 âˆ’1.77 âˆ’0.09 âˆ’1.82 âˆ’0.09 âˆ’1.84
Agreeableness âˆ’0.01 âˆ’0.13 âˆ’0.01 âˆ’0.09 0.64 1.00
Openness 0.01 0.11 0.01 0.11 0.01 0.09
Neuroticism 0.01 0.22 âˆ’0.01 âˆ’0.12 âˆ’0.01 âˆ’0.18
Conscientiousness2 0.00 0.04 0.01 0.10
Agreeableness2 0.02 0.30 0.02 0.25
Openness2 0.01 0.22 0.01 0.15
Neuroticism2 0.06 1.24 0.07 1.29
Note: The only step in which the variance explained increased significantly was from Step 1 to Step 2, via the addition of the quadratic term for
extraversion, F(1, 324) = 7.60, p < .01. Although the 2% increase in variance in sales revenue explained by the curvilinear effect may technically
fall in the range of a small or medium effect, this does not mean that the effect is unimportant (Cortina & Landis, 2009; Prentice & Miller, 1992),
because it can have meaningful implications for employer hiring and employee career decisions. Further, the use of incremental analyses may
underestimate the size of the effect (LeBreton, Hargis, Griepentrog, Oswald, & Ployhart, 2007), especially given that the curvilinear effect relies
on an interaction term with constrained reliability (Edwards, 2008).
*p < .01. **p < .001.
1 23456 7
Fig. 1. Results from a hierarchical regression analysis showing a predicted curvilinear relationship between extraversion and sales revenue
over 3 months.
The Ambivert Advantage 1027
highly extraverted employees (1.5 SD above the mean)
and $126.80 for highly introverted employees (1.5 SD
below the mean).
This pattern was mirrored by the actual data, which
are presented in Figure 2 in the form of a box plot. The
employees with the highest revenue per hourâ€”$208.34
per hour, compared with $137.73 for the full sampleâ€”
were those who had an extraversion score at the exact
midpoint of 4.0. Ambiverted employees with extraversion
scores between 3.75 and 5.50 averaged $154.77 per hour
(95% confidence interval, CI = [$127.44, $182.40]), compared with hourly revenue averages of $120.10 for introverts (extraversion scores below 3.75; 95% CI = [$96.39,
$143.82]) and $125.19 for extraverts (extraversion scores
above 5.50; 95% CI = [$103.63, $146.75]). Over the 3-
month interval, ambiverts achieved average revenues of
$16,393.05 (95% CI = [$14,092.13, $18,693.97]), producing
24% more revenue than introverts ($13,226.60; 95% CI =
[$10,899.40, $15,553.80]) and 32% more revenue than
extraverts ($12,401.13; 95% CI = [$8,167.84, $16,634.42]).
An alternative explanation for these findings is presented by interpersonal-circumplex theory (e.g., Trapnell
& Wiggins, 1990). From this perspective, the right side of
the curve may not be a function of extraversion alone
but, rather, of high extraversion coupled with low agreeableness: Disagreeable extraverts may come across as
arrogant or excessively dominant, whereas agreeable
extraverts are likely to create impressions of gregariousness and warmth. To test this interpretation, I examined
whether agreeableness moderated the linear and quadratic relationships between extraversion and sales
As the final step in Table 1 shows, agreeableness did
not interact significantly with extraversion or with extraversion squared, and the curvilinear relationship between
extraversion and sales revenue remained significant;
these patterns held after eliminating the other personality
traits from analysis to reduce multicollinearity and
increase power. Supplementary analyses showed that
conscientiousness, openness, and neuroticism also failed
to moderate the linear and quadratic relationships
between extraversion and sales revenue, and that the
quadratic relationship was still significant. These results
suggest that ambiverts have a sales advantage over extraverts regardless of their standing on the other four Big
Five personality traits.
My findings call into question the long-standing belief
that the most productive salespeople are extraverted. The
surprisingly weak and inconsistent results from previous
Fig. 2. Box-and-whiskers plot showing the relationship between extraversion and hourly sales revenue. The thick horizontal lines in the boxes mark the medians; the lower and upper edges of each
box correspond to the 25th and 75th percentile, respectively; the whiskers indicate 95% of the range;
and the circles represent outliers up to 3 times the height of the boxes.
studies may be due to the fact that researchers have
focused on linear relationships, investigating the benefits
of extraversion but overlooking the costs. This is consistent with recent observations that psychologists have
neglected the dark sides of personality traits, as the very
attributes that facilitate job performance can, at high levels, become too much of a good thing (Grant & Schwartz,
2011; Le et al., 2011).
