What would your life be like if conflict didn’t exist? You wouldn’t feel that all-too-familiar tension due to misunderstandings. You’d probably feel like a huge weight was lifted off your shoulders. If you’re an INFJ like me, I know that even the word conflict evokes stress for you. You might be in the habit of regularly avoiding conflict to avoid that horrible feeling before, during, and after. In the idealistic world we dream about in our heads, conflict doesn’t exist. As much as we strive for the ideal, we must admit that conflict will always exist. So is the INFJ who wants to be the best version of themselves, but avoids conflict at all costs, supposed to do?
I’m going to lay out exactly how to deal with conflict in a way that aligns with who you are. I’ll show you why you respond to conflict the way you do and how to handle it in a way that feels true to what’s most important to you. I’ll introduce new ways to think about conflict. It takes time to shift your mind from your old ways of approaching conflict, so be patient with yourself. You can pause after each part and give yourself a couple days for your INFJ mind to reflect on what you’ve read. Honor the time your brain needs as an introvert for things to percolate.
To help you make the most of this article, you can download the Action Plan to work through as you read. If you truly want to make a change in the way you approach conflict, don’t skip the action steps. They will empower you to respond in a way that meets your goals.
Part 1: Why is conflict so hard for INFJs?
INFJs aren't the only ones who struggle with conflict of course. But you already know that, as an INFJ, you desire harmony among people. You make decisions based on a strong value system and how your decisions will impact other people. You easily pick up on the moods and feelings of others, and you know when there's a disagreement. Your preference is to create harmony with your decision. You already know that sometimes that's not possible. Choosing to avoid conflict in every case, and at all costs, is an unhealthy extreme of your extraverted feeling.
Let's continue by defining, or rather redefining, conflict. As INFJs, we already have a unique view of the world. So why not create our own definition of conflict? Good idea, right? I thought so.
Your perception of things impacts how you'll respond. If you attach emotion and negativity to conflict, it will continue to be a source of discomfort and tension. It will continue to tempt you to avoid the situation. If you think about conflict in a new way, though, it's completely possible to experience it in a new way. That's our goal for part 1 of this article.
In this Facebook Live, I shared this definition of conflict: a difference of ideas or opinion. It's simply a difference of viewpoint. There's no inherent emotion attached. That tension you feel when you even think about the word conflict? That's something you attached to this basic definition.
Redefining harmony: how avoiding conflict is actually avoiding harmony
Because you prefer to make decisions based on harmony, let's look deeper at what harmony means. If we define "harmony" from the non-musical perspective, it means agreement. When everyone agrees, we have harmony.
If you look at harmony from a musical perspective, though, harmony is what adds depth to a melody. If you're a musician you already know this. The basic definition of a melody is single notes, played in a row, that create a pleasing sound. Adding harmony to a melody means playing two or more different notes at the same time. A chord. Do you see where I'm going with this?
Take a look at this simple video about melody and harmony. I love the language he uses to explain what harmony does to a melody. He says that by adding some extra notes to the melody, you have extra depth and color. Each note (read: idea, opinion, or viewpoint) on its own is somewhat boring and flat. When you add notes (ideas, opinions, or viewpoints), you get greater depth and a richer sound than with a single note.
You already know that you can't pick any notes to play together and create a pleasing sound. Sometimes you get discord. The prefix dis- means different. The word "cord," at least in the 1700s, compared the heart to a stringed instrument. So even in discord, you simply have different hearts. Recognizing and respecting another person's opinion, then, is simply accepting another person's heart. What would it look like for you to honor and appreciate their heart in conflict, rather than ignoring it?
Do you see the bigger picture yet? When we attach negative emotions to conflict, we want to avoid it. When we avoid it, we miss the beautiful opportunity for each person to play their individual note. We also miss an opportunity to acknowledge someone else's heart. As an INFJ, that’s something we can get behind! When we use the musical definition of harmony, we don't achieve harmony when we avoid conflict. Huh. Well, look at that.
Connect your new definitions to your values
The Introduction to Type booklet, that comes with every official MBTI® assessment, explains one of our key values. "They value the depth and complexity of their insights and creative gifts as well as those of others. They want to see these insights come to fruition." In other words, a healthy INFJ values the depth created by harmony (musically-speaking).
So as you see, holding the difference of opinion, idea, or viewpoint (conflict) in a new light shows us we can value these variations. When we strive for this kind of harmony, we honor one of our key values.
We're typically reserved as INFJs. But healthy INFJs don't hesitate to assert themselves when their values aren't respected.
If you haven’t already, download the Action Plan to work through part 1 before moving on to part 2 of this article.
Part 2: What to do before engaging in the conflict
Remember that creating a mindset around the definition of conflict and what it means to achieve harmony takes time. When we've thought about something in the same way for a long time, we can't expect to change it overnight. Give yourself time and patience. This is the foundation on which we'll build everything else in this article.
