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.

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.”

 

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.

 

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #9 Stop Trying to Control the World

BossyDon’t you just love it?  That feeling that everything is going as it should?  In my blog post The Illusion of Control I talk about how we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve got things under control.

As “J”s we have a natural desire to arrange circumstances, correct problems, make sure that things run smoothly.  Add our “F” energy to that, all that mushy desire to make sure everyone is happy, and we can end up really overdoing it.

It feels good from our end, arranging things for other folks, but I can tell you from personal experience, it’s not fun to be on the other end of that energy.  When I was growing up my father used to decide what was best for me and then badger me endlessly until I did things his way.  I’ve never felt more disempowered and small than I did after giving in to his pressure.

I talked about defining and protecting your boundaries a few weeks ago, but my topic today is about identifying and respecting the boundaries of others. Because, really, the only person we need to control in life is ourselves. The only circumstances we are entitled to arrange are our own circumstances.  The people in our lives have their own approach to solving problems and if they need our help they’ll ask for it.  And yes, we can organize the heck out of committees, events and special occasions, but the only way we can make sure we’re not overrunning everyone else is to ask permission and accept the answer.

Exercise:  Practice Letting Go

This exercise requires that you step out of your routine and pay attention to your assumptions.  This can be difficult for an INFJ, there is often an inherent feeling of correctness to our opinions, they can feel so right that we forget there are other perspectives.  You can overcome this “assumption of correctness” by stepping out of your personal perspective and taking on the perspective of an “observer self.”  As an observer self, you become neutral, watching yourself interact with others as if you’re watching a movie.

  1. Over the next week, start paying attention to the small decisions you make where you assume that your way, or the way it’s always been done, is correct.  These are the little things, like making the assumption that you and your friend will always have lunch at your favorite restaurant, automatically planning to arrive at a movie 20 minutes early, assuming that you and your neighbor will walk at the same time every day (these are all, by the way, examples from my life).
  2. Start letting the other person decide.  Check in with them to see if they want something different.  A casual way to do this is to say something like “We always go to lunch at Scotty’s, would you like to try someplace else?”  or “What time would it work best for you to leave for the movies?  If you’re in a group and plans are being made, try staying quiet and let the group make the decisions without your input.
  3. For each experience ask yourself the following:
      • What was it like to give up control?  Uncomfortable? Scary? Or was it freeing, a relief?
      • What was the outcome of the new decision?  Did things work out worse, better or the same?
      • How did the other person/people respond to being consulted or making the decision?
      • What did you learn?

Exercise: Who Do You Want To Be?

Who do you want to be when the time for decisions to be made?  Think about your role in your family, friends and co-workers lives and design a set of rules for where you want your limits to be.  By deciding before the fact you’re more likely to be aware as you navigate through this tricky terrain.

As an example, here are my rules:

  • Don’t try to “fix” anything for my adult daughter.  This means that if even if I see her struggling with something I don’t jump in with a solution unless asked. Letting other adults work out their own issues is a sign of respect, not neglect.
  • When I’m planning something as part of a group:
      • Voice my opinion as an opinion, not as a declaration of the way things should be.
      • Listen to the suggestions of others openly, recognizing that their ideas might be better than mine.
      • Step back from the desire that everything be planned, stop worrying about what might happen and just let it happen, knowing that I can handle whatever comes up.
  • Ask for permission before planning, “fixing” or taking over someone else’s effort.
  • Take “No” for an answer.
  • Recognize the fact that just because I think my ideas are right doesn’t mean that they really are.

This is the ninth 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.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #8 Practice Your Opposites

ESTP“You have no idea how hard this is for me…”  That’s how my friend’s boss began when he told her that her job had been eliminated. You see, he’s an “F” and in his mind this gave him permission to focus on his discomfort rather than the fact that he was ending my friend’s 28 year career.

He’s also the guy that whined in meetings that he was a “J” so he needed more information to make a decision.

There’s one thing about accepting and making the most of our types, it’s another to use them to excuse self-serving or inflexible behavior.  Because no matter what our type is, we are fully able to learn to function effectively in the areas that aren’t our strengths.  I had an introvert friend in high school who was more outgoing than most of the extroverts I knew. No, she didn’t become an extrovert, she just learned to focus her attention outward in social situations when she wanted to.

Part of becoming a fully functioning adult is learning to do what doesn’t come naturally.  I have a terrible time with directions but over the years I’ve learned how to manage finding my way around.  Sure it takes a bunch of aids – I have a GPS system, a notebook full of directions and when I don’t have my tools I have to focus hard on landmarks and street names, but most of the time I can get where I’m going without any problem.  It’s hasn’t become easy, I’m not like an “S” with their uncanny way of knowing how to get anywhere they’ve been, but I do just fine.

You Can Learn

With some practice you can learn to function in the areas that aren’t your type.

To Practice Extraversion:

  • Join and participate in a social or professional group or club (find a group where the size and frequency of meetings won’t overwhelm you).
  • Have lunch with one new social or business contact per week to increase your networking circle and to add breadth to your relationships.
  • If you think someone can help you formulate a plan or move it into action, ask him or her for assistance, even if you prefer going it alone.
  • Solicit another’s input; open up with at least one other trusted person and share what you’re thinking.
  • At your workplace, make a practice of getting away from your desk, even if only briefly. Keep your office door open at times, and connect with co-workers.    If you don’t work, or work from home, get out of the house at least once a day and connect as much as possible with the people you meet when you’re out.

