Type Differences: How to Cope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Steps to Confidence

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

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

1.  Stop worrying about what other people think of you

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

2.  Be yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Surviving a Toxic Work Environment

Photo: Getty

For eighteen years I worked for a company that valued Extroversion, Sensing and Thinking.  As an INFJ I sometimes felt like I was on a battlefield. Fortunately Judging skills were also considered important, which was the main reason I was able to succeed.

I suspect that this is a trap many INFJs get into – we’re hired for our skills at organizing, streamlining work processes and getting things done, only to find that we’ve ended up in a job that wreaks havoc with our sensitivity.

While it’s not ideal, we can survive in an workplace that’s not compatible with our types. 

Here are some tactics:

Recognize That You Are Different

Every company has its own personality and preferences.  If the company I worked for had been a person I think it would have been an ESTJ.  Social skills, data, analytical thinking and execution were highly prized, while reticence, a process-orientation and sensitivity were seen as weaknesses.  Which explains why I was most successful in positions where my “J” skills were emphasized.  And why I often felt that my feelings were trampled on. 

In this type of environment self-acceptance becomes especially important if you are an INFJ.  You need to realize that, yes, you are different, and that’s ok. And while you can learn many of the skills that ESTP/Js have there will be times you won’t be able to excel in the areas that your company values. You need to allow yourself to be who you are and don’t try to fit in with the corporate “type.”   

Accept the Results of Being Different

There was a point where my career seemed to top out – no matter what I did I couldn’t get promoted past a certain level. During that period the buzz word at my company was “leadership” which our management equated with the ability to make group presentations confidently (I kid you not – it didn’t take much more than an energetic speech and some flashy handouts to get ahead). While I was comfortable presenting material that I was passionate about to an interested group, I failed miserably at the “dog-and-pony” type presentations to large groups who were focused on critiquing my speaking style.  I’m convinced that this stunted my career. 

Which, looking back, is fine with me. 

The corporate philosophy that we should focus on our “improvement areas” implies that with enough work we can excel even where we don’t have aptitude. And while I probably could have eventually learned to be comfortable speaking in front of a hostile group if I’d worked hard enough, I didn’t really want to. I had no interest in learning to act like an ESTJ, I wanted to learn to be the best INFJ possible.  That meant that in my current career there were some areas where I simply would not excel. I had to accept the fact that I’d probably get a mediocre score or two on my performance review and that I wasn’t always going to be a star.

Part of staying in an environment where we’re not in our element is accepting that we’re not going to be able to achieve our fullest potential there. And that’s ok.  We don’t always need to get the “A”, a hard earned “B” or even “C” can sometimes be just as good.  And when we find ourselves in this position there is still much to be learned. We can take advantage of where we are to practice our “opposites” and learn new skills to help us succeed in our next job.

Figure Out What You Need to Be Successful and Ask For It

I used to work in a small group that had to sign off on the specifics for technical projects.  There were three of us and, as a group, it took us some time to process the details of the projects. However we’d always find ourselves in meetings being asked for approvals on the spot.  Our pattern was to approve whatever it was in the meeting, go back to our offices and discuss it, then come back to the group and un-approve it.  As you can imagine, this didn’t work out very well. 

Eventually I figured out that even though we were expected to come up with a decision at the meeting, this wasn’t practical.  I learned to push back and ask for more time, regardless of the pressure we were under to decide at that moment.  After that we were able to make thoughtful decisions that stuck. 

There are times when you don’t have to adjust yourself to fit your job.  You don’t always have to do things the way they’re always done, you don’t even have to do things the way others want them done. You are part of the process, if you need to make changes so that you can be effective, it’s up to you to make them. 

Create Your Own Environment

Many workplaces can seem hostile, but we create our own environment.  Whether you have an office, a cubicle or a desk, there is an area that you can make your own.  Music, small family pictures, even a screensaver of a favorite vacation spot can bring you back to center.

And get out as often as you can.  I used to take my lunch to a sunny park near my office and sit alone and read for an hour.  Often it was the high point of my day, even now I feel the rush of peace when I visit that park.   

Don’t Take Any of It Personally

I have had some terrible bosses over the years.  A couple were the meanest and most self-serving people I’d ever met, and one was so incompetent that he had me write emails for him.  And I won’t lie, I took it all personally.  I hated them, hated my job, hated my life.

But now that I’ve left it all behind I realize that all that emotion was simply junk, a bunch of turmoil over nothing.  Even the worst people you deal with are, at some level, aware of their limitations.  The bullies are mean out of fear, and even if they don’t seem to know it, those incompetent bosses and co-workers are aware, deep down inside, that they aren’t up to the job and live lives full of anxiety. 

And none of it is really about you.  All that bad behavior happens because of lack – your boss might lack skill, or awareness, or even humanity, but, bottom line, it’s about them. 

Balance Your Work Life with the Rest of Your Life  

You are not your job, and your job is not your life.  If you find yourself in a work environment that doesn’t support you, it’s especially important to make sure that the rest of your life is engaging and fulfilling.  This is the time to pick up that hobby you’ve been talking about, make time to play with the kids after work, or get busy on the book you’ve been writing in your head. 

 

 

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #1 View Yourself as Whole

When is the last time you heard an extrovert talk about how they wished they could be more introverted?  How they would like to start taking more time to think before they talk, or be able to just sit quietly at a party and enjoy watching the activity?

Probably never. You’re more likely to hear the reverse: introverts want to be more extroverted, more outgoing, more comfortable in social situations.  When this happens, when introverts focus on what they don’t have they end up ignoring the qualities they do have.

