INTJs and an interesting matter of perception

I was talking personality types with some folks yesterday. Which, of course, gets one thinking about personality types. And often, one’s own personality type. I was also having a conversation the other day with someone else (in a different context for different reasons) about the same thing. Nothing earth-shattering, most of it shooting the breeze and thinking these things through in practice. But one sometimes wonders, when these things arise out of nowhere from different sources and in different contexts, maybe the Lord is saying something? Quite what, I don’t know. But what follows is a result of that.

I am an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs whatsit. I have done loads of these tests and usually come out that way. Much more rarely, depending on the specific questions, I might come out as ENTJ (but not often). Other people who know me well have filled out these things based on their own perception of what they perceive me to be too. It usually comes out as INTJ then too. Inasmuch as these things are ever that helpful, that is the type I am.

Inevitably, this sends people into a flap. They either hate that personality type, or they don’t understand it, or they get on really well with people who are like that. Everyone has an opinion on these four letters. Some people offer a totally different set of four letters to describe me, though I haven’t yet found them on the Myers-Briggs list.

Anyway, a combination of being an INTJ and what I wrote at the top of this post about the occasion for it, I obviously started reading about it again. Jump down the apparent pseudo-knowledge rabbit hole. The thing that got me thinking further about this was an article titled Understanding what the J/P preference REALLY means. It really had two very interesting insights (interesting to me, at any rate). The first was the following:

The J or P preference stands for judging or perceiving. This preference shows how you interact with the outside world. It doesn’t say anything about what’s inside you; only how you interact externally, and how others perceive you.

It went on to say, ‘every person extraverts (shows the world) two functions, and introverts (internalizes) two functions’ and this means ‘If you are a J personality type then you show the world (extravert) either thinking or feeling in your dominant or auxiliary position.’

This was interesting because the article insists everybody has two judging and two perceiving functions. The middle two letters outline which are your dominant traits and the P or J speaks to what you extravert to the world, not necessarily what is going on inside your mind. The sum total of this is, as the article says:

Another misconception is that the ‘J’ for judging means ‘judgmental’. J types are no more judgmental than P types; judging simply refers to the decision-making process, and whether or not that decision-making process is shown to the outside world. J types extravert their decisions (judgments) while P types introvert their decisions (judgments).

The second insight I found especially interesting was to do with what one extraverts to the world. INTJs extravert thinking as their dominant extraverted trait and judging as their auxiliary extraverted trait. The article goes on to say:

Judgers tend to outsource perspectives when it comes to their decisions. Feeling-Judging types externalize their feelings so that they can get a variety of perspectives and opinions about the right step forward. Thinking-Judgers [including INTJs] tend to externalize their thoughts and opinions in order to narrow down the best, most logical path forward.

Since the J preference only describes what someone shows to the outer world, they may internally feel very flexible, adaptable, and open to new information. Even though they talk out their decisions they internally may be very open to alternate viewpoints.

I was particularly struck by this as it describes excellently an issue I seem to hit on with regularity. People insist I am “black and white” about stuff that I know I am very much NOT black and white about. This seems to be a disconnect that happens a lot. I am judged to have offered an edict in response to the question ‘what do you think we should do?’ when I have, in fact, merely stated what I think we should do in response to that very question, being perfectly open to someone arguing back why they think we should do something totally different. Indeed, if someone asks why should we do this? I would expect they want my reasons. So I give them. If they are in charge of the thing, they are free to discard or reject my views as they see fit. I am merely telling them what I would do given they asked what I think we should do.

Never had it occurred to me that my telling people what I think we should do – in response to their question what do you think we should do – would lead them to believe I had made an unbending and unassailable edict. But perhaps that is specifically because people like me verbalise and externalise our decisions. I have decided this would be best, which always comes with the subtext I am always ready to be convinced otherwise. It hadn’t crossed my mind that I might say I think this and someone, who deeply disagrees, believes that is a settled decision and then wouldn’t say anything back. I tell people what I think, but stand ready to change what I think based on whatever compelling and convincing reasons might come back.

Never had it occurred to me (or apparently to many other people) that what I externalise to the world is my decisions based on whatever seems right and sensible at the time, but I am internally very flexible as and when new information and insights are forthcoming. That just seems sensible to me (but it would, wouldn’t it!) Why would I not externalise what I think about a given thing that requires comment – even saying if I am unsure about something because I don’t have all the facts to hand – given it is what I think at the moment? And surely one would say why they think those things too – we usually have reasons for thinking what we think. But changing one’s mind if someone offers a more compelling, more cogent and consistent alternative set of reasons for doing or thinking other is equally sensible. I expect people to answer back if they disagree and I expect people to say why they disagree, and if they don’t I assume they’re in agreement or aren’t fussed. Much of the time, I am entirely flexible – I am merely presenting my decision as it stands being quite prepared to do other if others think differently. I even literally verbalise this at the start of any given conversation, but still when I poke their reasons with even a gentle prod to see if they hold water, one is deemed inflexible.

But many seem to hear a decision as final and binding, when it is merely a judgement based on what I believe to be the case. I hold to very little that I can’t be convinced out of if superior arguments are presented. Indeed, people like me welcome more information and input because it helps to reach the best judgements. Which, if our personality type wants anything at all, it is ultimately the best objective outcome. If we are only in receipt of a fraction of the information, we will change in a heartbeat when better information is made known. We will verbalise and outline our decisions and understanding of what is the case in definite terms – it is, after all, what seems right to us based on what we know and believe right now – whilst remaining ready to change and alter course if and when more cogent arguments and better information is put before us.

What is means is people tend to see me as incredibly definite and unbending when, in fact, I am more than willing to be convinced otherwise. But the way to convince me differently is to appeal to the facts of the matter and make your case. People assume this stems from arrogance but it is quite the opposite. INTJs (I think) are among those most willing to admit they are wrong, but they will do so when someone convinces them with logic and reason and not with appeal to feelings. That is not to say there is no accounting for feelings because how a person (or people) may well react to a decision is, after all, an objective fact!

Anyway, I’m not sure what benefit this particular post has in all honesty. It is just a conversation I have been having with a few different people over the last few days in different contexts and for different reasons (none of them having a go at me or anyone else). But it was particularly the insight about what we externalise to the world and what we internalise – and how that is perceived by people – that perhaps made a lightbulb go on. What some perceive to be inflexibility is the externalisation of a decision based on what is currently known/believed. What is assumed by INTJs is that those who don’t argue back or have no reasons to offer haven’t really got a case to make. But if the case is made, I am always ready to listen (honestly!)