Type Differences: How to Cope

I am an INFJ.  My best friend is an ESTP.

My DeskYup.  Complete opposites.  And, as you can imagine, this has led to many misunderstandings.  I’d visit her office and see endless piles of paper and think “How can anyone be this disorganized?”  She’d visit my workspace, look at my clean desk and wonder “How can she get anything done?”

She’d schedule five activities in a weekend, I’d get burned out with one.  And we both felt sorry for the other.  I’d think how lonely someone must be to over-schedule like that, she’d think how sad I was with my one measly little weekend activity.

Then one day we had an ah-ha moment.  Watching her run around busily one day I told her, “I’d go crazy if I had that much to do.” Her reply was, “I’d go crazy if I had that little to do!”  Suddenly we both understood that our differences didn’t make one of us right and the other wrong.  They just made us different.

It’s not easy being different from the people close to you.  Especially since much of the time we operate in neutral, not realizing that the way we are isn’t the only way to be.  We don’t pay attention to other people’s motivations, we just know that their behavior feels wrong.  Someone who doesn’t arrive at a gathering with at least a 5 minute margin of safety can seem careless about arriving on time.  People who want to stay at the party when we’re ready to leave can seem inconsiderate.

But we can learn to bridge those differences.  In my INFJ Took Kit I have a document called Type Contrasts that can be used to:

Understand what’s natural to your type.  Typically we’ve done things the same way all our lives and aren’t aware of the choices we’re making.  Work to understand how you like things done and think about how this might impact others.

Figure out what’s natural to the opposite type.  People with opposite preferences not only perceive the world in a completely different way, they have different needs and ways of expressing themselves.  Becoming familiar with other’s inclinations will help us understand them better and will enable us to explain how we feel in a way they can process.

Learn to explain your feelings to others.  People who’s preferences are opposite to ours will never learn to understand us unless we help them.  Many years ago I was traveling with an extroverted friend and at the end of an active day I settled down with some magazines for some down time.  Unfortunately she was up and ready to go and she literally danced around in front of me trying to get my attention.  I just kept reading, trying to protect myself from what felt like an onslaught of energy.  I felt that she was overbearing, she felt that I was rude.  We never talked about it but she hasn’t spoken to me in the 20 years since our trip.  I suspect that she’d still be my friend today if I’d just thought to say “I’m fried right now, Becky, give me an hour of quiet time and then we can do something fun.”

It’s our responsibility to help others understand what we are feeling.  Here are some explanations I find myself frequently using:

  • “I need to think about that a few minutes, then I can tell you what I think.”
  • “I tend to not remember specific details.” (I use this when I’m pressed for information I simply don’t remember.)
  • “It hurts my feelings when you…”(fill in the blank, my list is pretty long!)
  • “I enjoy being organized, it makes traveling more fun for me.”

Ask questions when you don’t understand someone’s behavior.  How much easier it would have been for Becky and me if one of us had asked the other what was  going on with them.  If you don’t understand why someone is behaving the way they are just ask.  Make it gentle, make it polite and accept the answer you’re given but ask! Even if I’d just said “Feeling antsy?” to Becky that might have been enough to validate her feelings and not make her feel rejected.  And if she’d asked “Why are you just sitting there?” I might have been able to make her understand that I needed some downtime.

My ESTJ friend and I have learned over the years to respect our differences and ask about things that don’t make sense to us.  But I can still see that I’m still a mystery to her as I start my Christmas shopping in September, make my endless lists, and, of course, keep a sparkling clean desk.

17 Graphs That Are Way Too Real For Introverts (Buzzfeed)

I couldn’t resist passing this clever list from Buzzfeed along to my fellow introverts.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/annaborges/brb-im-introverting#.ifGVXmYAM

3 Steps to Confidence

Self ConfidenceMost of my life I’ve struggled with confidence and I hear the same from other INFJs. Over the years I’ve watched people who appeared confident and worked to figure out what makes them tick.  What I finally realized is that self-assurance isn’t some kind of inborn magic that only a lucky few have.  It’s a specific mind set, a perspective that anyone can learn.

Here are 3 steps that will help start you on the path to confidence:

1.  Stop worrying about what other people think of you

Self-consciousness, worrying about what others will think, is an instant confidence drainer.  People who are confident don’t stress if they’re under-dressed for a party or if people don’t agree with them.  Confident people own who they are and don’t care if they’re different.  They don’t get upset every time they goof up and if someone doesn’t like them they don’t agonize over it, they just shrug and move on.

2.  Be yourself

Imagine a shy person at a party, shrinking back in a corner, obviously worried that no one will talk to them. Now imagine that person sitting comfortably in that same corner, but they are relaxed and are enjoying just sitting quietly and watching the activities around them.  The first person is clearly insecure and anxious, the second comes across as relaxed and confident.  The difference between the two is that the second person accepts their quietness and just enjoys their experience of the party, the first resists who they naturally are and thinks they should be different. 

