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.

How to Impress Others

Photo by beastmanphotos via Flickr

We all want to be smart, beautiful, magnetic. We want to impress others with our charm and intelligence. What’s the best way to dazzle those around us? It’s not what you might think.

First, a simple exercise. Make a list of five things you want others to think about you. Each item on the list should start with “I’d like others to think I’m…” Your list might include things like “loveable”, “intelligent” or “a leader”. Create your list now and don’t read any farther until you have at least five items on it.

Done? Now take a look at the items on your list – it’s likely that these are where you put a lot of your energy and focus. They are probably the areas you tend to stress about, that trigger your insecurities. My guess is that this is where you want to look good but feel that you don’t.

The problem is that wanting “others to think” you’re anything (fill in the blank – smart, cute, charismatic…) puts the focus on merely looking good. And when our efforts go into looking good we can end up convincing ourselves that looking good is equal to actually being good – believing that talking like an intellectual is the same as being intelligent (and who hasn’t found themselves with someone who loves to hear themselves talk as they try to impress others?)

But don’t throw away your list! It’s a valuable inventory of areas that are important to you, areas that you really do want to improve in your life. You can use that information to figure out where to put your efforts and energy to learn and grow.

Using the list you created, identify an action step for each item that will move you towards being good in the areas you care about.

For example using the list in the second paragraph one might work to:

  • Become more loveable by building sincere connections with others
  • Increase your knowledge by reading about an era in history you’re interested in, joining a book club or taking a class
  • Learn leadership skills by asking someone seen as a leader to be your mentor

When we put our focus on merely looking good we often achieve the opposite effect. Plus, our efforts are usually surprisingly transparent to others, and we may waste valuable time and resources in trying to create what is, ultimately, an illusion. By focusing on improving our knowledge or skills in the areas that are important to us, we end up not only achieving more but we also end up looking good naturally and effortlessly.

Field Guide to the Loner: The Real Insider (Psychology Today)

This is a terrific article from Psychology Today on Introverts.  Even though in the article we’re called “loners” it does a great job of illustrating the fact that much of the time we’re quite happy to be alone.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200703/field-guide-the-loner-the-real-insiders

Are Your Flaws Really Your Strengths?

grandmother's report card
Image by victoriabernal via Flickr

I grew up thinking that I wasn’t quite as good as other people.  I was shy, not as smart as my older brother (who was, in his words, “brilliant!”), and I wanted nothing more than to be part of the in-crowd in High School.  Finally, after muddling through college, I found a place in the work world where my organizational skills and ability to learn quickly helped me find success.

My corporate career served me well in many ways – I was able to support myself and my daughter, buy a house, and enjoy a bit of the American Dream.  But I never felt really connected to my work.  Sure I had triumphs, times of growth and recognition, but many of my personal qualities – my sensitivity, imagination and soft-heartedness were, for the most part, liabilities in that environment.

But once I’d moved on to the post-corporate world I found that the traits that had made my life difficult in the business arena became assets in my new role as a life coach.   Actually, they were more than assets, they were necessary for success.

The lesson here, I think, is that those parts of us that we wish we could change, those  “flaws” that show up on our report cards or reviews, are really only our flaws as defined by our current environment.  On the flip side of those “flaws” we often find our greatest strengths.  I struggle with public speaking but love writing.  I have a friend who is considered brash by some, but to those she protects she’s a hero.  I have another friend who believes in the goodness of everyone and would probably be chewed up in a big company, but she’s a leader and a glowing success at the school where she teaches Special Education.

When we wish we were different, we hold back what we have to offer the world, and when we do that we end up a pale imitation of the person we were meant to be.  Every personal quality we have, every quirk, is a gift.  And those quirks, those differences, they’re what make us unique, and in our uniqueness is our beauty.

Don’t Be a Victim

“It’s not fair!”  Don’t you hate those whiny victims – always complaining about the problems in their lives?  Why don’t they just get it together and do something about it!  Right?

Don’t look now, but chances are that on occasion you are that whiny victim, too.  The good (and bad) news is that, at times, we all are.

A toddler girl crying
Image via Wikipedia

People feel victimized when circumstances feel out of their control, when the unfairness of life impacts getting what they want, or being treated the way they feel they should be treated. And, feeling helpless, they retreat emotionally to when they were truly helpless, back into childhood, when they really didn’t have much control over their lives.  Ever notice the childish tone a person in victim mode can take?  They’re awash in the feelings they had years ago when Mommy took the candy away.

When it’s our life, when it’s happening to us, our frustration kicks in, and once that emotion takes over it’s easy to fall back into the childhood feeling of “It’s not fair!”   We become blind to the fact that we’ve fallen into helplessness.  We lose touch with the fact that we have adult powers that can help us deal with whatever is going on.  And, much of the time, we don’t even realize that we’ve made ourselves a victim.

How can we avoid becoming a victim?  We can’t.  Its human nature to feel sorry for ourselves occasionally.  The trick is recognizing when we’ve slid into helplessness and pulling ourselves out of it.

How can we tell when we’re falling into victim mode?  It’s easy – we’ve stepped into a victim role when we hear ourselves complaining without including possible resolutions.  For example, “He’s so unfair! Why is he treating me like this?” is victim language, while “He’s so unfair, and I’m talking to him about it as soon as I cool down.” is not.

How can we pull ourselves out of victim mode?  In the two statements above, feel the hopelessness of the first statement.  And the power in the second.  When we simply complain, we imply that there’s nothing we can do about the problem.  However, by identifying an action to be taken we step out of victimhood and into our personal power.

What if there’s nothing we can do about the problem?  Sometimes there are no solutions, something difficult to deal with has happened and there are no actions we can take.  In situations like these even though we can’t change the outcomes we can change how we deal with them.  By focusing on the future, on what we can impact, we can avoid hopelessness and stay connected to what’s still possible.

People who don’t make an effort to identify and correct when they’ve fallen into victim mode often end up in a destructive vicious cycle of helplessness and bitterness. We’ve all met people who are locked into the past, whose potential is derailed by events they never got over.

By making it a habit to notice when we’ve gotten stuck on our grievances and moving ourselves into action, we can stay on the track to success and growth.  We become better able to cope with the current reality and more prepared for the next “unsolvable” problem that is sure to come.