Introversion, Extroversion, Clients and Coaches

In 2010, I wrote “Cowboys vs. Shepherds” on my first blog, It was later included in Two-Brain Business (now available on audiobook.) But new research has prompted me to revisit the issue from a different perspective.
In this post, I’ll compare the minds of the introvert, the extrovert, and the ambivert; then I’ll write about ways to optimize training for coaches and clients who fall into either category.
Want to see if you’re an introvert or extrovert? Here’s a 25-minute test  from PsychologyToday, or a 4-minute test from LifeHack.
First, a comparison of introverts and extroverts as clients:
Extroverts become energized by noise and crowds. Introverts become fatigued and overwhelmed by the same.
Extroverts are likely to ask questions of the coach (often, they’ll need to be “heard” during a class, even if they already know the answer.) They’re talkative, quick to welcome new members, and excited by the prospect of coaching a group themselves. They might choose one-on-one training over groups, but will be drawn to the crowd quickly. They’re held accountable more by social risk (“everyone will know if you cheat on your diet”) than by anything else.
Introverts are more likely to think through a movement. In fact, if you see an athlete close their eyes while practicing, it’s a sure sign they’re an introvert: they’re subconsciously blocking out external distraction. They’re less likely to ask a question, but more likely to absorb what’s taught. They’re also more likely to avoid the group setting and choose one-on-one training. Introverts are best held accountable through a one-on-one relationship and might need more frequent contact by a coach (“I’ll be watching your food intake through the app.”)
Second, a comparison of introverts and extroverts as coaches:
Extroverted coaches are energized by a large group. They relax into coaching: several classes in a row won’t bother them. They’ll be more likely to engage in “sharking” and identifying movement deficiencies on the fly.
Pros: great leaders of groups. Exciting, fun and energetic. Loud.
Cons: Less likely to think through their words. Won’t want to stick to a “script.” Attracted to novelty over best practices (recency bias.)
Introverted coaches are more likely to form deep personal relationships with clients. They’ll remember every member’s dog. But they’ll also take a client’s decision to quit the gym personally, which can be exhausting. Introverted coaches are more likely to report feeling like a client’s “therapist”, because they take the time to listen to each person’s troubles.
Pros: fantastic in a one-on-one setting. Won’t forget a client’s birthday or goals. Can focus on refining tiny details instead of “gaming”.
Cons: exhausted by large, noisy groups. Can feel like they’re “herding cats” when trying to control large classes. Will feel frustrated when others don’t pay attention or show the same attention to detail.
Third, the science (you can skip this part if you like):
Chemicals: we all have chemical “reward systems” built into our brains. When we perform certain tasks, dopamine, acetylcholine, and other chemicals flood our brains and make us feel good. Dopamine makes us more talkative, more exploratory and less risk-averse. Acetylcholine makes us focus intensely inward, reflect, and think deeply.
Everyone has the same amount of both, but dopamine is the more active reward system in extroverts; acetylcholine is more active in introverts.
When their dominant reward system is engaged, either becomes happy. That’s the most important part here.
Neither extroversion or introversion is better. Both have strengths that can make them incredible coaches when put in the best spot to make them happy. And no one is completely introverted or extroverted: we each fall somewhere on the spectrum.
Fourth, my favorite: the Ambivert.
Daniel Pink (“To Sell Is Human”) writes that an ambivert falls between introversion and extroversion on the spectrum. An ambivert is usually developed, not born: introverts can learn to act extroverted, and vice versa. In fact, a natural introvert who is trained to act like an extrovert might have an advantage in client retention and sales.
You can take the Ambivert Assessment here.
In 2013, The Wharton School’s Adam M. Grant measured sales aptitudes across introverts, extroverts and ambiverts. He found that ambiverts had hourly revenues of $155, which was 24% higher than the “outgoing” extroverts. Why?
They’re flexible. An ambivert can mirror the personality of their client or their coach. Unlike magnets (which can attract or repel,) an ambivert can stick to anyone.
They can roll with the punches better. With both social support and a strong sense of self-focus, and ambivert can handle critique and correction better. They can absorb feedback but not internalize criticism.
They’re intuitive. They “get it” because they can see the other person’s perspective more easily.
Ambiverts make better clients AND better coaches. And you can control the latter.
When training coaches, it’s not enough to say, “This is how you identify a squat.” A great coach will make the client WANT to fix the squat. That was the point of “Cowboys vs. Shepherds”: to illustrate the need for both types of coaches in your gym.
Coaches who are natural “alphas” can be taught empathy. Quieter, more studious coaches can be taught to “turn it on” during class, and maintain control for the full hour. Expertise in “triaging a squat” is great…but it’s more important to keep the client coming back for decades.
To start a gym, teach movements. But to create a movement, teach leaders.


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