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Living and working with ENFJ preferences


Living and working with ENFJ preferences

One of the most common criticisms about personality type theory is that it puts individuals in a box. I don’t see it that way. Jung wrote about “classifications” and how having a name for things helps us group them and understand them better. Our brain, after all, is a pattern-seeking, meaning-making organ. Our brains are lazy at that, always looking for the most comfortable path, the fastest solution

One of the most common expressions in our language is the phrase, “I am” – closely followed by “you are”. These sound rather final and can be quite damning, if you’re not careful about the words that follow. “I am empathetic.” – “You are organized.” Our thoughts create our realities, and often it’s this finite wording, “You’re an INTP” that makes it sound like someone puts us in a box.

A basic representation to describe a complex behavioral and psychic energy pattern, like e.g. four letters, makes understanding ourselves and others easier. So when I talk about ENFJ or any other Types, I know they hide a treasure trove of intricate patterns and systems. Four letters don’t describe a whole person, certainly not without taking also the cultural background, personal experiences, hobbies, education, family of origin etc into account. I try to use verbs – to indicate the activity of the mental process, the energetic tension that is held between the two opposing sides of preferences.

ENFJ Strengths

The literature is very generous in describing the many skills people with ENFJ preferences generally possess. That is handy and helpful, because not many would go out and proclaim their good qualities. Not if there’s a risk to be seen as arrogant or offending someone – and there’s always that risk.

John Beebe developed a model where he linked archetypes to the eight Jungian functions, depending on their position in the Type code. In other words, Jung described eight ways in which we use our brains to meet our psychological needs. All people of all types use all eight functions – but with a different order of preference. The higher up a function is, the more we have conscious access and control – to the point that it may become automatic and we no longer see that process as a skill. The lower down a function is in our Type’s particular hierarchy, the less conscious access we have, and the more likely it is for that process to burst out when we’re stressed.

Good with people

ENFJs lead with extraverted Feeling (Fe). Fe is the hero, or heroine as it were, of our functions, and it’s all about harmonizing and connecting. Establishing and maintaining relationships. Pleasing others. Sharing our values.

People with ENFJ preferences generally not only connect well with individuals, but also with the wider community. Society at large. How to make the world a better place. There is a love and understanding and empathy in our hearts that sometimes makes it feel fit to burst. Until a split-second later someone cuts in line and we’re reminded of why we can’t be friends with everyone.

ENFJ Blind spots

Like every other type, we find ways to get in our own way of development.

Not so good with listening

ENFJ’s auxiliary or second function introverted Intuiting (Ni). Ni takes the place of the “good parent”, the process we use to be helpful and supportive, and it’s all about knowing and foreseeing. Having insights about plans. Knowing what is best for people. Sharing our visions.

People with ENFJ preferences have a tendency to “should” all over themselves. Everyone, including them, should be doing things the right way. Intellectually, we know that there’s more than one way. But each way comes with its own piece of judgment, and there is one way that will simply be that bit closer to the perfection we seek.

Much like parents knows what’s best for their child, people with ENFJ preferences (think they) know what’s best for everyone they live and work with. That can get in the way of truly listening when a friend unburdens himself. When a leader distributes roles and responsibilities to work on the latest project.


Resisting the urge to blurt out “here’s what I would do” takes effort. ENFJ insights generally come from a loving place of “I mean well; I want to help you”, but they can get in the way of keeping harmony in the relationship – which is the foremost goal.

So, in time, it’s worth practicing to bite your tongue. Even though you may have an ample library of evidence where your hunches came true, and even though you know that you could have saved your friend weeks or months of agony if they had just done what you told them the first time.

Tricky thing about adults – your child has to learn from you, but peers tend to want to learn for themselves. 


Integral Theory Map


Integral Theory Map

Since we're on a roll with developmental models this week, let's also take a look at Ken Wilber's Integral Map. The image looks busy because it is - but if you start on the top right corner with the four quadrants, it may become clearer. Click on the image for a larger view.

