For eighteen years I worked for a company that valued Extroversion, Sensing and Thinking. As an INFJ I sometimes felt like I was on a battlefield. Fortunately Judging skills were also considered important, which was the only reason I was able to succeed.
I suspect that this is a trap many INFJs get into – we’re hired for our skills at organizing, streamlining work processes and getting things done, only to find that we’ve ended up in a job that wreaks havoc with our sensitivity.
While it’s not ideal, we can survive in an workplace that’s not compatible with our types.
Here are some tactics:
Recognize That You Are Different
Every company has its own personality and preferences. If the company I worked for had been a person I think it would have been an ESTJ. Social skills, data, analytical thinking and execution were highly prized, while reticence, a process-orientation and sensitivity were seen as weaknesses. Which explains why I was most successful in positions where my “J” skills were emphasized. And why I often felt that my feelings were trampled on.
In this type of environment self-acceptance becomes especially important if you are an INFJ. You need to realize that, yes, you are different, and that’s ok. And while you can learn many of the skills that ESTP/Js have there will be times you won’t be able to excel in the areas that your company values. You need to allow yourself to be who you are and don’t try to fit in with the corporate “type.”
Accept the Results of Being Different
There was a point where my career seemed to top out – no matter what I did I couldn’t get promoted past a certain level. During that period the buzz word at my company was “leadership” which our management equated with the ability to make group presentations confidently (I kid you not – it didn’t take much more than an energetic speech and some flashy handouts to get ahead). While I was comfortable presenting material that I was passionate about to an interested group, I failed miserably at the “dog-and-pony” type presentations to large groups who were focused on critiquing my speaking style. I’m convinced that this stunted my career.
Which, looking back, is fine with me.
The corporate philosophy that we should focus on our “improvement areas” implies that with enough work we can excel even where we don’t have aptitude. And while I probably could have eventually learned to be comfortable speaking in front of a hostile group if I’d worked hard enough, I didn’t really want to. I had no interest in learning to act like an ESTJ, I wanted to learn to be the best INFJ possible. That meant that in my current career there were some areas where I simply would not excel. I had to accept the fact that I’d probably get a mediocre score or two on my performance review and that I wasn’t always going to be a star.
Part of staying in an environment where we’re not in our element is accepting that we’re not going to be able to achieve our fullest potential there. And that’s ok. We don’t always need to get the “A”, a hard earned ”B” or even “C” can sometimes be just as good. And when we find ourselves in this position there is still much to be learned. We can take advantage of where we are to practice our “opposites” and learn new skills to help us succeed in our next job.
Figure Out What You Need to Be Successful and Ask For It
I used to work in a small group that had to sign off on the specifics for technical projects. There were three of us and, as a group, it took us some time to process the details of the projects. However we’d always find ourselves in meetings being asked for approvals on the spot. Our pattern was to approve whatever it was in the meeting, go back to our offices and discuss it, then come back to the group and un-approve it. As you can imagine, this didn’t work out very well.
Eventually I figured out that even though we were expected to come up with a decision at the meeting, this wasn’t practical. I learned to push back and ask for more time, regardless of the pressure we were under to decide at that moment. After that we were able to make thoughtful decisions that stuck.
There are times when you don’t have to adjust yourself to fit your job. You don’t always have to do things the way they’re always done, you don’t even have to do things the way others want them done. You are part of the process, if you need to make changes so that you can be effective, it’s up to you to make them.
Create Your Own Environment
Many workplaces can seem hostile, but we create our own environment. Whether you have an office, a cubicle or a desk, there is an area that you can make your own. Music, small family pictures, even a screensaver of a favorite vacation spot can bring you back to center.
And get out as often as you can. I used to take my lunch to a sunny park near my office and sit alone and read for an hour. Often it was the high point of my day, even now I feel the rush of peace when I visit that park.
Don’t Take Any of It Personally
I have had some terrible bosses over the years. A couple were the meanest and most self-serving people I’d ever met, and one was so incompetent that he had me write emails for him. And I won’t lie, I took it all personally. I hated them, hated my job, hated my life.
But now that I’ve left it all behind I realize that all that emotion was simply junk, a bunch of turmoil over nothing. Even the worst people you deal with are, at some level, aware of their limitations. The bullies are mean out of fear, and even if they don’t seem to know it, those incompetent bosses and co-workers are aware, deep down inside, that they aren’t up to the job and live lives full of anxiety.
And none of it is really about you. All that bad behavior happens because of lack – your boss might lack skill, or awareness, or even humanity, but, bottom line, it’s about them.
Balance Your Work Life with the Rest of Your Life
You are not your job, and your job is not your life. If you find yourself in a work environment that doesn’t support you, it’s especially important to make sure that the rest of your life is engaging and fulfilling. This is the time to pick up that hobby you’ve been talking about, make time to play with the kids after work, or get busy on the book you’ve been writing in your head.