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.

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.

 

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.

Listening With Curiosity

I’ll be honest – until a few years ago I thought I was right most of the time. And not just about my life, but also about what was best for others. I was humbled when I finally I stepped back and really listened to other people’s ideas – I realized that while my conclusions and solutions might be right for me, they often weren’t right for them.

When I was training to be a life coach in my first coaching class we were taught to “stay in curiosity”; to simply ask questions without drawing conclusions or trying to guide others to “see it our way”. This was a rude awakening for many of the students in the class – we’d come to coaching because we felt we had wisdom to share. What I learned was that people’s thoughts, perceptions and conclusions often had no resemblance to my own, and what I thought was right for them was often flat out wrong.

Staying in curiosity isn’t just for coaches. Staying in curiosity will help you be a better partner, parent, boss, co-worker or team member. Learning to stay open with others is powerful for both you and them – you have the benefit of learning about others, and they have the treat of being really listened to with respect and openness.

Try these 5 tips for staying in curiosity:

#1. Don’t assume that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling
It’s true that when you’ve known someone a long time you might have a good idea about what’s going on with them. But what’s key here is that you might not. You might have been making incorrect assumptions about them for years! And we all change, what was true about someone yesterday might not be true today.

#2. Listen
So often when someone is talking to us we are mentally crafting our replies, evaluating what they are saying, or, sometimes, we might even be off composing our grocery list.
To really listen:

  • Keep your mind clear of opinions, answers and conclusions. Seek to discover what information the speaker is providing.
  • Stay neutral, don’t shift your focus to your emotional response or start trying to figure out solutions.
  • Let the other person finish, don’t interrupt or jump in with your thoughts.

#3. Don’t provide solutions or give advice
Ouch! We all love to provide our insights to others, especially when we think we can help. And we may even be right some of the time! However, the fact is that all of us are much more inspired by solutions we design ourselves than those provided by someone else. There’s a great deal of value to be gained by going through the process of figuring out what to do – we learn more about ourselves, the situation we are in, and how to succeed when we seek our own solutions.

#4. Avoid soothing
It can be uncomfortable to listen to other people’s hurts and problems; we want to make their sorrow go away. Sometimes we try to sooth them with statements like “Everything will be ok.” Or we inadvertently invalidate their feelings with comments like “I know you’re sad your best friend moved away, but you’ll find other friends.” As hard as it is, it’s a wonderful gift to someone to just be there for them when they’re in pain, and listen to them work though it without trying to fix things or make the hurt go away.

#5. Stay curious
As people talk to you, get curious about what they are experiencing. The best curious questions are short and simple and are directed at the speaker’s current experience and feelings. Some examples of curious questions – “How do you feel about what she said?”, “What’s the most stressful aspect of this situation?” or “What’s your biggest concern?” Notice that none of the questions attempt to lead the speaker to a solution, they just allow space for them to process their experience.

Staying open when listening to others isn’t easy. I still find myself dishing out unasked for advice, or cutting people off when I think I know what they are going to say. But really being curious is a lovely gift to give to the people around us, and you’ll be surprised what you can learn when you aren’t stuck in your own preconceptions.

Test your knowledge of curious questions below. Identify whether each question or comment is:
A) Disguised advice B) Curious C) Soothing

1. Are you sure you don’t want to do it this way?__________________

2. I know it was bad, but it will be better tomorrow!_____________________

3. How did you react when he said that to you?____________________

4. Oh don’t say that – you know it isn’t true!_____________________

5. What is important about this?_________________

6. Do you think you should tell your manager?________________

Answers: 1 A, 2 C, 3 B, 4 C, 5 B, 6 A

Embrace Your Whole Life

Dad and daughter
Image by Peter Werkman via Flickr

How would it be to open your arms and embrace your whole life, to take a fresh peek in every corner, explore every dream, pay attention to everyone and everything that matters to you.  What would it be like to expand your focus to all segments of your life, not just the few areas that feel important to you right now?

