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.