To Practice Sensing:

  • Take stock with your five senses periodically. What do you see, hear, smell, taste and touch? What does the air feel like, what do you see around you?
  • When going someplace new, pay attention to the route, landmarks, and what your destination looks like.  Note where you park your car and what entrance you use.   Try to stay oriented to north, south, east and west.
  • Stay in the present – frequently check in with what’s actually happening in the moment.
  • Focus on what you truly experience and what it means vs. what you make up or infer about it.  Take a situation purely at face value without adding any interpretation or “story” to it.
  • Practice relaying direct, specific facts to others.
  • Tell a story in more depth than you typically would including precise, exact and accurate details.
  • Periodically do a mental scan of people in your life – what’s going on with my daughter? spouse? co-worker?
  • Increase your connection with the external world by consistently listening to the news or reading a news paper or news magazine.  Focus on staying informed about key local and world events.

To Practice Thinking:

  • Practice giving simple, direct, to-the-point feedback to others. When feedback comes your way, don’t take it personally; use what’s helpful and ignore the rest.
  • Ask yourself if-then and cause-effect questions such as, “If I say ‘yes’ to this, then what do I need to give up?” “What are the effects that result from these actions?”
  • Make a decision using an objective framework.   List pros and cons, but don’t include any with emotional content (except for what’s in line with your personal values).  Make a decision based on an analysis of the pros and cons.
  • After making a decision using an objective framework, take a tough­ minded stance and hold firm.  Use the information from your analysis to support your position.
  • When you believe that something you’ve said or done has hurt someone’s feelings, check in with them to see if your perception is correct.

To Practice Perceiving:

  • Schedule a day to go with the flow.   Note what turns up that adds value to the day.
  • Allow a reasonable period of time to elapse (a few hours or a day) before finalizing a decision.  Use the extra time to gather more information or probe for additional insights.
  • In solving a problem, think of several options besides the one you think is correct. Make a list of the pros and cons of each option and its impact on people. Challenge your original selection.
  • Monitor yourself for a day and see what happens when you allow yourself to be interrupted. Try to increase your tol­erance for delays, ambiguities, and unforeseen changes.
  • Don’t answer e-mails or voice mails immediately, wait as long as practical before replying.
  • If people want your opinion, try remaining neutral. Give several alternatives and let them decide for themselves.
  • Go on an outing with no plans or schedules.  Let others make all the decisions and focus on relaxing and enjoying whatever happens.

This is the eighth 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.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #7 Seek Approval From Within

This is Called
Image by AJ Brustein via Flickr

I spent some time reading an INFJ online bulletin board and was surprised and embarrassed at how many of the posts just shrieked “poor me!”  It showed up over and over again –  “nobody appreciates me!”  “I’m so sensitive!”  “he did this to me, she did that…!”

I was surprised both by the quantity of the complaints and by the fact that the people posting them seemed to feel so victimized.

However I was embarrassed because they sounded startlingly similar to the whining that often is going on in my own head.

Which made me realize that all that complaining is pretty unappealing. Even though it’s true that INFJs are sometimes overlooked and underappreciated, it doesn’t benefit us to focus on it.  In order to reach our full potential in life we need to stop seeking external validation.  We need to accept the fact that our power is subtle, our passion is quiet, and our strength is internal.

We need to stop relying on the approval of others to feel good about ourselves.

It’s not as hard as you might think:

Create an internal measure of validation – Identify your own values, what’s important to you, and determine the worth of your actions based on those. If you’re passionate about helping others then your work tutoring illiterate adults is priceless, no matter what anyone says or doesn’t say. And if you get some praise for it, that’s nice, but stay connected with the fact that helping someone is what’s important, getting external recognition is a perk.

Celebrate your accomplishments – Don’t wait for someone else to acknowledge your triumphs, do it yourself.  Just finished the first draft of your book?  Treat yourself to a day off where you can do whatever you want.  Had the courage to take on a tough assignment at work?  Buy yourself a new leather portfolio to help you feel a touch more professional at the meetings you’ll be attending. By acknowledging your own successes you’re not only recognizing the value of your work, you’re also reducing your reliance on others’ approval.

Understand that you can still be right even if no one else agrees with you – There are times when I just know I’m right about something and no one around me will acknowledge it.  When that happens it can feel like my knowledge doesn’t mean anything because no one else sees it. I suspect that most INFJs encounter this – our insights are often so subtle that they can appear to have been pulled out of thin air to our less intuitive companions.

You’ll always be frustrated until you accept the simple fact that sometimes you’ll know more than the people around you.  Again, it’s about understanding that your wisdom is solid, deep, and enough.  You don’t need the recognition of others to confirm that you know what you know.

My coach once called me a “silent warrior” and that resonated with me.  I think that is a great way to look at the internal power, insight and strength that INFJs carry with them.

Exercise: Identify Your Values

One of the best ways to determine the value of your actions is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your values.

  1. Make a list of the things that are most important in your life (aside from your basic needs such as food, clothing, etc). My list, for example, would include the following:  loyal friends that I can laugh with, time with my daughter, finding the best way for me to help others people, my home, reading, doing work that matters, creating something meaningful, and learning.
  2. Review your list with an eye towards looking for your values – they should be easy to spot.  The values that come out of my list are: friendship, laughter, family, helping others, nesting, reading & learning, creativity and contribution.
  3. Keep a list of your values and make it a living document – mature it by adding other areas as you notice them.  Use it when making decisions and compare how you spend your time with what’s on your list.

This is the seventh 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.

 

 

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.