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In Praise of the Ambiverted Peer

How do you pick your peer educators?  Summer is a time for our fall planning, and I’ve been thinking about how we select our peer educators.  Of course, those students with an interest in alcohol and drug prevention—or at least student behavioral health—meet the first criterion; but what’s next? Often it seems to also center on personality factors that we believe will make for an effective presenter.  Perhaps with a sales model in mind, we may believe that persuading students to change their attitudes and behaviors will require the salesperson personality: an extrovert. 

But new research calls into question the basic premise that extroverts make for better salespeople.  Wharton School researcher Adam Grant (2013) has published a study that demonstrated that sales success and extroversion follow an inverted U-shaped relationship.  He reviewed the checkered evidence that extroversion helps sales (turns out to only weakly correlate) and then analyzed the revenue brought in from a call center.  Strongly extroverted did no better than the weakest.  The sweet spot was those at 4.5 on a 7-point extroversion scale.  These mid-point people (called ambiverts) can switch modes from confident spokesperson to active listener.  The author posits that the overbearing nature of a strong extrovert can generate negative responses.  Of course, this jives well with anyone who detests shopping for a car.

And so this means…To the extent that we need peer health educators that have personalities that conform to a persuasion model of prevention, our best bet will be the ambiverts: too little confidence and they’ll fail to present with authority on sensitive topics; too much and they may appear dogmatic, arrogant and pushy.

If you have other personality traits that you think are critical to an effective peer health educator, join the discussion on Facebook.

Reference:

Grant, A. M. (2013). Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal The Ambivert Advantage. Psychological Science, 24(6), 1024–1030.