Interaction Style Pattern

INFJs and INFPs have different interaction style patterns.  We already discussed two facets of interaction styles earlier when we considered the communication styles of initiating/responding and role directing/informing.

This next section discusses interaction style patterns, sometimes called "leadership styles," since it represents the way we work with others.  As with Temperament, there are 4 different patterns -- but this model maps to Type quite differently.  One interaction style pattern will represent all four Temperaments.  Since this is an unusual way of grouping the 16 types, you might find it helpful to sort by -- and it's a powerful way of distinguishing INFJs from INFPs.

If you want to know more about the origin of Interaction Style Patterns and how they relate to the other two personality type models discussed here, an article by Dr. Linda Berens may be found here.  In a nutshell, this idea is based on the "Social Styles" research, of which the DiSC instrument is probably the best known.  Well.... this is Berens' answer to the DiSC -- and I like it better because it maps to type, whereas the DiSC does NOT.

Of the four possible interaction style patterns, I will only discuss two in depth, as germane to our current investigation.

INFJ / Chart-the-Course

INFJs possess a "Chart the Course" interaction style pattern.  This suits their dominant function of introverted iNtuition quite appropriately, because INFJs are driven to ANTICIPATE.

The Chart-the-Course theme is about having a course of action to follow. People of this style focus on knowing what to do and keeping themselves, the group, or the project on track. They prefer to enter a situation having an idea of what is to happen. They identify a process to accomplish a goal and have a somewhat contained tension as they work to create and monitor a plan. The aim is not the plan itself, but to use it as a guide to move things along toward the goal. Their informed and deliberate decisions are based on analyzing, outlining, conceptualizing or foreseeing what needs to be done.

INFJs are more task-focused than people-focused.  They like to take themselves "out" of a system so they can get a better look at what's going on.  They become stressed when they don't know what is likely to happen.  In stressful circumstances, they tend to disconnect and withdraw in order to think things through and put their introverted iNtuition to work on perceiving  a solution.

INFJs have the belief that IT'S WORTH THE EFFORT TO THINK AHEAD TO REACH THE GOAL.  A good image for them is a telescope, representing their need to look ahead.

It's useful to point out that this is not what you might want to do, or think you should do, but what you naturally and automatically do, without thinking very consciously about it.

INFP / Behind-the-Scenes

INFPs possess a "Behind the Scenes" interaction style pattern.  This suits their auxiliary function of extraverted iNtuition quite appropriately, because INFPs are driven to INTEGRATE.

The Behind-the-Scenes theme is about getting the best result possible. (It does NOT mean that INFPs only ever work behind the scenes and are never found leading -- "Behind-the-Scenes" is a style name, nothing else.  Dr. Berens states, "most of the leaders in the book Good to Great show evidence of this style.")  People of this style focus on understanding and working with the process to create a positive outcome. They see value in many contributions and consult outside inputs to make an informed decision. They aim to integrate various information sources and accommodate differing points of view. They approach others with a quiet, calm style that may not show their strong convictions. Producing, sustaining, defining, and clarifying are all ways they support a group's process. They typically have more patience than most with the time it takes to gain support through consensus for a project or to refine the result.

INFPs are more people-focused than task-focused.  They like to "connect" with others in a system so they can integrate and harmonize.  They may become stressed if they are pressed to decide too quickly.  In stressful circumstances, they may become quiet and agreeable while they feel things through and open their extraverted iNtuition up to perceiving a solution.

INFPs have the belief that IT'S WORTH THE TIME TO INTEGRATE AND RECONCILE MANY INPUTS.  A good image for them is a clipboard, representing their need to capture all the relevant inputs.

It's useful to point out that this is not what you might want to do, or think you should do, but what you naturally and automatically do, without thinking very consciously about it.

So how does this manifest in reality? Let me use again the example of email lists.  INFPs will sometimes email other list members privately to gain or express consensus for a viewpoint they resonate with.  I know one INFP list owner who would frequently write various list members privately (off-list) to solicit their opinion and share his point of view -- perhaps suggesting someone not post too much on a particular topic because it was getting tedious, or commiserating frustration about another member's viewpoint.  He was always working toward achieving onlist harmony, and was willing to devote the time and energy needed behind the scenes to achieve that goal.  He tended to be circumspect in public even regarding administrative decisions that affected the entire list.  His interaction style pattern was clearly "behind the scenes," despite his prominent leadership position and his chatty persona onlist.

It's interesting that when this list underwent the change to this INFP's ownership, one INFJ continually challenged him publicly to clarify the "vision" of the list and explicate the list's goals in the vein of a mission statement, rather than just "going with the flow."  It was very stressful for the INFJ to participate in a list that appeared to lack clear purpose and direction, so she departed in frustration when her needs went unmet.

It is difficult to pinpoint these differences in behavior via the internet, but it's fairly easy to discern them in person.  Once you get conversant with this model, you can actually "feel" the different "energies" that radiate from the various interaction styles.  INFJs tend to operate at a faster pace than INFPs do and crave "movement" toward goals.  INFPs will operate more slowly, and want to stay "open" to whatever happens.  INFJs generally appear intensely focused, while INFPs generally appear easygoing and involved.  They even walk differently!