Integral Theory helps explain modern life's complexities, combining insights from all major fields of study including arts, humanities, and sciences. The four quadrants describe individual and group, as well as interior and exterior views. Individual Interior is the "I" (e.g. psychology), Individual Exterior is "It" (e.g. biology), Group Interior is "We" (e.g. culture), Group Exterior is "Its" (e.g. social systems and institutions).

Picture Credit:
Picture Credit:

Within each quadrant, we find various lines of development - on the Interior side they are levels of depth, on the Exterior side they are levels of complexity. They "co-arise and tetra-mesh", meaning there are correlations between the various levels within all four quadrants.

Different degrees of Ego Development and developmental attitude are expressed in the different colors, and can be overlaid on the quadrants "to highlight the nested quality of levels transcending and including each other" (

All quadrants also contain various States, e.g. States of Consciousness, which are defined as temporary occurrences.

The quadrants also honor different patterns: You'll note that men and women of all personality types are represented across the board, and that our preferences predispose us to different interpretations of the quadrants, emphasis of lines, and how we follow the various development paths.

Again, I like the dynamic nature and growth potential this framework illustrates. Another benefit is that it's scalable; whether you're looking at your own personal experience or are trying to understand your company's or government's actions better, the four quadrants are a good place to start a process of enquiry.


Image by Alan Cleaver, Flickr, Creative Commons License.



Barrett's Seven Levels of Consciousness

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This archive will be discontinued next month. 

If you enjoyed last week's look at Maslow's hierarchy, its limitations and implications, you may find Richard Barrett's model interesting as well. Click on the image below to see a larger version. Barrett has taken Maslow's pyramid and added to it, offering services to individuals, companies, schools, and governments to better understand culture and values. He combines Physiological and Safety needs in his "Survival" Category, maintains "Relationship" (Belonging) and "Self-Esteem", and takes self-actualization as a starting point for the "Transformation" towards higher goals of "Internal Cohesion", "Making a Difference", and "Service".

As with any culture model, it is important to remember every author is looking through their own cultural lens. It's always difficult if not impossible to take a neutral view of other cultures. What I like about this framework though, as well as e.g. Ken Wilber's Integral Theory, is that they are dynamic, not rigid. They allow for movement and development. In fact, they might shine a light and point out a path, challenging and encouraging us to do more and be better.

Barrett's Seven Levels of Consciousness also describe what can happen in situations of what he calls "excessive focus". That is when movement is denied and attention becomes too rigid. For example, for an individual working on Self-Esteem needs, it is helpful to engage in behaviors that foster confidence, competence, and self-reliance. These might include practicing vulnerability and setting effective boundaries. If focus becomes rigid, however, the need for self-esteem can turn us into power-hungry egomaniacs, only concerned with our status and authority, needing others to be less-than.

For an organization, it may help to have high performance systems and processes in place, particularly to attract and retain the best talent. If the approach is too rigid and centralized, not taking country-specific cultural differences into account, these same processes can soon turn into bureaucratic nightmares, effectively achieving the result they intend to avoid, namely confusion and complacency.

Where do you see yourself in this model, and where do you see your spouse, organization, or community? What can you do to align values and behaviors to reach the next level?



Only you know who you are, and too much of anything isn't helpful

psych types collected worksLearning about psychological Type is a life's work, and I really enjoyed reading "The Collected Works of CG Jung - A revision by R.F.C. Hull of the translation by H.G. Baynes", published by Bollingen Series / Princeton in 1990. The following are quotes taken without express permission from this book italics are mine. Let's begin with

“Classification does not explain the individual psyche. Nevertheless, an understanding of psychological types opens the way to a better understanding of human psychology in general.”

This quote is über-important, say, in case you're filling in a questionnaire and anyone is trying to tell you who or what you are.

They don't know. Only you know.

It also shows that Type doesn't explain everything, because humans beings are too complex to be ever completely understood. Jung was humble and realistic enough not to insist his way was the only way.

