Let’s cut to the “chase” (pun intended). Of course, INFJs can “read people”. And so can every other personality type. It’s called compatibility, connection, amity. However, seemingly implicit in this question asked by some INFJs (presumed or otherwise) is the hoped-for, self-aggrandizing answer that yes, not only can INFJs read people, but that they do so with an unrivaled omniscience.
Correctly typed INFJs with meaningful life experience and maturity accept that they have limitations in their abilities to decipher another’s nature and motivations. They recognize within themselves a talent for deep emotional insight, discernment that differs from, and which does not equate to, intellectual insight. These are different capabilities, but more on that later.
What is the nature of INFJ emotional insight? At its core is Extraverted Feeling (Fe) Parent. Fe is empathy, the ability to feel the emotions of others as if they were one’s own, and emotions extend to character and morality. All Fe users are empathic by definition, but for the INFJ, Fe is in the auxiliary position of cognition – more descriptively, the “Responsible Parent”. Therefore, INFJs seek not only to understand people at an emotional level, but to do so with accuracy and purposeful intent.
It’s more than just Fe Parent, though. INFJ cognition overall drives their life’s purpose – to improve other people and to help them find a better life. With Introverted Intuition (Ni) Hero, INFJs are searchers of purpose and seekers of meaning primarily for themselves. It is this quest for self-discovery that drives them to find a foundation for self in others. Self-deprecating and critical of their own goodness and worthiness, they seek to understand these traits in others and to emulate them. It’s the orbital relationship and interplay between Fi (Introverted Feeling) Critic and Fe Parent. The result is the mirroring of another’s morality and behavior, albeit with the risk of corruption and accepting lower standards rather than maintaining one’s integrity and uplifting others.
Contributing to their need to accurately read others is their concern that they are not appealing in either appearance or demeanor. Extraverted Sensing (Se) Inferior drives “performance anxiety” and heightens their awareness of others’ body language, verbal tone, and other cues. An awareness which helps them try to assess the quality of experience they are providing to those around them.
Here though is where the INFJ’s ability to read others falters. Extraverted Intuition (Ne) Nemesis. On one hand, they worry about what lies ahead in the lives of others, fueling their life’s purpose to improve others so they can achieve greater things in life. However, they also worry about others’ “true” intentions. They can be suspicious and jump to conclusions devoid of fact or precedent, especially when they indulge their perceived shortcomings (Se Inferior) and their destructive self-talk (Fi Critic). This indulgence facilitates belief rather than sure knowledge. INFJs are prone to misreading other’s intentions.
And speaking of belief, there is Extraverted Thinking (Te) Trickster. Recall I mentioned that reading people emotionally or empathically is a very different undertaking than reading them intellectually; knowing what they are thinking. INFJs can discern another’s emotions well enough, but they are far less adept at discerning another’s thoughts. What’s worse is that the aptly named Trickster causes INFJs to convince themselves they know what others are thinking when in fact they do not. They are at risk of assuming anything, especially if packaged attractively, and they are equally at risk of believing nothing.
Interestingly, INFJs also take pride in their supposed ability to be unreadable to others. True, to some people INFJs are complex, unusual, and perhaps even mysterious, but to others they are as readable and predictable as a recipe for boiled water. The belief persists, however, perhaps as much as a desire for it to be true as for the aforementioned Te Trickster.
INFJs can read people and do so very well, but this ability is, contrary to their belief, generally limited to matters of feeling, emotion, and morality. It extends less to thought or intent, areas where they may find themselves lost, “driven with the wind and tossed”. Still, they are uniquely skilled to connect with people, to uncover their weaknesses and moral failings, and to build them and strengthen them for a brighter future.
Jay Ackley is corporate finance professional and sales leader. He is also a teacher, mentor, father, and contributor to C.S. Joseph.
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