Next we'll look at specific action steps to take before you engage in the conflict. Use these same action steps when you're avoiding a conflict. You might think of many "what-ifs" as you play out a conflict in your mind. Slow down and let each step sink in before you overwhelm yourself with thoughts of the future.
Steps to take before you engage in conflict:
1. Check your assumptions.
You're skilled at knowing what someone is feeling. Your intuition frequently gives you insight into how things are going to play out. One thing to recognize, though, is that everyone can fall victim to their assumptions. We each have a hypothetical pair of glasses we wear that filters what we see. These glasses create our perception of the world. Your unique prescription develops from your experiences, values, beliefs, family, and culture. Before you engage in conflict, examine the assumptions you have that are based on your previous experiences. Ask yourself the following questions:
What else could be true?
What are other possible outcomes, other than the one I assume will happen?
After examining your own assumptions, think about the other person. What assumptions might they bring to the conflict?
2. Realize that other people's emotions are not about you.
The main issue we have with conflict is the way it's going to make others feel. Take a few minutes to consider this question:
When someone shows anger, displeasure, sadness, etc. during a conflict, what do you take it to mean about you?
Maybe you answered that it makes you feel like you're not a kind person. Maybe you feel like you're a horrible person. Maybe you feel like you failed them.
But wait a minute. Think about this:
It’s not about you.
It's not about you.
It's not about you.
It can take awhile to internalize this, but once you do it's SO freeing. No one can make you feel a certain way, and you cannot make someone feel a certain way. The way we feel about a situation comes from the way we think about it. Since no one can control your thoughts, it makes sense that no one can control your feelings. The same is true for other people, too. You cannot control their thoughts or their feelings.
It's not about you.
3. Decide which values you want to honor.
Before you engage in the conflict, be very clear about which values you want to honor. You make decisions based not only on how it'll impact others, but ALSO on a set of strong values. You may need to first figure out which values are most important to you. Walking through life without checking in with your values is going to make you feel frustrated and disconnected. If you haven't already seen my free Values Assessment, you can download it here.
Don't allow thoughts of how your decision will impact others overshadow your strong need to align with your values. Even if your decision is not what others want, you will feel much better knowing you've honored your personal values. In fact, alignment with your values gives you strength and confidence to handle conflict.
Once you've identified the values you want to honor in the conflict, be clear on why those values are important to you. Make sure that none of your values are fear-based. Any values based on fear of rejection, fear of failure, or fear of the unknown are fear-based values.
Know your values. Know your why. Then ask yourself, "How can I honor these values in this conflict?"
4. Remember the big picture.
INFJs are big-picture thinkers. A negative view of conflict causes us to narrow our focus. This is not our natural way of doing things. When you focus only on how people will respond, you're choosing to put on blinders. Rip those blinders off, lift your head up, and remember the big picture. What do you want to accomplish? In other words, what are the benefits of making this decision or entering into this conflict?
After you work through the action steps for part 2 in the cheat sheet, you're now ready to have the conversation. That’s next in part 3.
Part 3: How to have a conflict conversation
If you've ever wanted to know exactly what to say in a conflict, I have a surprise for you! I'm giving you a script and sequence to follow when you have conflict conversation. Create your own script by putting the big ideas below into your own words. This sequence allows you to clarify and respect each perspective while working toward the big picture. Treat this conversation like a project. Plan ahead and practice!
1. Start by acknowledging the big-picture issue.
Start the conversation with an acknowledgement of your disagreement and a high-level understanding of what you want to accomplish. You can say things like,
“We’re having some trouble coming to an agreement about…” or
“We seem to disagree about…” or
“I wanted to connect with you about the decision to…”
The key here is to keep this as neutral as possible. You may want to practice saying these things out loud in a neutral tone before the conversation. This is an opportunity to remind yourself and the other person of what you really want to accomplish.
2. Then, acknowledge the other person’s viewpoint.
Use your INFJ empathy to recognize the filters that inform their opinion/viewpoint. This includes their assumptions, experiences, beliefs, and values. You are not responsible for how they feel and/or respond. You can say something like, “You’ve said that ___ because ___." It's important to clarify that you understand what they've said and why it's important to them. If they correct you, stay calm and repeat back what they've said to show that you understand.
3. Then, share your perspective.
Now you can share what's important to you (or your work/organization), and connect back to the big picture. You can say, “I would like to ___ because ___.” If you'd like, you can share the values you'd like to honor. If it's a work conflict, share how your perspective fits the mission of the organization.
4. Express the desire to solve the issue together.
Let them know that it's important to you to work together to find a solution. You have to want to work together, though. Entering the conversation with a rigid perspective is not conducive to reaching a solution. Make sure you're open to new ideas. Now you can say, “I’d like to work this out so that you can ___ and I can ___. How do you feel about that?" Asking that question at the end will show you their willingness to participate in the discussion. If they aren't willing, you know you've done what you can. Move on to number 5.
