Personality isn’t something we change; it’s something we embrace. It’s a tricky proposition though, if we let the stereotypes of others define us instead of using our own personal understanding of ourselves to remind us who we are.
In the field of personality, stereotypes tend to come from two places. First, they come from beliefs set in place based on observations of different groups of people or things, and “generally” from personal experience. It’s impossible not to have them. More often than not, there’s too much data coming at us, and our brain compensates by chunking information under convenient labels.
Second, stereotypes are formed because it is easy to read personality profiles and assume that every person of a certain personality type exhibits all the extremes of behavior. For example, the idea that ENTJs are massively bossy and try to take charge all the time or that ISFPs are pretentious artists who spend their days cuddling fluffy animals!
Wherever they come from, stereotypes are generalities that may or may not be true for each individual — but they’ve been observed often enough to be commonly used as a representation of a particular group. Like the Indian parable about the blind men who wanted to know what elephants were like, but each only touched a part of the whole. We can go through our lives thinking elephants are just like snakes…or fans, or even walls, unless we take the time to discover more.
Like the blind men and their elephant, a collective understanding brings us closer to the truth.
Here are five specific stereotypes attributed to the ISTJ personality that probably don’t apply to you….or many ISTJs, really. Let’s investigate some more of the elephant. What you might think of as an aberration is a healthy part of who you think you aren’t.
1. ISTJs operate on half a brain
Say what, now? The generalization that ISTJs are hard-wired left-brained analytical types might feel like one of our big truths, and we do pride ourselves on pulling chaos into order on a regular basis. Observations imply that we access only the left side of our brain to move efficiently through our day, leaning heavily into logic, facts, and linear thinking, all of which are functions centered in the left hemisphere of the brain.
However, science says that humans use both sides of the brain from birth and studies have shown that people don’t have a dominant side. For an ISTJ example, if you need to deconstruct a module that’s outdated, your right brain will step in to rearrange the pieces: comparing, contrasting, discarding or bringing in new data as needed. The two sides are a harmonious cooperative for every personality type.
Saying that ISTJs are “left-brained” is a stereotype we can safely leave behind.
2. ISTJs are not up for debate
Piffle. This generalization is based on the observation that ISTJs appear to have quick opinions and stick to them with tenacity. Yes, our decision-making skills are top notch. This does not, however, make us stereotypically close-minded, stubborn, or the only right person in the room.
You may not have met me across the Thanksgiving Day table with a glass of merlot in my hand. Politics? Religion? The state of kittens in Georgia? We may come across as stubborn when we defend what we know, but we value education. I will question your point of view (and this stereotype) until there are no questions left.
Bring me a compelling case full of facts and I’m interested. Change my mind, and I’ll pour the wine.
3. ISTJs are a closed door
This stereotype says that what you see is what you get — and what you see is a bland, solid, predictable door built for functionality. With no windows in it. Or even a doorbell. ISTJs are supposed to be inflexible, elusive creatures who crave routine and eschew frivolity, but let’s not jump to conclusions.
Some Introverts are the life of the party. It just depends on which party. Some TJs have come to the conclusion, after much thought and weighing everything in the balance, that they are going to open their own business. Not spontaneous but definitely risky. Some ISTJs have a door that’s painted sunflower yellow and topped with an ornate brass knocker. But not just anyone will be allowed inside.
ISTJs will tell you not to judge them by their cover and how misleading this stereotype is, because what’s behind the door can be a whole new world.
4. ISTJs never make exceptions
Excuse me? A stereotype that ISTJs are overly conformist and compulsively follow the rules at all costs might as well follow through and say we can’t color out of the lines in the coloring book.
We could if we wanted to. We just don’t want to. And rainbow crayons destroy us.
ISTJs don’t see the rules as fences, but as guard rails. As we have already investigated the procedures, we don’t feel constrained to challenge them. We respect policies and remain loyal to them because they work.
That being said, ISTJs have a healthy amount of common sense and it’s what we use to determine when exceptions are to be made. If the greater good is jeopardized by the rules — the same greater good that the rules were meant to protect — we are going to demand modifications to the rules. But making exceptions to the rules could jeopardize the greater good when words like favoritism, discrimination, or entitlement arise, and this is what we must balance. It’s an HR headache.
Relationships, company culture, family life, and coloring books get messy on a regular basis and ISTJs understand that policies are not more important than the people they are created for.
ISTJs who have rules for making exceptions to the rules can walk away from this stereotype.
5. ISTJs drop the hammer
This generalization says that ISTJs are judgmental, prejudiced, and biased people who use strong opinions like weapons. That we jump to conclusions, assume what you are going to say next, and have already decided whether we are going to speak to you again.
Ouch. This stereotype says we are the ones making stereotypes. Hands up if that seems funny. Stereotyping is about finding patterns and ISTJs excel at this. There seems to be a pattern here. ISTJs don’t have much tolerance for people who bring the world down a notch in order to feel better about themselves. We don’t tolerate fools. Let’s send this stereotype out the door, as well.
The fact is, the J in our ISTJ is for Judging, but our J is balanced with a T and you wouldn’t call us thoughtless. By being deliberate with our words and actions, we leave that stereotype behind with kindness, empathy, and education.
The case for defending our gift of good judgment is strong, for both ourselves and the planet we share. Discerning what needs to be done next is how we form plans for growth and improvement. We form judgments on everything, which means we see the good as easily as we see the bad. Good judgment is a tool that can be used to make the positive social interactions and interpersonal support systems that build community.
That’s something every personality can embrace.