They have different goals, and work toward different outcomes.  INFJs tend to be "people-builders," while INFPs tend to be "culture-builders."  INFJs tend to talk about specific persons, while INFPs tend to talk about generalized situations.

In stressful circumstances, INFPs will usually "adapt" to the situation until matters improve, while INFJs usually "distance" themselves from the situation until they can chart a new course of action.  (This may show up on email lists by INFPs lurking until the situation improves, and INFJs unsubscribing because they need some distance.)

To view a matrix displaying the four Interaction Style patterns, follow this link.

To further use Interaction style patterns to distinguish between the codes of INFJ and INFP, Dr. Berens explains how she would approach the challenge:

I go to whole Interaction Styles descriptions and compare the Chart-the-Course versus the Behind-the-Scenes. Notice if they get antsy when a meeting doesn't have an agenda (CtC) or is there concern (more of a worry) that people don't have and aren't getting enough information (BtS). Do they want a plan of action before something (CtC) or is preparedness about getting input from a variety of sources? (BtS)

I think I've seen some interaction style differences in the way INFJs and INFPs handle money.  INFPs tend to "go with the flow" in their spending, sometimes relying on credit to get them by, while INFJs like to know ahead of time just how something will be paid for, and they prefer to have enough in their bank account to cover everything (including braces, cars, or property!) in advance.  (If they don't have the money on hand, they may save up to buy it.)

I have some extra personal examples of my own experience with the INFJ interaction style to share, and I'm looking for good counter-examples for the INFP interaction style.  

I am always seeking the "points of reference."  It's a subconscious drive.  I tend to be a sign-reader, and I listen to PA announcements.  In fact, I get cranky when the PA system is poor and I can't hear what's being said.  (By the same token, I get cranky when somebody is blathering a PA announcement, such as some longwinded pilots on airplanes who want to tell you their life story and I'm trying read or watch the movie.)  But if I'm somewhere public and they start broadcasting, I'm gonna ask people to be quiet so I can hear what they're saying (because I assume it's really important for them to be doing it.  This tendency becomes a problem when there is a TV set in the room, because I keep tuning in to it until I look like a total TV addict).

When I was in college, I was one of six chorus girls in a show.  At one point in the show, two male characters would get into an argument, and then they would begin playing music and the girls would start dancing.  Well, nobody could ever hear the music begin under the argument.  Except me.  And they couldn't turn the music up, or it would drown out the actors.  So the choreographer noticed that for some reason, I always heard the music, so she made it my job to verbally count it off so the other girls would start dancing on cue.  Ever since I learned about "Chart-the-Course," I figured that was me being sensitive to a "point of reference" (because it sure wasn't due to my musical abilities!).

Last example:  during high school I was the co-captain of the girls' drill team in a very small community.  My co-captain was the popular blonde girl who smiled and carried the flag and looked cute in her uniform, and I was the one who designed all our drills.  With no previous training or faculty support, I would graph out on paper what the drills could look like, and then I would rehearse the team to execute my designs.  We would march in various geometric patterns around the gymnasium floor or along parade routes.  I confess it was an interesting challenge to come up with fresh ideas (always striving to find something original to do, but not so complex that the girls were uncomfortably challenged!), and then see them actually executed in real life.  In this particular case, I would say that I literally charted the course for the drill team to follow.

What I notice in my INFP clients is this drive to "integrate."  When we do the self-discovery process, they are taking everything under consideration, and meticulously fitting it with what they already believe or know about type.  I can almost hear them putting a gigantic jigsaw puzzle together in their minds, and until EVERY PIECE is put down, they'll try to hold off deciding.

When INFPs are sorted into groups for activities, they invariably want to go around their group and get to know everybody -- but not for social reasons!  They want a sense of where the expertise is, and what each individual might uniquely bring, and they seem to like getting that firsthand (rather than from a book, say).  So if they're asked to design a poster, they like to know who in the group has a background in graphic design, so they can draw on that knowledge and apply it appropriately.

Where I see my INFP clients struggle is around trying to reconcile incompatible data.  So take, for instance, selecting their best-fit pattern.  They tend to be highly sensitive that our culture is biased toward Thinking-Judging.  So it seems they experience a lot of pressure to choose those "letters" for their type code, even when it doesn't precisely match their real-life behaviors.  I always sense this internal struggle between who they are, who they want to be, pitted against who they sense they "should be" or are "supposed to be."  No wonder many INFPs are mis-typed!  Determining their best-fit type is no easy process for them.  And some of them get very involved in the field of type, perhaps eternally trying to reconcile all the difficult paradoxes.

What I do notice is that INFPs often complain about feeling "invisible" -- which seems to be a reflection of the "behind-the-scenes" interaction style across the board.

By the way, if you should write to me wondering whether you're INFJ or not, this is the second thing I'm gonna ask you about!  (The first thing is directing/informing.)