It’s so easy for life to get lopsided.  As we struggle to accomplish what we want – get that degree, move up the corporate ladder, raise our children – we can get so caught up in what we’re focusing on that we ignore other meaningful areas of our lives.  We end up missing out on the richness of life, the dessert of life that comes after the meat and potatoes of day-to-day living.

A great way to expand your vision is to use what I call The Whole Life Inventory.  The inventory provides a snapshot of all aspects of your life, giving you information on how satisfied you really are.

Create An Action Plan

Here’s how:

  1. On a piece of paper list the following eight life areas:  Career, Health, Money, Friends and Family, Fun and Recreation, Physical Environment (your house, town, etc), Significant Other/Romance, Personal Growth (includes spirituality).
  2. Rate each area of a scale of 1 – 10 with 1 being unfulfilled, and 10 being very fulfilled.  This reflects how satisfied you are with each area in your life.  Write the scores next to each area.
  3. Next, rank each area by how important it is to you, giving the most important area a 1, the next most important area a 2 and down to the least important area which would get an 8.  Write the ranking next to the scores.
  4. Take a look at your inventory, what do you notice?  Are there any areas that scored high in importance and low in satisfaction?  These are the areas that you may be neglecting, areas that you know are important but can’t seem to find time for.
  5. For those areas that scored high in importance and low in satisfaction, ask yourself “What would make this area fulfilled, what would make it a “10”?  For example, if “Family and Friends” is important to you, but you have a low satisfaction score, examples of things that might make the area a “10” could be to seek out friends with interests similar to yours, spend more time with your children, or schedule more frequent visits with relatives.
  6. Now it’s time to act!  Identify one action step for each area you identified in step 5 and schedule time for the activities in the next few weeks. Some people may feel overloaded at this point, so keep the steps as small as necessary and give yourself enough time.  Just remember that as long as you’re working on one action step you’re making progress!

It’s refreshing and invigorating to step back and look at your whole life.  If you’re like most of us, there are things you love that you’ve been neglecting.  Spending more time with loved ones, exploring a hobby that invigorates you, creating a plan to improve your career or earn extra money – this is the most direct route to adding richness and depth to your life.

Converstation Made Easy

Yeah, an extrovert would have a good chuckle at the title of this post – what’s hard about conversations?  But most introverts have struggled through the leaden “thunk” of a conversation dropping into uncomfortable silence.

My favorite is when I find myself in casual conversation with another introvert  – that pause as we both realize that the other is an introvert and neither of us is going to pick up the reins of the conversation.

But conversations don’t have to be difficult.  The trick is to let them happen naturally.  Here’s how:

#1  Relax
Most of the time casual conversations aren’t important.  You don’t have to make the other person like you, you don’t have to be amazingly witty or charming.  You just have to talk a little. That’s all.

#2  Focus on being interested rather than being interesting
No this isn’t another version of “get him to talk about himself.”  It’s just it’s more fun when we shift focus from “Oh no, I have to say something” to “Hmmm…look at that job title on his name tag.”  Putting our attention on the other person often opens the door to a world of topics.

#3  Broaden your focus
What’s going on around you? Our surroundings always offer a topic of conversation.  At a cocktail party? Talk about how you know the hosts.  At a conference?  Talk about the workshop you attend or ask for recommendations on booths to visit. This is especially useful if you find you don’t have much in common with your conversational partner.

#4  Choose to say nothing
If you don’t have anything to say, or don’t feel like talking, don’t force yourself into conversations. It’s perfectly fine to sit and observe the activity or excuse yourself and move on.   We sometimes think that if it’s uncomfortable we have to force our way through it, but, unless it’s important that we hang in there, its ok to just let it go.

What’s most important is that we stick with what’s most comfortable.  Rather than trying to copy the conversational style of an extrovert, we need to figure out what feels most natural for us.

Finally, remember this simple rule – you are always your most charming when you are being yourself.