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