When talking about the importance of balance among Extraversion and Introversion in regard to the cognitive functions Sensing, Intuiting, Thinking, and Feeling, he had this to say:

“In reality, however, these basic functions are seldom or never uniformly differentiated and equally at our disposal. As a rule one or the other function occupies the foreground, while the rest remain undifferentiated in the background. (... A) one-sidedness (of Extraversion or Introversion) would lead to a complete loss of psychic balance if it were not compensated by an unconscious counterposition.”

Does that mean that in an ideal world, we would all have access to all functions equally?

I'm not so sure. After all, isn't it the differentiation that lights a fire under our inner drive to become who we can truly be? Awareness of your strengths and blind spots is crucial for conscious development, and as we see today, Type knowledge has applications in stress, change, anger management, relationship counseling, communication and leadership styles, to name a few. Can you imagine living in a world where everyone is enlightened and able to access all eight functions equally well? All mental healing professionals would be out of a job!

For now, I'd be more than happy if these concepts were taught in Kindergarten so that we raise if not a balanced then at least a well-aware next generation.



Is there an Extraversion prejudice in the USA?


Is there an Extraversion prejudice in the USA?

And by prejudice, we meant is Extraversion generally perceived as more desirable than Introversion? This was just one of the questions posed during last night's meeting at the Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter of the Association of Psychological Type. Our presenter, Elizabeth Murphy (Murph), gave this thoughtful response:

by janie.hernandez55 - intended to show outside energy! ;-)
by janie.hernandez55 - intended to show outside energy! ;-)

When Isabel Myers began her exploration of Type and constructing the MBTI(r) instrument, she assumed the E-I distribution was around 75-25. More recent research today shows that it's closer to 50-50, with slightly more males reporting Introversion preferences, and slightly more females reporting Extraversion preferences.

Murph also mentioned something like "residual misinterpretation", where many people may still base their understanding of what E and I mean on the old trait instruments. A trait instrument measures "how much" of something and then pronounces a fixed-sounding result, as Vesa had mentioned in her comment to an earlier post. Very much to the contrary, Type instruments like the MBTI do not measure "how much", they do not measure "how well", but they do measure "which". Therefore, the results will not be plotted on a bell curve, they will show up as either - or.

So, according to the numbers, E and I are pretty evenly distributed. I'd like to add the following cultural perspective for your consideration.

Over the last few hundred years, the USA became the home to large numbers of immigrants. People who had to or chose to leave their home countries in Europe, for instance, due to political or religious persecution, as well as for economic motivations and dreams of a better life.

Were those immigrants more likely to have E or I preferences?

That's hard to tell. If you were a German "Dichter & Denker", i.e. poet & thinker, you may have had Introversion preferences, like Einstein (INTP). If you were ambitious to make a name for yourself, you may have had Extraversion preferences, like Heidi Klum (I'm guessing ESFP, but can't be sure). In any case, going back those hundreds of years when people first started arriving, the immigrants generally left behind their extended families, bringing with them a sense of adventure, and often not much else.

It became necessary to form new alliances, make new friends, find and build new communities.

pic found on
pic found on

Imagine you've just arrived on the East Coast. You step off a boat and need to find your way to that gold mine you heard about. You may want to travel on your own, but is that the safest option? Wouldn't it be more practical to join a group of wagons, all heading West? Well, taking a proactive approach was probably more likely to secure you a spot on that caravan than waiting to be asked.

These circumstances were fertile ground for the development of an individualism, specific, and achievement-focused society.

What does that mean?

In individualistic cultures, the needs of the individual are considered more important than those of the group he or she belongs to. To support individualism, values like self reliance, autonomy, independence, and personal responsibility develop naturally. Behaviors that support those values are readily visible, e.g. a focus on tasks and eating lunch by yourself at your desk where you can continue to check your email instead of taking time to go outside the office and relaxing with a group of colleagues.

Sounds like Introversion, but it isn't. Introversion explains that your mental energy tends to flow inward first. Individualism describes that your circle of primary focus is quite small, mainly on yourself and your nearest relatives.