It’s interesting, once we really step in to our natural preferences, they stop feeling like problems and simply become facets of our personality.  Once I embraced the fact that I remember experiences rather than facts, I was no longer embarrassed that I forgot details and started enjoying my ability to replay the feeling of a sunny day or the joy expressed by the bride at her wedding.   

3. Focus on living a rich life rather than impressing others

You want to be beautiful/handsome, interesting, exciting and magnetic?  The good news is that you have everything you need to be all those things. Beauty?  It’s found in a relaxed smile, enthusiasm and personal style (think of the charismatic appeal of Adrian Brody, who’s exuberant personality makes him attractive, crooked nose and all). You want to be interesting and exciting? You’re both when you’re discussing areas that are obviously fascinating to you, areas that you’ve explored and spent time delving into (check out the engaging and compelling Benjamin Zander on TED.  I don’t care a thing about piano playing but I was riveted when I saw this little talk).  

In other words, the more you focus on who you are in the world, on learning, growing and connecting with others, the more attractive and confident you’ll be.

Sure, there are people who are born with confidence.  They don’t struggle like we do with shyness and insecurity.  But confidence is less about personality and more about self-acceptance.  People who are confident aren’t focused on their flaws, they’re focused on living life.  Rather than asking “Will this person like me?” they ask “What’s this person like?” When they make a faux pax they apologize and move on.  They enjoy who they are, idiosyncracies and all, because they know that their uniqueness is what makes them special.

 

Living With Grace

This week I’m just going to share this a wonderful passage about grace from the book Fortytude by Sarah Brokaw.  It struck me as a perfect way to look at life when things don’t work out as expected.

“When we make peace with life events, even when things don’t go the way we want, we exhibit grace.  When we manage stressful situations with humor, we exhibit grace.  When we are accepting of others, we exhibit grace.  Grace is not about physical beauty or having a ballerina’s poise.  It is composed of generosity, forgiveness, and equanimity in the face of trying times. 

Behaving with grace can prove challenging when we feel vulnerable.  These are the moments when we must dig deep, appreciating what we do have, reaching out to our loved ones for help, and trusting in our higher selves to get us through.”

 

Surviving a Toxic Work Environment

Photo: Getty

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 main 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. 

 

 

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: Epilogue – It’s Your Turn

Writing journal

The steps in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life are based on my challenges, on what I’ve learned in my life.  They are the rules I try to follow every day to be the boldest, strongest and best person I can be.  But we all know that all INFJs aren’t the same.  So it’s time for you to create your own list of steps.

Here’s how:

  • Go back and read each of the previous ten steps in this series with a critical eye, exploring what’s true for you and what isn’t.  Redefine each step so that it suits you, adding what’s needed and tossing out what’s not.
  • Next, it’s your turn.  From the context of your life, what can you add to the list? Take your time in creating and exploring what you come up with – your rules are important.  When I started creating this series, when I took the time to really think about what I wanted to say, my awareness deepened and I learned even more about how to deal with my challenges. Your rules for life reflect who you want to be in the world, so create them thoughtfully.  You can use the following questions to help you flesh your new rules out:
      • What’s important about this rule?  Why is your rule worth thinking about and working on?
      • What’s lost when you don’t follow the rule?
      • What do you gain when you do?
  • Honor your rules in a way that works for you.  You might want to record them in a beautiful journal, or share them with someone else who can benefit.  Make sure they don’t get lost, they are an expression of what’s important to you. Your

Your rules for life should be a living, breathing list that grows and deepens as you go through your  life.  You can use them as guideposts when making decisions, and let them help you stay clear and focused during tough times.  They should reflect not only what you’ve learned but what you want to learn, they should inform both who you are and who you want to be.

Thank you for going on this journey with me, this is the final installment in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.  I love all the connections that I’ve been able to make with other INFJs through this series, and I love hearing from you about your experiences as you discover the beauty of being an INFJ.

 

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #10 Find Your Higher Purpose

Earth from Space
Image via Wikipedia

It’s time to talk about the big picture – who we are in the world.  While self-awareness and self-acceptance discussed in the first nine installments of this series are important, we also need to pay attention to our fundamental need for contribution.  The desire to share our wisdom, values and grace with others can be a powerful force in our lives.

I spent much of my life vaguely aware that I was only part of who I was meant to be.  My jobs most often utilized my N & J skills – I was a whiz at organizing, planning and making stuff happen. But the child I’d been, the “me” that loved helping others, the little girl who played rescue with her Barbies and built tiny homes for pill bugs, had been thrust aside. I was living in survival mode, and, in my desire to succeed in what often felt like a foreign world, I tended to ignore what was really important to me.

