You've worked with this person before and it wasn't pretty. They wanted everyone to be happy, so they let everyone else choose assignments first and took the leftovers no one wanted. They’re so helpful that they practically did the lazy team members' work for them. At the end of the project, they were exhausted and disappointed, as those other team members didn't put in anywhere near the hours or thought they needed to. As a result, not all the team's goals were met.

Welcome to the world of working with an INFP.

First things first: Understanding the INFP personality

That the INFP personality type is called The Healer tells you a lot. INFPs want to help everyone soar in whatever way they want to, because they believe in each and every one of them. What a terrific type of boss or team member to have! They are compassionate and caring, which is what makes them pitch in to help and encourage everyone.

Their introverted nature makes them quieter and more subtle than extraverted types who are loud, ever-sunny cheerleaders. But fundamentally their intentions are the same: to encourage everyone to do better than they think they can.

The INFP works this way because they care about helping each individual to grow personally – they’re not so concerned about achieving a great team result. That means the INFP could lead the team in too many directions at once, with an end product that could then be too fragmented rather than cohesive.

Tips to achieve a great result

The key to working with INFPs – or any personality that’s different from your own, for that matter – is to bring out their strengths for the good of the team while keeping their weaknesses from getting in the way. With INFPs, though, you have to be careful how you do this and what you say out loud, as they are very sensitive and can shut down if they feel they’re being judged or when their feelings get hurt in other ways.

So, treading lightly in your softest-soled shoes, gently try to:

1. Insist that they choose their part of the project first, reasoning that the INFP was last before so it's only fair. (They believe in fairness above all.)

2. When you see an INFP overextending themselves, talk to them about making space for everyone to share the responsibilities of the project. INFPs routinely sacrifice their needs and wants to make others feel happy, accomplished and fulfilled. Remind them that the others will only improve if they learn to manage their own work, pace themselves, avoid procrastination, etc.

3. Suggest that if the INFP wants to help others soar, they might offer to help another team member prioritize, but that's it.

4. Set up checkpoints for everyone to explain their progress and plans. This subtly pushes everyone to keep on track and reassures the INFP that all can be counted on to do their part.

5. Organize a small celebration when it's finished, even if it's a Zoom one. Compliment the INFP on what they did well and discuss how they can all improve next time.

How to approach your INFP boss

Things become infinitely trickier when it’s your boss who is the INFP. On the one hand, you report to someone who cares about you and your success, appreciates your individuality, won’t judge you, and isn’t going to try to change you (at least not consciously). Another big plus is that no idea you come up with is likely to be too outlandish for him to consider. The more original and offbeat your idea is, the more receptive he is likely to be.

But on the other hand, your boss is probably more idealistic than realistic. They may be more interested in what could be - the endless possibilities - than the way things actually are right now. So when you need to complete a project or task, they may encourage you to dream big when your budget won’t support it, or excitedly add to your idea when you don’t have time to go that big. Or, they may have other unrealistic ideas and expectations.

Now you’re faced with a dilemma. It isn’t just a case of disagreeing on how to proceed. You can see that you have neither the time nor the resources to take your boss’ advice, so you definitely need to speak up and set them straight, bringing them back to reality.

However, you need to do so carefully because - like many creative and caring people - INFPs tend to be sensitive. In fact, some would say many INFPs are overly sensitive. The last thing you want to do is to put your boss on the defensive, offend them, hurt their feelings, or make them feel attacked by your comments, tone, demeanor, or body language. While some personality types aren’t bothered by these elements, or don’t even notice them, INFPs take it all in.

Consider these do’s and don’ts when approaching your INFP boss:

  • DON’T mistake your boss’ cool demeanor for disinterest; INFPs are reserved with people they don’t know well, and take time before they’ll reveal the depth of their beliefs and feelings.
  • DO stop and think before pushing back on an INFP’s suggestions. This isn’t someone to speak with off-the-cuff, at least until you get to know him better.
  • DON’T come on too strong initially; particularly if you’re an extrovert, you’ll need to dial down your exuberance. INFPs can be extremely put off by loud, aggressive types, causing them to retreat inwardly and remain wary of those who approach them too strongly.
  • DO make a game plan in advance. Consider not only what you want to say, but how you’ll say it. For example, if you would take their advice if only you had the budget for it, soften the blow by telling them you like his idea; however, you simply don’t have the budget to add it.
  • DON’T spend time assembling charts and graphs to prove your point, as INFPs aren’t particularly dazzled by data. Gently insist that you believe your approach will work without the suggested additions, and chances are they will want to let you act on your feelings and proceed your way.
  • DO anticipate that he will listen to what you are saying. Unlike many other personality types that consistently talk instead of listening, INFPs can do both by giving you a turn to speak. Their natural empathy gives INFPs the ability to truly understand how you feel.
  • DON’T be surprised if they find the funds to extend your project, or extend your deadline if time is your issue! INFPs tend to be passionate about the ideas they believe in and, since they believe anything is possible, they go out of their way to make it happen. Therefore, be candid about your reason(s) for not taking their advice, because they may very well quietly act to remove those obstacles.

Whatever situation you find yourself working in with an INFP, consider yourself fortunate. Their desire to make everyone happy makes INFPs willing to compromise in spite of their passion for their own ideas and deeply held beliefs. Few things make an INFP more satisfied than creating a harmonious environment where all can thrive and soar.

Barbara Bean-Mellinger
Barbara Bean-Mellinger writes on business topics such as jobs and careers, marketing and advertising, public relations, entrepreneurship, education and more. Her articles have been published in newspapers, magazines, and on websites. She lives in the metro Washington, D.C. area and has recently taken up travel writing to highlight lesser-known sites in and around the capital.