The INFP is the personality type least likely to find a satisfying career in the corporate world, and the type most likely to annoy the ESTJ project manager they work for. Of course, that feeling cuts both ways.
INFPs are naturally drawn to careers that are congruent with their personal values and allow them to express their ideas in creative ways. They make gifted counselors, writers, artists, or teachers. When you do find an INFP in a corporate setting, it’s usually in a position such as employment development specialist, team trainer, human resources recruiter, or industrial-organizational psychologist – work that involves helping others grow and develop in career tracks that are a good fit. But with the explosion of technology jobs, an INFP who pairs his natural gifts in communication with an understanding of technology can be an excellent liaison between the technology people and the end user. INFPs on a software implementation project can make for talented communicators and writers of requirement documents, user guides, and e-learning courses. The ESTJ they work for however (assuming they work for the quintessential project manager type) has personality preferences the complete opposite of an INFP. In general, conflicts between these two types are fraught with more friction than less incompatible types, especially when one or both of them are under pressure.
John, an INFP, was brought onto a software implementation project as a trainer and user guide author for a new accounting system. Priya, the ESTJ project manager (and a certified public accountant) was impressed with his samples and the way he presented himself in the interview, but it didn’t take long, however, for friction to develop between these two. John processes information in leaps and bounds, working in a flexible and spontaneous manner. Intuitives like John are just as capable of meeting a deadline as a Sensor like Priya, although it may not look that way to the Sensor; the Intuitive often takes a circuitous route, taking in and responding to new information as it becomes available. ESTJs are practical, efficient, and decisive; but they’re impatient with people like John who think outside the box. ESTJs are driven to move things forward in a straight line and have a communication style that supports that approach – direct to the point of being brutally honest. They really don’t have time to deal with feelings, especially when their performance is judged by cold hard facts like project health and dollars spent.
With increasing frequency, Priya started to request updates or drop by John’s cube, which annoyed John, not only because it interrupted his flow, but also because he interpreted her behavior as symptoms of mistrust and micromanagement. An INFP will start to lose interest in projects over which they don't have enough control. A big part of John’s job involved creating process flows. Each week he held two workshops with the business users to whiteboard a particular process. The first meeting on a Tuesday was to create a first draft of the process. Between the first and second meeting, John translated the notes into a Visio document, which he then sent out to the team for a desk review, asking them to provide feedback in advance of the review meeting. John used the collective feedback to create a revised version of the process flow that the team reviewed in the Thursday meeting. But before he sent the first draft to the business users for their review, Priya wanted to do a pre-review and add her comments first.
Wednesday morning, John arrived at his desk to find red mark-ups on his Visio flows for things as trivial as lines that weren’t completely straight. He shrugged it off, but the second time it happened Priya called him into his office.
“Make sure you double-check your work. You misspelled ‘questionnaire’ and this line isn’t straight,” she said with a frown.
“Are you serious?” John said, his heart rate rising.
“Yes,” she said in a condescending tone.
“These are just drafts,” John said. “I’ll make sure everything is lined up perfectly once we finalize the design. It’s a waste of time for me to perfect everything before we’re done rearranging the shapes. Who knows how many of these shapes we’ll need to rearrange after we get more feedback.”
Priya leaned back, folded her arms, and pursed her lips. “Before we send anything to the business, it should be carefully reviewed for spelling, grammar, straight lines. These are documents we’re socializing with the business.”
“We’re socializing drafts. I think the detail-oriented accountants we’re sending these to get that, which is why no one, other than you, has called out a crooked line as a problem we need to discuss in the next meeting.”
John couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. And Priya’s rising condescension only made him angrier. He felt like he was back in Kindergarten dealing with a teacher who used to hit him over the head with a red pencil for forgetting to put periods at the end of his sentences.
“This is the way I want it done,” she insisted.
John picked up the marked-up copy of the document and stood up. “Substance over form. Isn’t that GAAP 101?” he said before leaving, making a clear reference to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles who Priya, as a CPA, was sure to know. INFPs are generally conflict-averse, but they can be quite edgy when pushed.
Although at times he thought he might quit or get fired, John stuck out the assignment. He went above and beyond in what he was required to deliver, yet received no appreciation for it. Failing to show appreciation is a hallmark ESTJ weakness.
Now, this wasn’t a favorable example of an ESTJ. The ESTJ in this case had poor control and/or self-awareness over her weaknesses (and probably some other issues as well, like OCD). In the course of his consulting career John has worked with good and bad project managers alike, many of whom were ESTJs. Priya, Hillary Clinton, and Darth Vader are ESTJs, but so are Judge Judy, Dr. Phil, and Captain America. Even so, one can imagine the problems Steve Rogers would have managing Bruce Banner, or Dr. Phil managing Shakespeare, or Judge Judy managing Johnny Depp.
Next up: Introversion vs. Extroversion: What Does This Really Mean?
Kurt is a writer and consultant who helps clients with marketing, IT implementations, and course design. Kurt also writes fiction and uses his unique blend of storytelling style and humor to bring nonfiction content to life.