We Create Our Own Experience

Introverts often equate sitting alone at a party with being unpopular, but that’s only one way of looking at it. If you slouch in a corner looking like a loser, sure, your demeanor will telegraph exactly that.  Your anxious face will shout your innermost thoughts to the crowd: “I have no friends!” As a result – you guessed it – no one will want to talk to you.

SerenityNow imagine yourself at that same party, sitting in that same corner, but this time you’re calm and interested in what’s going on around you.  You don’t feel like a loser because you aren’t – you have friends, they just aren’t with you at the moment.  You realize that you can talk to people if you want to but you don’t have to, you know that you can leave any time you want.

Feels different, doesn’t it?  Now you’re sitting by yourself because you choose to.

You Are Not a Non-Extrovert

INFJ’s can get in the trap of defining who we are by comparing ourselves to our opposites.  We view our introversion as a lack of extroversion, we see our preference for dealing with our inner world as being inattentive.  We can believe that our emotionality makes us seem less intelligent, and that our preference for organization is an imposition on those who are more spontaneous and fun.

We need to turn that around.  We need to take the view that our quietness gives us a lovely depth of thought and creates calm in our environment.  And our ability to read between the lines is a perfect complement to analytical thought.  We need to value the fact that our orderly lives enable us to help our less organized family and friends.

And, the one I like best, our tender hearts are devoted to bringing peace and love into the world – what could be more important than that?

Exercise:  Interview With an INFJ

INFJs, in their desire to for harmony, can ignore or not even recognize their preferences.  In addition they can end up discounting their strengths and skills and focus on what others can do that they can’t.  The following exercise is designed to help you explore and embrace your unique likes and dislikes and better understand your strengths.

Directions: This exercise is designed to identify your preferences and strengths, so leave negativity and self-pity (yep, I said it – self-pity!) at the door.  Your answers should be positive declarations (e.g. “I love candy” as opposed to “I eat too many sweets.”)

  1. What is your favorite time of the day?
  2. What time do you like to go to bed at night and get up in the morning?
  3. What are your top three skills?
  4. What kind of humor do you like?  Quirky? Slapstick? Dirty?
  5. What is your favorite way to relax?
  6. What are you smartest about?
  7. Who is your favorite person to go to when you need help?
  8. Who comes to you for help?
  9. What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?  What skills did it take to do it?  How did you feel afterwards?
  10. What kind of books do you like?
  11. How would you dress if you had an unlimited budget?
  12. What is your favorite type of movie?
  13. What are your favorite foods?
  14. What pastimes do you enjoy? (e.g. cooking, writing, dancing)
  15. What are the three most important things you’ve learned in the past year?
  16. What would your friends say that they love about you?
  17. What do you love about yourself?
  18. What are you most proud of in your life?
  19. When are you most yourself?
  20. What challenge are you facing in your life right now?
  21. What else?  Add your ideas in the comments section!

***

What can you add?  What have you learned about viewing yourself as whole?  Are there any books or articles on the subject that you can recommend?

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

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

Networking for Introverts – Mixers & Meetings

I am an introvert. And, until I started my own business, I usually avoided groups of people I didn’t know. That changed, however, when I realized that the best place to make new contacts is networking meetings and mixers. I found that all it took was a shift in my perspective to make networking events not only easy but fun (yes, fun!).

To make the most of networking events:

#1    Relax
Most people are at networking meetings and mixers for the same reason you are – to make new contacts and build their business. Unlike parties, where people often cluster in groups that can be intimidating to break into, at networking functions people tend to mix and chat in smaller groups. Still, walking into a room of strangers can be intimidating.

Some key things to remember :

  • Keep things in perspective – you have nothing to lose. At worst you’ll waste a couple of hours, but you could end up meeting someone who’ll contribute to your success.
  • No one is focused on you, and no one will notice if you stand alone for a few minutes. And if you do stand alone and look pleasant, it’s very likely that someone will come up and talk to you.
  • It doesn’t really matter if there’s someone you don’t click with. We sometimes worry that others won’t like us, but if they don’t, so what? Just move on and find someone you have more in common with.
  • And, finally, remember, you can leave any time you want!

#2  Focus on connecting with people rather than selling them
I’ve met people at networking functions who instantly launched into an obviously memorized long-winded sales pitch for their product or service. Not only was I turned off, but I also didn’t want to recommend them to anyone else and subject others to their pitch.The best use of networking meetings is to connect with other business people who can refer potential clients to you. I’m not saying that you can’t gain clients from these functions, but I am saying that you’ll only get clients if people feel a connection to you, and for that to happen they have to get to know you a bit, and not just hear about your product. Plus, it’s a lot more fun!

#3  Be prepared
Create a short (2-3 sentence) introduction that summarizes the benefits of your service and practice it until it’s easy to remember. At informal events you can use your introduction to describe your business as you meet people. At more structured groups you may be expected to stand up and introduce yourself – if you’re prepared it’s quick and painless. It’s also helpful to write up a list of the benefits of your product and practice saying them before the meeting.

#4  Avoid overwhelm
At the first few networking meetings I went to I felt that every two minutes I was getting information I needed to act on or invitations to participate in other events, classes, or groups. I would get so overwhelmed that I was exhausted by the end of the event, and my automatic answer for all invitations became “No”.

To head off overwhelm, plan to “unpack” the event in a day or two when you have more time. At the event simply tuck business cards and brochures into your bag or folder and make notes about items you want to follow up on. This takes the immediate pressure off and gives you time to recover before trying to process everything.  I also make it a rule to never accept or refuse an invitation at a networking event. I simply respond with a pleasant “May I get back to you in the next couple of days?”   This gives me time to consider the invitation outside of the pressure of the meeting.

Networking events are great place to practice extroverting, and the more I attended the easier and more enjoyable they got.  The trick is to take the pressure off yourself and don’t worry about impressing or selling, just connect with others and enjoy yourself.