10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #6 Stay Connected To the World

Parkpop 2009 - The girl in the crowd
Image by Haags Uitburo via Flickr

INFJs are typically pretty internal folks.  As Charles R. Martin states in the book Looking at Type: The Fundamentals, “For INFJs the dominant quality in their lives is their attention to the inner world of possibilities, ideas, and symbols.”  And with this internal focus we can sometimes lose touch with what’s going on with the people around us. We might think that our desire for interpersonal harmony would balance this out, but that desire often just makes us more anxious and even more internally focused.

Here are a few ways to turn that focus outward:

Be aware of your impact on others – There is a woman who contributes to an online coaching bulletin board who drives me crazy.  Her posts, which are often are overly long, typically contain words and concepts that the rest of us don’t understand.  She loves to lecture on theory, and can get snippy when she’s crossed (and yes, she’s an INFJ).

I suspect that if you asked her, she’d say that she’s viewed as highly intelligent, skillful as a coach, and maybe a little feisty when someone oversteps. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that many people on the bulletin board see her as an arrogant know-it-all, who’s also a bit nasty.

What’s sad is that she’s probably a very nice person who is unaware of her impact on others. And what gets lost in all her noise is the fact that her posts frequently contain excellent advice for new coaches, and she often is able to ground discussions that have gotten out of hand with clarity and common sense.

Give people the benefit of the doubt – We (everyone, not just INFJs) tend to fill in the blanks.  When we don’t have full information about others we tend to make up facts to complete the story.  Then we act as if our story is true.

The key here is to remember that we don’t know everything about other people, even those closest to us. When accept this and stop assuming we know it all, suddenly the grumpy guy up the street becomes a mystery (why is he so sad?), the annoyingly clinging friend gets our compassion (I wonder what her family life is like?), and we recognize that there’s probably a story behind that angry co-worker.

Take up your space but only your space – the womanfrom the bulletin board that I wrote about earlier is a perfect example of someone taking up too much space (both figuratively and literally).  If she paid attention to how long others’ posts are, and that they typically offered advice rather than extended monologues about theory, she would realize that she was out of step with the majority of the participants. If she adjusted her posts to fit in with the rest of the bulletin board I suspect that she would be seen as a valuable contributor.

The same is true for all conversations, both in-person and virtual.  Think about the Facebook over-posters, we can’t hide them quickly enough! Or the person who dominates a conversation with an endless monologue about themselves, punctuating it with questions that are seemingly about us but are really just about topics they want to shift to.

However, INFJs also need to be aware of the flip side – we also want to make sure not to take up too little space in our dealings with others. Don’t stay quiet when it’s your time to speak, don’t hide your light in deference to others.

Exercise:  Explore Your Impact

Over the next week use the tactics below to assess your impact on others.  At the end of each day jot down what you’ve learned and what changes you’d like to make in your behavior.

  • Ask questions – the easiest way to find out how you’re perceived is to ask someone you trust about how they see you.  Keep the subject bite-sized by asking about a specific event rather than a general question (i.e. Ask “Did I seem oversensitive with that woman back there?” rather than “Do you think I’m too sensitive?”)
  • Pay attention – When you’re in a conversation, look, listen and receive rather than just sending.  Notice if the other person looks interested or bored, listen to their responses to check in on how the exchange is going, use your intuition to get a feel for the vibe of the conversation.  And if your antenna picks up something negative, ask about it with a simple question like “Am I going into too much detail?”
  • Put yourself in their shoes – INFJs like to share and can often do it too much.   Sometimes when I’m ready to launch into a story about my day, or a review of my opinion about something, I’ll ask myself “Will this be interesting to the person I’m talking to? Would I want to hear about this from someone else?”  The answer is often “No, it’s actually pretty boring!”

This is the sixth installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

11 thoughts on “10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #6 Stay Connected To the World

  1. I think you have provided some provided some valuable advice. I definitely live in my inner world most of the time, especially while at college. I am actually anxious about returning home for a year to take prerequisites. I feel suffocated and over-stimulated and never get my space when I am there. Frankly, I’m unsure how I will maintain peace but I’ll do my best to get my “alone time”. I just find it is an abrupt change from being completely on your own to going back to a house of people. My mother is an ESFJ, we ‘butt heads’ to say the least. If you have advice, I welcome it.

    1. Hi Allie,

      First, thanks for your kind comments, I’m glad you find my blog helpful! And I remember those days when I was in college and I had to return home after all that freedom. It’s difficult no matter what types everyone is, but I imagine it’s even more difficult if you’re living with someone so different.

