Do people’s eye glaze over when you start to talk about something that interests you? If this happens to you on a regular basis, you know how frustrating it can be. It’s a common INFJ challenge.
You want to have a conversation that’s meaningful and engaging, but the topic tends to cycle back to what’s happening in the news, what so-and-so said, the weather – virtually anything tied to the five senses.
How can you have an exciting, mutually stimulating discussion and talk about something enjoyable?
Two options will come in handy here.
- Employ tactics that encourage people to listen and take interest in what you have to say.
- Find people who share your passions.
Depending on the situation both appoaches can be helpful. This week we’ll explore how to connect with people who typically don’t share your interests, and next week we’ll explore how to find conversation partners who share your enthusiasm.
Talk in ways that capture people’s interest.
When I want people to listen to me and talk about things that aren’t boring, these steps tend to help.
1. Understand where people are coming from.
To communicate well, you need to understand why other’s do what they do and where they are coming from. Those are two things INFJs tend to enjoy and do well. If you haven’t already, consider picking up a copy of The Art of SpeedReading People which will give you a solid overview of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, what motivates them, and what makes each unique. You can also listen to podcasts like the Personality Hacker Podcast, watch YouTube channels like DaveSuperPowers, and read blogs like PsychologyJunkie.com for free.
If you have limited time or want to cut to the chase, focus on understanding the sensor-intuitive and the thinker-feeler dichotomies. Understanding these differences is a great place to start.
If you have more time, you may also want to consider looking into the eight cognitive functions or mindsets that explain why people do what they do. This will be an eye-opening experience. AJ Drenth has written a helpful guide entitled My True Type, which I highly recommend.
2. Learn – and honor – different conversation styles.
As you dive into books such as the two I mentioned above and practice what you learn, you’ll get better and better at identifying a person’s personality type. You’ll also learn the kind of language styles and patterns each personality type prefers. Combine these two bits of knowledge, and you’ll be able to tailor your conversation to suit your audience, whether it’s one person, a small group, or a crowd.
When I talk to my ISTJ coworker, for example, I try to get to the point, give him concrete details, and keep things practical. I talk in terms of the past and what I can see, smell, touch, feel, and hear. For the most part, I know he’s neither interested in listening to my long-term visions and plans nor my theories, insights, and ideas.
We probably have the most fun when we’re talking about basketball games we played with colleagues before work because we both enjoy the sport, it’s exceedingly practical, and his dominant introverted sensing (Si) and my inferior (Se) are engaged. Other times, he’s open to my puns and wordplay because they activate his extroverted intuition (Ne) and give me a chance to exercise my introverted intuition (Ni).
When I choose my conversation topics carefully, I don’t get annoyed or frustrated nearly as often. I know that thinking of the here and now and details (Si) is my coworker’s forte – not futurizing and generating possibilities (Ni). I save those kinds of thoughts for other conversations and, instead, look for common ground.
3. Time your conversation well.
But that still doesn’t solve the main problem. How can you share what you care about with someone who doesn’t normally listen to the kinds of ideas you like talking about? An important first step is to choose an appropriate time to talk.
When you talk is as important as what you say or how you say it. As a general rule, the majority of people in this world tend to be more open to the things you and I like talking about later in the day after most of the details, tasks, and chores are taken care of. Their minds are freed up to dream a bit.
Depending on a person’s age, maturity, history, worldview, and willingness to invest in a relationship with you, he or she still may not be interested in going deeper and discussing what interests you. But often waiting until the end of the day helps.
This is usually the case with my wife and dad. During the morning or afternoon, they have no time for theories, ideas, and possibilities, but during dinner or later in the evening, they’ll entertain thoughts and conversations that they wouldn’t have earlier.
4. Be careful who you talk to.
It also helps that I have close relationships with my wife and dad, and that’s another important factor to consider.
If you and another person have a longstanding relationship and care about each other, chances are better you can talk about what interests you. Mutual care and concern go a long way. And longstanding is relative. Several months, for instance, is better than a few weeks, and a few weeks is better than a couple days. But in general, time and familiarity are your friends.
As you ponder who to share with, beware of “throwing your pearls to swine” and talking with people who’ll have a hard time appreciating the ideas you have to share.
It may help to let others know you’re exploring and thinking through options and that you aren’t planning to implement anything immediately (unless, of course, you are).
My wife told me that, early in our relationship, she was overwhelmed by the number of thoughts, ideas, and possibilities that I shared. She worried that we’d need to implement all of them. Over time, she discovered, however, that I need to share my thoughts in order to sort through and clarify them. This understanding has helped her relax and listen freely.
5. Help others better understand themselves and you.
Finally, if a friend or family member – or someone else with whom you’re close – is open to it, help him or her better understand himself or herself – and you. As you begin to understand personalities, help him or her discover his or her own personality type and strengths. Celebrate the gifts, and help him or her gain an appreciation for self-knowledge.
Also, compare and contrast – in very practical terms – how the two of you are alike and different. As best you can, point to past events and real-life people who illustrate what you’re talking about. Whenever my wife and I talk about personality types, I list friends and family member who fit type descriptions and explain why. This captures her interest and elevates her understanding.
Be patient, and stick with it. The process takes time, but the understanding will pay dividends in your relationship.
Which of these strategies have you tried? Which might be worth trying in the next 14 days?
In next week’s post, we’ll discuss how to find conversation partners who share your interests.