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.

 

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.”

 

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: Epilogue – It’s Your Turn

Writing journal

The steps in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life are based on my challenges, on what I’ve learned in my life.  They are the rules I try to follow every day to be the boldest, strongest and best person I can be.  But we all know that all INFJs aren’t the same.  So it’s time for you to create your own list of steps.

Here’s how:

  • Go back and read each of the previous ten steps in this series with a critical eye, exploring what’s true for you and what isn’t.  Redefine each step so that it suits you, adding what’s needed and tossing out what’s not.
  • Next, it’s your turn.  From the context of your life, what can you add to the list? Take your time in creating and exploring what you come up with – your rules are important.  When I started creating this series, when I took the time to really think about what I wanted to say, my awareness deepened and I learned even more about how to deal with my challenges. Your rules for life reflect who you want to be in the world, so create them thoughtfully.  You can use the following questions to help you flesh your new rules out:
      • What’s important about this rule?  Why is your rule worth thinking about and working on?
      • What’s lost when you don’t follow the rule?
      • What do you gain when you do?
  • Honor your rules in a way that works for you.  You might want to record them in a beautiful journal, or share them with someone else who can benefit.  Make sure they don’t get lost, they are an expression of what’s important to you. Your

Your rules for life should be a living, breathing list that grows and deepens as you go through your  life.  You can use them as guideposts when making decisions, and let them help you stay clear and focused during tough times.  They should reflect not only what you’ve learned but what you want to learn, they should inform both who you are and who you want to be.

Thank you for going on this journey with me, this is the final installment in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.  I love all the connections that I’ve been able to make with other INFJs through this series, and I love hearing from you about your experiences as you discover the beauty of being an INFJ.

 

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #7 Seek Approval From Within

This is Called
Image by AJ Brustein via Flickr

I spent some time reading an INFJ online bulletin board and was surprised and embarrassed at how many of the posts just shrieked “poor me!”  It showed up over and over again –  “nobody appreciates me!”  “I’m so sensitive!”  “he did this to me, she did that…!”

I was surprised both by the quantity of the complaints and by the fact that the people posting them seemed to feel so victimized.

However I was embarrassed because they sounded startlingly similar to the whining that often is going on in my own head.

Which made me realize that all that complaining is pretty unappealing. Even though it’s true that INFJs are sometimes overlooked and underappreciated, it doesn’t benefit us to focus on it.  In order to reach our full potential in life we need to stop seeking external validation.  We need to accept the fact that our power is subtle, our passion is quiet, and our strength is internal.

We need to stop relying on the approval of others to feel good about ourselves.

It’s not as hard as you might think:

Create an internal measure of validation – Identify your own values, what’s important to you, and determine the worth of your actions based on those. If you’re passionate about helping others then your work tutoring illiterate adults is priceless, no matter what anyone says or doesn’t say. And if you get some praise for it, that’s nice, but stay connected with the fact that helping someone is what’s important, getting external recognition is a perk.

Celebrate your accomplishments – Don’t wait for someone else to acknowledge your triumphs, do it yourself.  Just finished the first draft of your book?  Treat yourself to a day off where you can do whatever you want.  Had the courage to take on a tough assignment at work?  Buy yourself a new leather portfolio to help you feel a touch more professional at the meetings you’ll be attending. By acknowledging your own successes you’re not only recognizing the value of your work, you’re also reducing your reliance on others’ approval.

Understand that you can still be right even if no one else agrees with you – There are times when I just know I’m right about something and no one around me will acknowledge it.  When that happens it can feel like my knowledge doesn’t mean anything because no one else sees it. I suspect that most INFJs encounter this – our insights are often so subtle that they can appear to have been pulled out of thin air to our less intuitive companions.

You’ll always be frustrated until you accept the simple fact that sometimes you’ll know more than the people around you.  Again, it’s about understanding that your wisdom is solid, deep, and enough.  You don’t need the recognition of others to confirm that you know what you know.

My coach once called me a “silent warrior” and that resonated with me.  I think that is a great way to look at the internal power, insight and strength that INFJs carry with them.

Exercise: Identify Your Values

One of the best ways to determine the value of your actions is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your values.