I believe that we are all put on this earth for a purpose.  And each individual has been designed to be the perfect combination of life experience, curiosity, ambition, and awareness to fulfill that purpose. I call it my Higher Purpose but you should call it whatever works best for you.

At some level you already have a sense of your higher purpose, whether you’re fully aware of it or not.  It’s an internal awareness – you can identify it by the zing of correctness you feel when you’re on target and by the discomfort and discord you feel when you’re off purpose.  For many people our higher purpose never emerges as more than just a jumble of vague feelings – they’re happy when they’ve done “good” and feel embarrassed or unsatisfied when they’ve strayed.

I want more than that for you.  I want you to get clear on what’s most important to you, and what impact you want to have on the world around you.  I believe that to know our higher purpose, to accept it as such, and to seek to live it, whatever form it might take, is why we are on the earth.

Exercise:  Mining For Your Higher Purpose

Already know your higher purpose?  Great!  Go ahead and skip to the next section.  This exercise is for those of us who aren’t quite clear about it.

Often our higher purpose is right on the tip of our tongue, just out of sight.  We kind of know what it might be, or we know the general category, but it’s still a foggy idea of something that will be great as soon as we figure it out.

Below are some questions that help you start to identify your higher purpose.  Whatever it turns out to be, it comes from what’s important to you.  It can be about the wrongs you want to right or change you want to bring about, or the beauty you want to contribute in the form of art or music.  Its the pure expression of your unique combination of talent, insight and sense of what matters.

Mull over these questions in whatever way works best for you – jot your thoughts in your journal as they come to you or consider a new question each time you exercise.

  1. What did you want to be when you grew up?  While our childhood answers might seem trite and conventional – we wanted to be firemen, ballerinas, or cowboys – even those answers contain information (we want to rescue people in danger, create beauty and grace, or have rough ‘n tumble adventures).  At various times I wanted to run a post office, be a private detective and write books. What leaps out at me from my answer is a love for order, finding solutions and communication.  What information can you extract from your childhood dreams?
  2. What are your “hot buttons”?  When you look at our society what upsets you the most?  I react to any form of bullying – from the tragic high school kids who are bullied into committing suicide to watching Donald Trump verbally abuse anyone who contradicts him.  Our hot buttons tell us what’s important to us, what we feel needs to be changed.
  3. What comes up when you remove all the barriers? What would you do with your days if you had all the money, time and support you needed? If your perfect occupation was instantly available to you what would it be?  So often the logistics of our lives get in the way that we spend our time in maintenance mode and never move into the stuff we planned to do when all the work was finished.

What Now?

Think you know your higher purpose?  Here are some things to keep in mind when you decide what’s next:

  • You don’t have to quit your job to pursue your life’s work.  I have a friend who tutors illiterate adults on weekends, another who works for Habitat for Humanity whenever she can. It’s all about finding ways to fulfill your higher purpose where ever you are, not finding a place where it already exists.  I was still employed when I started training to be a life coach so I tried to use my developing skills to help my co-workers deal with the outsourcing of our department.
  • You don’t need to know how to do what you want to do, you just need to start.  If you wait until you feel you’re ready, chances are you’ll never begin.  When I was training to be a coach, we were encouraged to find clients after our very first class. We had to trust that we’d be ok, and we had to be willing to make mistakes. And even though I goofed up plenty I couldn’t have been that bad – I’m still working with several of those early clients.
  • Living your higher purpose will make you uncomfortable sometimes. Any time we try something new we end up pushed out of our comfort zones in some way.  We may end up having to talk to strangers, travel alone, maybe even make a speech to a room full of people! Creating the impact that we want to make in the world takes courage, resilience and persistence.  Luckily, each of us already have those qualities available, all we have to do is use them.  Feel like you’re not courageous? Take the next step by deciding to do something that takes courage and presto! you’re courageous.  Just like that.
  • Your higher purpose will change as you explore it. One thing I learned in coaching is that as we make progress toward our goals, our goals will continually change.  As we learn what we need to know to succeed, our goals tend to become deeper and more meaningful.  The same is true for your higher purpose – as you bring your passion into the world the world will reward you with more passion, which will fuel a deeper and richer purpose to pursue.

My Higher Purpose isto help everyone (including myself!) become more self-aware, self-accepting, and as confident as possible. Everything I write is about learning about who we really are, and then loving what we discover.  And then simply being ourselves in the freest, biggest possible way.

My gift to you is my deepest and sincerest wish that you experience the beauty and power of who you really are deep down inside.  And your gift to me has been your time spent reading and contributing to this blog.

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