Those Ns and Their Ideas

My friend, Denise, is an ISFJ, and she is having problems with one of her colleagues at work. “She has millions of ideas for how to promote our company,” says Denise, “but nothing ever comes of them. She’s very negative about the way we currently do things, and she’s very forceful, saying things like, ‘We have to change things around here.’ Sometimes I get so uncomfortable when she talks that I have to leave the meeting.”

It sounded to me like the colleague is an Intuitive, (“millions of ideas”) and Denise is having the classic problem that people sometimes have with Intuitives. When Ns share their ideas, instead of exciting people and enlisting their help, they often end up alienating people, and as a result, feeling alienated.

I asked Denise what her co-worker could do to make it easier for her to listen to her ideas. “First of all,” she said, “I wish she wouldn’t attack the way we do things now. It makes me feel stupid, and puts me on the defensive. I wish she’d talk a little about the things that work well in our company. Then I wish she’d ask us if we consider this certain thing a problem, and if we’d like to find a solution. 

“Second, I wish she wouldn’t tell us we have to do things differently. I don’t like being bossed around, and I’m going to resist it. If she could present her ideas as something she would be willing to work on, then I would be more inclined to help her.  

“Third, her ideas sound so vague and far away and I don’t know what she wants from me. I’d like her to tell me specifically what she would like me to do, even if it’s setting up a time to talk about it some more.”

I asked Denise if there was anything she could do to help her colleague communicate better, or anything she could tell herself to make it easier to listen to the woman.

She thought for a minute and then she said, “When she’s sounding so negative about the way we do things now, I wish I could get her talking about what she’s for, instead of what she’s against. I think sometimes she doesn’t have the words yet to describe her solution, so she only talks about the problems. I guess I could ask her that: “What are you for in this company? What would you like to see?’

“When she’s sounding bossy and telling us that we have to do something differently, I think I need to stop taking her seriously. These ideas are her babies; she’s the one who needs to do something differently. Maybe I could also ask her, “Would you be willing to be in charge of exploring this further or implementing these changes?”  

“When she sounds vague and impractical, I should ask her specifically, “What do you want me to do?”

“Denise, those are fantastic!,” I said. “They’re also things that Ns can ask themselves before they communicate their ideas: ‘What would I like to see?’ ‘What do I want to do about it?’ and ‘What do I want to ask other people to do?’ By the time they can answer those questions, they will probably have a compelling idea, an action plan, and specific requests for help.”

Then I added, “You know, as an Intuitive, a lot of the time, I’m not even sure that I want people to do anything when I share my ideas. If I really want to make something happen, I’ll find a way to do it myself. What I really want from people is just to have them understand why I’m so excited, because I can see a future that could be so much better, where we don’t have to keep experiencing the same failures over and over again."

“And also, it wouldn’t hurt to hear how clever I am for thinking of something no one else has thought of.”

“You know, if you just told me that up front, it would help a lot,” Denise said. “You just want me to listen and understand. I can do that. It would be fun.”


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  1. JeniRae

    #1 by JeniRae - January 19, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    I certainly get the point of the article, and I identify quite well with the story, but I fear that it touches only the “tip of the iceberg.” I also admit that I'm currently cringing at the type-language used in the title… Perhaps, I thought, it was intended to be ironic-- and if it was, I would have put it in quotes, just to differentiate it as such. Disappointingly enough, I also noticed that a similar language carried over into the article as well.

    Using language such as "Those N's" bothers me because it takes a single letter from one MBTI dichotomy and uses it as a descriptor - while removing it from a dynamic context.

    "N"s (Or, "individuals with a preference for the perceiving process of Intuition") come in many varieties. There are Extraverted Intuitives, Introverted Intuitives, those for whom the process of Intuition is Dominant, and others for whom it acts as the Auxiliary process. Intuition can be balanced by either judging process of Thinking or Feeling (which, in and of its own, can operate in both the introverted or extraverted attitude, and the dominant or auxiliary role.)

    I identified with the colleague in Scanlon's story quite well. I would suspect that she shared my own preferences for dominant Extraverted Intuition with auxiliary Introverted Thinking (ENTP.) And through the eyes of her ISFJ (Si, Fe) co-worker, this presents a unique view of the process of Intuition.

    It is obvious that the two women are functional opposites (dominant/auxiliary and tertiary/inferior are flipped 180 degrees: Ne Ti versus Si Fe) so certain tensions are bound to emerge – when you have, on one side, Si Fe relying on experiences from the past and being concerned about decisions fostering agreement and harmony in the group collective -- and on the other side, you have Ne Ti acting naturally skeptical of 'was is, or was' and constantly scanning the environment for possibilities - "ways to build a better mousetrap" – and also relying on an internal consistency in reason to evaluate each possibility, and determine which possibility is the most logical to pursue beyond the idea phase.

    I keep thinking that Scanlon's customer may have responded to the Intuition process differently had it been expressed in a different dynamic, such as, perhaps someone who prefers INFP (Fi, Ne.) Just throwing that out there. No offense to anyone with INFP preferences.

    So, in summary, the point of all this is that all "N"s are not created equal, and while as a dominant Extraverted Intuitive type myself, I identify with the article, I think that using aspects of type outside of the context of type-dynamics is dangerous and misleading.
  2. Susan Scanlon

    #2 by Susan Scanlon - January 25, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    Thank you for your excellent and insightful feedback. I'm sorry if I implied that all Ns present their ideas the same way Denise's colleague did. That was not the generalization I wanted to make and I should have made that more clear.

    Where I thought that most Ns had common ground was in wanting our amazing, exciting ideas to have a good reception in the world, and I thought Denise was very helpful there.
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