What is Their Secret?

I made a new friend recently, and she told me she is an ISFJ. Good grief, I thought, every time I am in the presence of a person that is just a delight to be around, it turns out that they are an ISFJ.  It’s happened to me about eight times now, where I know someone who is kind and attentive, a good listener and a fun person to listen to, and I find out that they are an ISFJ. What is it about these people? What is their secret?

The thing I like most about the ISFJs in my life is that they are very good listeners. Most of them not only ask questions to bring you out, and listen attentively when you talk, but they also respond in the way you would hope they would. If you thought something was interesting, they seem to think it is too. If you thought it was sad, they sound sympathetic. If you thought you were clever, they say things like, “Good for you.” They seem to have a gift for matching people’s words with appropriate responses, and it’s a rare gift to have.

When they’re doing the talking, they take just as much care to be considerate. They usually give enough information that you are not confused, but not so much that you are bored. I’ve noticed that my more talkative ISFJ friends have a delightful ability to tell a funny story. They may not be very good at remembering jokes, but if it’s about themselves or the people in their own lives, they can make me burst out laughing. “I was making chicken Parmesan the other day,” said my ISFJ friend. “My son came down the steps and said, ‘Who threw up?’ ‘No, honey, that’s dinner,’ I said.”

I love being with ISFJs because they’re quick to say “thank you,” to give compliments, and (my favorite) to flash a radiant smile. My ISFJ sister used to cry every year when I would leave after Christmas visits, and her honest tears meant more to me than any words she could have said.

Besides the many ways they have of being agreeable to others, I’ve noticed that ISFJs also seem to have an amazing ability to manage people effectively. When my ISFJ daughter was growing up, she was able to get everything she wanted from me without ever saying an angry word. She would simply ask something like, “Mom, can I have a piercing?” “Absolutely not!” I would say. She didn’t argue or stomp out of the room, she just said “OK” and left. But a week later, she might say, “Rachel got a piercing the other day in her bellybutton and it looks really cute.” A week after that, she might show me a picture in a magazine and say, “Look at the jewelry they have for bellybuttons, aren’t they cute?” I would keep protesting and protesting, but each time it got weaker. Finally, after this had been going on for a few months, she would say, “My birthday is coming up, and all I really want is a piercing.” By that time, I would be all out of “no’s.” “Oh, all right, just go get a piercing,” I’d say.

One of my employees did the same thing when my business was young. We wanted to accept payment with credit cards, but the credit card companies were hesitant to take us on because we were a new business. Our ISFJ office manager accepted their “no’s” in a friendly way, never insulting them or showing impatience, but he kept calling back every month and gently talking up our credentials. Finally, after five months, they gave up and allowed us to accept credit cards. This ISFJ trick of gently letting people use up their “no’s,” is incredibly effective. I call it “sweet persistence.”

When she’s angry with people, my ISFJ daughter just naturally talks in the “I” statements that the rest of us have to struggle to learn. “When you laughed at the outfit I wanted to wear, I felt stupid - like I don’t know anything about fashion,” said my daughter when she was only 17 years old. I was 50 before I could reveal my inner child like that. I marveled that, without saying an unkind word, she got me to be a lot more careful in how I gave her “feedback.”

On the other hand, if she makes people angry, my daughter apologizes immediately and humbly, and it usually allows people’s anger to vanish like a bubble. When she was driving with her learner’s permit, she rammed into a car that ran into another and another until there were five damaged cars stopped on the road during rush hour. She jumped out of the car said, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” to each of the drivers. To my amazement, not one of them showed irritation or anger at her, and one of them even tried to comfort her.

I think ISFJs should be teaching courses and writing books titled, “How to be a delightful person, but still be incredibly effective at managing people.” Unfortunately, they don’t know how special they are, and they are far too humble to presume to tell others how to behave. We’ll just have to watch them to learn their secrets.


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  1. Breeze

    #1 by Breeze - January 10, 2012 at 3:19 AM

    I'm an ISFJ, it's hard to find a positive description of my type. Thank you so much for this :)
  2. Berni Johnson-Clark

    #2 by Berni Johnson-Clark - May 30, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    This article reminded me of someone I know, who is an ISFJ, and it described her to a "t". Lovely!

  3. Lara

    #3 by Lara - May 30, 2013 at 10:43 PM

    I'm an ISFJ and just stumbled onto your post from a google search. Descriptions of my type that are this generous and positive are so hard to find. Thank you so much for writing this. I'm standing just a little taller now. :)
  4. Rosanza

    #4 by Rosanza - August 21, 2013 at 10:43 PM

    I never thought someone could see us the way you do. Thank you :)
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