You can begin sharing ideas immediately or set a time to share ideas later. Plan ahead if you think the other person will want to discuss it right then. Be ready with ideas that might work for both of you so you don't have to think on the spot. This is also the time to point out any similarities in your perspectives to help you find common ground.
Final thoughts on the conflict conversation
There are two considerations to keep in mind when using the previous steps. They assume you want to create a win-win situation for both of you. They also assume that the other person is willing to work with you. You can choose not to enter into conflicts with random rude people you meet on a daily basis. They have no direct impact on your life so don't spend your precious energy on them just to prove a point.
Always keep in mind that you’re not responsible for how the other person responds. If needed, postpone the conversation until you can both speak calmly. If they refuse to work with you, you’ve done what you can. Their response is most likely due to something else that’s going on with THEM. It’s not about you. You can then make the decision that’s within your power to make that honors your values and big-picture goal. It may still feel uncomfortable. You can be confident and proud of your decision to seek a solution by entering this conversation.
Write out your own script and ideas of how you can reach a win-win when you’re planning and practicing this conversation. Consider potential objections and how you might respond. You know you’re ready for this conversation when you have the mindset of part 1, you've taken the steps in part 2, and you've practiced the items here in part 3.
You know how you can read the same book multiple times and see something new each time?Download the full article and cheat sheet and keep it handy so you can refer back to it as new conflicts enter your life. The goal is not to like conflict or to always handle it perfectly. The goal is to help you get more comfortable and confident with conflict over time. As we finish, let’s look at some final points to help you become an expert at conflict.
3 Things to Become an Expert at Conflict
1. NATO Attitude
This stands for "not attached to the outcome." It sounds ridiculous at first glance (and second, third, fourth...). When someone first introduced this concept to me, I wondered how I could detach from the outcome. When I have a goal, I'm all in and everything goes toward achieving that goal. Can you relate? But this concept of NATO offers so much wisdom. It takes practice. When it comes to conflict, realize that you can learn something no matter the outcome of the conflict. NATO also means disconnecting yourself from the other person's response (review Part 2).
The Science of Well-Being course from Yale on Coursera explains an annoying feature of our minds. Research shows that our minds consistently mis-predict the intensity of our feelings when things go our way and when they don't. Our minds think we'll be much more upset when an outcome is not what we want than we actually are. It also assumes we'll be much happier than we actually are when an outcome IS what we want. What's worse is that our minds do this over and over. In other words, your feelings will not be as intense as you think they'll be after a conflict—whether it goes your way or not. Use this as a reminder to start practicing a NATO attitude.
As an INFJ, you're curious. You want to understand people and why they do the things they do. It's tempting to toss your curiosity out the window and rely on your assumptions of how things will play out in the conflict. But hang on to that curiosity! Be curious about the other person. Be curious about yourself. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before/after/during a conflict:
Why are you responding this way? Why are they responding this way?
What am I afraid of? What are they afraid of?
Who will benefit if I engage in this conflict?
What am I feeling? What are they feeling?
What are all the possibilities of how this could turn out?
What is my inner critic telling me? How true is that? What might they hear from their inner critic?
If you're thinking to yourself, "But Leslie. I don't have time for all of this. I have to respond immediately!" I challenge you to question that assumption. Be curious! One of my favorite quotes is, "Don't complain. Create." When you find yourself seemingly out of options, be curious and create a solution. Be especially curious when you catch yourself saying things like, "I can't" or "I have to."
Use your extraverted feeling and be most curious about how to find a win/win solution.
3. Emotional Release
Take time to purge any emotions you picked up from others during the conflict. In this article about protecting yourself from the emotions of others, I shared a few ways to do this. First you need to an awareness of which emotions are yours and which are not yours. Here's a snippet from that article:
When you do find you've absorbed someone else's emotion, take time to purge that emotion. You must first recognize that the emotion doesn't belong to you. If you cannot identify a trigger for your sudden change of mood, it's more than likely someone else's. Imagine pushing the emotion out through your fingertips and away from your body. Literally shake it off your body if it helps. Say or think, "This (say the emotion) does not belong to me. I am (calm, happy, content, etc)." Creating a physical separation also increases the likelihood of releasing the emotion. Use prayer, meditation, or centering again to reinstall your "shield" of protection.
Finally, practice purging your emotions (both yours and others) through daily journaling. If you don't know where to start, simply write out words that represent how you're feeling. Angry. Hurt. Sad. Disappointed. Writing offers many INFJs an opportunity to get what's in our heads out into the world.
My final thought for you is to remember that you're stronger than you think. No, really. You rarely give yourself enough credit for the things you've done. You forget how much you've already come through. You've navigated life as a sensitive person who sees things differently than most—and you've made it this far! Your introverted intuition is an often misunderstood way to perceive the world. You also feel different than most of the other women you're around. Take a look at all of these things and remind yourself that you are a strong INFJ. You are a strong woman! When you're faced with a new conflict, remember that you can do this!