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: #5 Protect Your Heart

 Heart

I’ve said it before – one of the best things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are. And one of the hardest things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are! 

Like most F’s I seek harmony. And when one of my friends or loved ones is in a bad mood it’s really difficult not take it personally. My natural tendency is to make it about myself – “What did I do?” or “Why is he being so mean to me?” But this is a form of self-absorption: we’re focused on our reaction, on how we feel, rather than what’s happening with the other person. We need to shift the question from “Why is he picking on me?” to “What’s going on with him that’s upset him so much?”

Some Tips for Dealing with Others’ Upsets

Don’t take it personally – When someone else is upset, it’s about them, not you. Even if they lash out at you or blame you – remember that everyone loses perspective when they’re distraught. Keep your cool and give them the gift of your compassion.

Don’t try to fix or soothe them – you can’t – Telling someone the “look at the bright side” or to “feel better” doesn’t do anything except negate what they’re feeling. You can provide a safe and nurturing space for someone who’s upset by just listening and encouraging them to talk about how they feel.

Watch out for perennial victims – I used to work with a woman who always focused on the worst aspect of any situation. When she started a new job she’d immediately identify who “hated” her. Every setback was a disaster, every problem was the worst thing she’d ever dealt with. For years I rode these ups and downs with her, worrying about her latest insolvable problem or dysfunctional relationship. I finally recognized that her life was spent moving from trauma to trauma. I learned to provide a sympathetic ear and bits of feedback when I thought she could handle it, but I stopped getting sucked in to the drama of it all.

Avoid taking on their pain – Your compassion helps, your hurting along with the other person doesn’t. This also goes for all the painful input out there – TV news coverage of disasters or violence, commercials showing abused animals, even graphic movies or TV shows. Staying whole will enable you to use your compassion and caring to fuel contributions to solutions, taking on others’ pain will only weaken and distract you.

I know, all this is easier said than done. But it benefits everyone when you can provide a supportive, calm and grounded environment when someone close to you is upset – I like to think of it as giving the gift of being strong when they’re at their weakest.

Exercise: Who Owns This Problem?

Like the 6 Questions in Manage Those Pesky Emotions, you can use a few of questions to explore the emotions around interpersonal upsets. When you find yourself dealing with an upsetting situation, ask yourself:

  1. Who owns this problem? The person who is impacted by the problem is the owner, not you. In the example above, my friend’s problems belongs solely to her, in no way should they become my problems. The only exception to this is when the other person is a child or a defenseless creature – then ownership is shared by everyone.
  2. Have I contributed to the problem?
    If the answer is “yes” the question then becomes: What can I do to make it right? (and it’s often as simple as apologizing)
    If the answer is “no” the question then becomes: Do I want to help and is it appropriate for me to do so?
  3. What do I want my involvement to be? Make sure that if and how you help is your decision. You should always have final say on how much you want to help, and what contribution you are willing to make.

This is the fifth 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: #2 Manage Those Pesky Emotions

You know it, that flare of anger, that feeling of “I HAVE to say something, NOW!”  I know it well, it’s been the precursor to many of my most inappropriate outbreaks of temper.

Our “F” energy puts us squarely in the middle of the emotion of any situation. INFJs are easily hurt, and in reaction we can end up hurting others. But we don’t have to be at the mercy of our feelings, we can learn to recognize them and control ourselves until we can rationally consider the situation.

Here’s how I do it:

The First Step – Stop!

Unless you are faced with a truly dangerous situation, feeling the simmer of anger or hurt should always be a signal to stop and take stock.  When you feel yourself getting emotional, the first things to remember is, if at all possible, do not react! When we’re in this state our perception is off and our judgment is impaired – these are the times that we say and do things we regret later.  What makes it more difficult is when our emotions are engaged we often feel that we urgently must say something, now!  The combination of emotionality and a feeling of urgency is a clear tip-off that you need to step back and assess the situation.

The 6 Questions

Once I’ve refrained from reacting, I use what I call the “6 Questions” to sort fact from fiction:

  1. What are the bare facts of the situation? (Don’t include emotional information or impact)
  2. What am I telling myself about it?
  3. What’s the fear (or hurt)?
  4. Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?
  5. Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?
  6. What is important here?

An Example

To help you understand how the process works, here’s an example from my life:

My friend Michael was coming into town for a class on a Friday and was planning to stay at my house.  I’d assumed that he was flying in on Thursday afternoon and was prepared to pick him up at that time.  On Wednesday evening he called me and told me that he’d decided to take a flight that got in at 8:30 Thursday morning and asked if I would be available to pick him up.  My reaction was “What??  Oh no!!  I have plans for the morning through lunch – I can’t do this!” At that point I became upset, and felt that he didn’t care at all that he was imposing on me.

If I’d taken this situation through the 6 Questions it would have gone something like this:

1.   What are the bare facts of the situation?

Michael was arriving at 8:30am on Friday and was asking if I could pick him up.

2.   What am I telling myself about it?

He expected me to pick him up and entertain him all day.  He made plans at the last minute without considering how they would affect me.  If I don’t pick him up he’ll be abandoned in San Francisco. 

3.  What’s the fear (or hurt)?

My fear is that he’d be mad at me if I couldn’t, or wouldn’t pick him up

4.   Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?

I could ask Michael something like “It sounds like you’re relying on me to pick you up.  Is that true?”  I realized after the fact that he would have answered something like, “No, I’m fine, I have other friends in the city that I can hang out with, I just thought it would be fun to spend more time with you.”

5.   Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?

Michael is fine, he doesn’t need me to pick him up. 

6.  What is important here?

That I don’t make myself responsible for Michael – he can take care of himself.  

Exercises: Practice Managing Your Emotions

Create a “Trigger List” – List as many as you can think of for each: negative beliefs you have about yourself, negative beliefs you have about others, and negative beliefs about how the world works.  These tend to be your triggers for emotional outbreaks, and being aware of them will help you be prepared.

Learn to Use the 6 Questions – Think of a couple of situations that you were in where your emotions were triggered.  Try running them through the 6 Questions and notice how your assessment of the situation changes.

Practice Breaking – Practice putting the breaks on your reactions when you feel emotional.  Next time you feel yourself getting upset just stop – don’t do or say anything.  Retreat from the situation until you’re completely calm and then reassess your reactions.  Notice any assumptions you might have made and any misconceptions that might have fed into your emotions.

This is the second in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.