      So here’s my advice:
      -First, remember that everyone is ok – you are ok and so is your Mom. And it’s also ok if you don’t understand each other. It’s your job to educate your Mom as to what you need and why you do the things you do. For example, understand that she probably isn’t aware when she crowds you, she may not even understand what you’re talking about. Address your differences with patience (“I really need some downtime, Mom, so I’m going to the library” vs “Leave me alone! You’re driving me crazy!”) and let her know that you’re not rejecting her but just need some time to yourself.

      -Make sure that you have a place to get away to. If you have your own room, make it a haven, someplace where you can comfortably hole up. Explain to your family that you need to get away sometimes and ask that they not interrupt you when your door is closed.

      -Find ways to get out of the house when you need to, especially if you don’t get the privacy you need at home. Take a book to the library, have your morning coffee in a corner at Starbucks, on nice days study at the park.

      -The first post of my series, View Yourself as Whole, talks about identifying your preferences. Use similar questions to explore yours as far as spending time at home. For example, I prefer socializing at lunch, by dinner time I’m often ready to quiet down. And I know that I don’t like to talk to anyone until after breakfast so I ask folks to stay away.

      -Use the Will/Won’t grid in *Learn to Say “No” and Mean It* to identify your boundaries. Your list could read something like – You will: help your mother grocery shop once a week, share general information with her about school and your friends, cook for the family once a week, etc. You won’t: go on errands with your Mother when you don’t want to, feel obligated to participate in family activities, share more with your Mom about school and friends then you want to, etc.

      -Use a “No Sandwich” (Learn to Say “No” and Mean It) to set limits when you need to.

      If you haven’t already you might want to share Type Contrasts (in the INFJ tool kit) with your mother. It will help you both understand your differences and give you a frame of reference for discussions when conflicts come up.

      I hope this helps a little, good luck and let me know how it goes!


  2. Melinda,

    Thank you for all the tips. I’ve relayed that I do need my space when I am at home but I am glad you stressed the ‘no means no’. I find I do say ‘yes’ just to please my family members at times and find myself quite miserable when I didn’t feel like an outing, trip, etc. I will work on this. She knows about the contrasts ‘a bit’, my whole family is familiar with the MBTI because of me. Haha. It has helped me understand them better which was my main goal.

    And I do appreciate your blog, I think it’s also a bit surreal to see myself in so many of the posts. It’s also refreshing to feel a bit understood.


    1. Hi Allie,

      It can be hard when we focus on trying to please other people. I think that the key is to understand and accept the fact that sometimes our actions will make others unhappy. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them, it just means that they won’t always like what we do. Once we get to a place where we can be ok with that, where we can feel compassion for their unhappiness without feeling responsible for it, we can start getting comfortable in our own lives.


  3. Very well written. Needed to hear some of that this week. I think I used to do a lot of that naturally but it fell by the wayside as I got older. Time for a return to my roots! 🙂

    1. Hi Ryan,

      Yeah, it can get so cozy in our little shells that we can forget how fun the rest of the world is!

      Thanks for your comment,


  4. , “For INFJs the dominant quality in their lives is their attention to the inner world of possibilities, ideas, and symbols.” And with this internal focus we can sometimes lose touch with what’s going on with the people around us. We might think that our desire for interpersonal harmony would balance this out, but that desire often just makes us more anxious and even more internally focused. ”’

    Lol, I feel so transparent now.. This entry is definitely one for me ~_~

  5. Most of this post strikes me as rather odd advice for INFJs, though I’m no MBTI expert. I am a self-identified INFJ, and one of my weaknesses is worrying nonstop about my impact on others and the world at large. I thought INFJs in general were supposed to be pretty attuned to their impacts, but I suppose this is personal bias.

    I’m also not sure I’d be so bothered by this woman you describe. (For the record, I’m not her, and I have no idea what kinds of message boards you’re writing about.) Theory is good to know; her advice is there for the taking (or not); and people have very different ways of expressing themselves verbally. If she’s condescending, that’s one thing, but if she’s just using a lot of confusing terminology, that’s another. She might not realize it. I have this problem too.

    1. Hi ms,

      Nice to hear from you, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hear what you’re saying about INFJs worrying about our impact on others, but in my experience our worry sounds more like “Is he mad at me?” than “Is he understanding what I want to communicate?” It’s the difference between anxious worry where we’re trapped in our thoughts and making sure we’re communicating as we think we are.

      And I hear what you say about the woman I talk about. My problem with her is that even though I’ve received training in the area she likes to talk about, because she uses so much jargon and is so theoretical I understand very little of what she says. And her subject isn’t the subject of the bulletin board, so the rest of the folks understand even less. And, you’re right, she doesn’t realize it.

      And, like you, my tendency is to do the same thing too, I think that’s why she bugs me so much – we hate in others what we hate in ourselves. 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to let me know what you think,


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