In specific cultures, the approach to public and private life is compartmentalized and with that, communication patterns like small talk and the ability to form mutually beneficial, but not necessarily long-lasting relationships are the norm. The USA are home to a highly mobile people; moving around for work or studies multiple times throughout one's life is common. Check out the oldie but goodie video about this concept here.

We have already covered that Extraversion has nothing to do with how much a person talks, in fact, some people with Introversion preferences may talk "too much" if they don't pick up on external cues that the conversation partner is ready to move on. However, people with E preferences are more likely to taking action and seeing their thoughts and ideas realized in the outside world. Taking action and doing something is highly valued in achievement-oriented cultures, more so than "just" thinking about doing something.

Since it is considered important that you can show your worth, or display your ability in achievement cultures, everybody has equal opportunity to do so and be considered successful. You don't need to have Extraversion preferences to have a big house, a fast car, go on expensive holidays, enjoy a golf club membership, or lead thousands of Twitter followers.

Are you more likely to achieve such outwardly visible success when using behaviors attributed to Extraversion types in the USA?

Perhaps. In traditional business probably more so, but online and social media are a completely different story. In any case, I don't think we can reduce the expression of Extraversion to the Type principles alone. In my view, the cultural values that have developed over time as a response to environmental circumstances and that continue to influence the behavior we see as desirable today also play a role.

Image by Daryl L. Hunter, Flickr, Creative Commons License.



Advice for your 19-year-old self

Growing up... some go faster than others.Here's something a lil different, just under 4 minutes while you wait for your tea to brew.



Looking forward to your comments!




Tending your garden

flowerpotsI had breakfast on the balcony today. I felt the sun's still cool rays as they made an effort to dry the concrete, still wet from last night's rain, morning dew, or possibly the sprinklers. I listened to the breeze announcing spring in the air, carrying over chainsaw noise from the gardeners cutting down trees at our apartment complex. The time was right to re-pot my plants. I like re-potting plants. There's quite simply something serene and unequivocally natural about rummaging your hands through earth; playing God in silver Ikea buckets - just add water and hope the roots will take. Is this how surgeons feel when they transplant organs?

As people, how do we know we need re-potting? How many of us are quite content in their designated spaces? Having made peace with the constraints, doubling over and curling up our roots so they might fit without causing pain. How long can we live like that, bending, folding, before we begin cutting off any vital blood supply? We've all had our hands or feet go to sleep, what about our creativity? Our imagination, love? Do they tickle our soul and spirit to alert us to their impending doom? Shake us awake into movement, inviting us to stretch out, because only that exquisite stretch will bring even more exquisite tingling before that most comfortable of reliefs when blood starts flowing again?

Imagine we do stretch and allow ourselves to outgrow our respective pots. As we search for new grounds, how do we make sure the soil is fertile? If we're transplanting existing ecosystems, we want to be careful of their needs. Maintaining the balance between what is needed to maintain, and which changes are necessary to grow and make the most of the new environment can be challenging. If you're starting a new business, you do market research. If you're starting new relationships, it's more important to research yourself. You'll be tempted to re-use familiar soil, so you want to be sure that it's not ridden with old roots that may hide seeds which will only grow the same old plants.

What is the right amount of manure to stimulate growth? It can't all be sunlight and sprinkles, we need a little fertilizer to jolt our buds into action. And what if we choose too big a pot? Do we stretch to the left, and stretch to the right, looking for the comforting walls of our limitations? Will stretching too far in opposite directions leave us fragmented, broken at the center? Will we lose hope and start spinning if we continue to give up before reaching those walls?

What about expat spouses who are uprooted against their wishes? If the roots are clipped too tightly, no amount of fertile soil, sunlight or flawless irrigation will allow the plant to grow. Personally, I believe that is one of the reasons why repatriation is so stressful: once a plant has known a bigger pot, it's nigh impossible going back to the previous one.

Is it time you started looking for a different pot?

Can't wait to read your comments! Thanks and til next time.