  1. Make a list of the things that are most important in your life (aside from your basic needs such as food, clothing, etc). My list, for example, would include the following:  loyal friends that I can laugh with, time with my daughter, finding the best way for me to help others people, my home, reading, doing work that matters, creating something meaningful, and learning.
  2. Review your list with an eye towards looking for your values – they should be easy to spot.  The values that come out of my list are: friendship, laughter, family, helping others, nesting, reading & learning, creativity and contribution.
  3. Keep a list of your values and make it a living document – mature it by adding other areas as you notice them.  Use it when making decisions and compare how you spend your time with what’s on your list.

This is the seventh 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: #3 It’s Your Life – Own It

Going to work had become torture by the time I left the corporate world.  I’d get up in the morning (too early) and drag myself to work only to end up enduring endless meetings and political struggles. With the tender feelings of an INFJ I felt assaulted by the environment, I was overstimulated and underappreciated. I felt at the mercy of the corporate tempest, and my natural tendency to absorb the emotions and environment around me made it worse. I finally realized that the best way to deal with those feelings was to  take control of  my environment rather than letting it take control of me.

Creating a Strong and Powerful Environment

Don’t be an empty vessel – There are two ways to enter a situation.  The first is to come in empty and look for what’s available to fill you up.  We do this when we walk into a party and think “Who do I know here that I can talk to?  Did I bring the right gift?Will I fit in?”  This is an example of coming in as an empty vessel, waiting for others to give you what you need.  You want to make sure you conform, that you’ll be able to align with the party.

On the other hand, if you enter the party “full,” these might be the thoughts that run through your mind as you enter, “Oh, I like that group in the corner, they’ll be fun to talk to.  The food looks great, can’t wait to try that dip.”  Or your thoughts might be “Wow, this is a really loud group, I’m not sure I’m going to stay very long.”

Notice how your thoughts when you enter the party “full” are about how the party measures up to your needs rather than the other way around?  You’ve entered with your personality intact – you know what you like and what you don’t like and that’s how you’ll assess the party.  As an empty vessel you let the party assess you.

A work example of being “full” is asking for the assignments you want rather than waiting to be selected for them, taking lunchtime as an opportunity to get away and do something you enjoy, or not participating in the office gossip mill.     

Dial Up Your Personality – First of all this doesn’t mean to be loud or to impose your personality on the people around you.  What I’m talking about is staying firmly connected with who you are, your preferences and beliefs, in any situation.

Some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Alerting your hostess ahead of time that you don’t eat meat
  • Accepting invitations only for activities that you like rather than being so grateful to be invited that you’ll go anywhere
  • Speaking up when someone tells a joke that is distasteful to you
  • Choosing to leave a gathering that you’re not enjoying
  • Creating an environment that nourishes you in your office or cubicle
  • Wearing clothes that you’re comfortable in

What do these have in common?  They are all decisions based on what you like rather than attempts to please others.

Make Every Decision That You Can – there are some decisions that are yours to make and some that aren’t. You can have a tremendous impact on your environment just by making the decisions that fall into your realm.

Rather than always deferring to others (“I don’t care where we eat, where you want to go?”) make a suggestion.  If your boss asks you what projects interest you, be specific and clear.  If your mother asks you for the best times to call you, tell her.

Avoid the “trying to please others by guessing what they really want” dance and take other’s answers at face value.  If you feel that they’re handing over their decisions to you, send them a link to this post! Exercise: Love Your Likes Similar to the “Interview With an INFJ” exercise from week 1, this exercise it designed to help you identify and own your preferences. Find a small notebook that you can keep with you at all times, and over the next week keep an “I Like” journal by jotting down everything you encounter that you like.  For example, right now my list be: I like the warm sun pouring in the window and hitting my shoulders, the comfy pajama bottoms that I’m wearing, the fact that my office is clean and neat, how quiet my house is, that I’m going to Arizona tomorrow to visit my daughter, the fact that my house is clean and will be welcoming for my house sitters, the turkey sandwich I just ate for lunch, the TV show “Chopped” that I watched while I ate. So often INFJs get the message either directly or indirectly, that what they like is trivial.  All that ESTP energy, so dominant in our society, can make us feel that we are wrong for liking what we like.  Your like journal is a chance to:

  • Identify your preferences
  • Notice and enjoy how elegant and subtle they are
  • Start to own what you like so you can generate more in your life

A caution: Your “I Like” Journal is not a list of demands – it isn’t designed so that you can impose your likes on other people.  Your journal contains a list of things to seek out, to treat yourself with, to make sure exist in your life.  And, when appropriate, to ask for from others. This is the third 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.