Although studies have demonstrated that job performance can suffer if employees are too conscientious, too
emotionally stable, too generous, or too learning oriented
(Grant & Schwartz, 2011; Le et al., 2011), research has yet
to address whether sales performance can suffer if
employees are too extraverted. By showing that moderately extraverted employees sell more productively than
do employees who are low or high in extraversion, my
research constitutes a step toward answering calls for
greater attention to the dark sides of extraversion
(Bendersky & Shah, in press; Grant et al., 2011; Judge et
Future research should examine whether there are factors, such as clear reward structures (Stewart, 1996), that
enable highly extraverted employees to sell as effectively
as ambiverts and examine whether the results vary by facets of extraversion (Vinchur et al., 1998). For example, it is
possible that the curvilinear relationship between extraversion and sales is explained by a positive effect of enthusiasm at low to moderate levels of extraversion, which is
outweighed by the negative effect of assertiveness at high
levels of extraversion. It will be important to study whether
ambiverts consistently exhibit more moderate assertiveness and enthusiasm than introverts and extraverts do or
whether they strike a flexible balance by alternating
between very low and very high levels of assertiveness
and enthusiasm. For example, researchers may use experience-sampling methods to track the frequency and intensity of assertive and enthusiastic behaviors of ambiverts
over time (e.g., Fleeson & Gallagher, 2009).
It will also be worthwhile for further studies to investigate whether using more comprehensive measures of
personality traits would yield a different pattern of results.
For measuring constructs as broad as the Big Five personality traits, short scales tend to be less reliable than
longer, multidimensional scales, and the reliability of
quadratic terms and interactions is a multiplicative function of the reliability of the components (Edwards, 2008).
Given that limited reliabilities may have prevented me
from detecting a moderating role of agreeableness,
researchers may gain finer-grained insights into this issue
by measuring the social traits of extraversion and agreeableness with interpersonal-adjective scales (e.g., Trapnell
& Wiggins, 1990). Further, it remains to be seen whether
there are other personality traits or behavioral patterns
that can reduce or eliminate the negative effects of high
extraversion on sales productivity.
In the popular press, authors have recently argued that
there is a Western cultural bias favoring extraversion
(Cain, 2012). Nowhere is this bias more clear than in
sales, where it seems only natural that the most assertive
and enthusiastic people will be the most productive
(Barrick et al., 2001; Costa & McCrae, 1992). Yet my findings suggest that less extraverted people may be missing
out on productive careers and hiring managers may be
missing out on star performers. When less extraverted
people do end up in sales, many managers train them to
emulate the assertive, enthusiastic qualities of their highly
extraverted counterparts. My research indicates that organizations stand to benefit from training highly extraverted
salespeople to model some of the quiet, reserved tendencies of their more introverted peers.
The finding that sales performance was highest among
people in the ambiverted range constitutes good news
for aspiring salespeople (Pink, 2012). In the world population, levels of extraversion typically follow the shape of
a bell curve, with most people falling somewhere in the
middle (McCrae & Costa, 2003; Ones & Dilchert, 2009). If
most people are ambiverted rather than introverted or
extraverted, the logical conclusion is that most people
are well suited to selling.
I am grateful to Dan Pink for inspiring me to write this report.
After I introduced him to ambiversion, he suggested that ambiverts would make better salespeople than extraverts or introverts. My thinking was also informed by conversations with
Susan Cain and Brian Little. For assistance with data collection,
I thank Stan Campbell, Chad Friedlein, Howard Heevner, Jenny
Schumaker, and Jonathan Tugman.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared that he had no conflicts of interest with
respect to his authorship or the publication of this article
1. There may be a psychophysiological basis for the greater
behavioral flexibility of ambiverts relative to extraverts. In terms
of neocortical arousal, ambiverts tend to operate near the optimal level, whereas extraverts tend to be chronically understimulated (Eysenck, 1971; Little & Joseph, 2006). To avoid
boredom and maintain engagement, extraverts regularly seek
out stimulation and social attention. Ambiverts, by contrast,
can devote greater time to listening without facing the risk of
2. The lack of a linear relationship for extraversion may have
been driven in part by range restriction. As is typical in samples
of salespeople (Barrick et al, 2003) and Americans (McCrae,
Terracciano, & 79 members of the Personality Profiles of
The Ambivert Advantage 1029
Cultures Project, 2005), employeesâ€™ extraversion scores were
skewed slightly to the right, with a mean of 4.86 (skewness =
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1.33), and the scores covered nearly the full range of 1 to 7,
with a minimum of 1.5 and a maximum of 7.0, which suggests
that range restriction was not a major limitation with regard to
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