"Politeness, n: The most acceptable hypocrisy."
This is how American writer and satirist Ambrose Bierce described politeness. As an INTJ, you probably agree. INTJs live their lives in pursuit of the truth; they put a lot of effort into getting to the facts of a situation. If we know something's right, we'll say it (like it is). Our instinct is not to worry about politeness but to take the surest route to the best and most efficient decisions. Beating around the bush, white lies and sugar coating are such an enormous waste of time and provide a level of distortion that messes with understanding. We just don't get it.
Unfortunately, others don't think the way we do. Some personalities have completely different objectives for social interaction, like feeling connected to other humans. Turns out, these people don't just want to receive information, they want to receive it in a way that makes them feel good about themselves. They would rather be lied to than told a truthful opinion.
So how's a well-meaning INTJ to stay true to his straight-talking values without landing his punches too harshly? Here are some tips for keeping on the right side of the divide.
#1: Start with yourself
Yeah, yeah. We all know that we should think before we talk, and say things in the 'right' way so that people will listen. We understand that two people may not have the same opinion and that we all have the right to be listened to with respect. It's just that....the truth means a lot to us. If we're bothering to have this conversation, it usually means that we have a whole lot of good stuff to contribute. Heck, we're probably just plain old right. And we want others to have the benefit of this knowledge without inefficient tip-toeing.
At least half the population have different priorities. Maya Angelou supported this idea well when she said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." So let's start with our own truth: are you 100% sure that you've delivered the information in the optimum way which means getting through to the listener? Did you get a good grip on the opposing viewpoint before you started attacking it? Did you take the time to ask questions before you exercised your admirable frankness?
INTJs are prone to social awkwardness but most of us do realize when we're behaving like a jerk. Every INTJ can surely see the value of a bit of extra investigation and reflection.
#2: Be honest in all that you say, but do not say anything for the sake of honesty
How far do you have to go with your blunt honesty? If, for example, a colleague has royally messed up and unleashed the office equivalent of the hounds of hell, how do you tell her? Keeping quiet is not an option, since there's a risk that she'll mess up again. But telling her she's an idiot isn't an option either, since the resentment could smolder for weeks before anything gets resolved (and you might end up getting disciplined or worse).
It's lazy to suggest that INTJs can't think of a tactful way to express their opinions on the spot - that's using your honesty as an excuse for social ineptitude when really, knowing the 'right' thing to say is a skill that can be learned if you apply yourself. INTJs lead with their intuition, which means we have all the skills we need to figure out the pros and cons of a situation. How could you achieve your goals, in this case, not having your colleague land you in the stew, in other ways? Is there a response that essentially tells your colleague that she messed up but demonstrates a different level of empathy and compassion?
Stay conscious of who you are with, and the timing of a situation, before you speak your mind. A wise man once said nothing.
#3: Stay on your side of the story
Staying on your side of the story means saying openly what you need to say - don't shy away from controversial topics - but phrasing your criticism in "I" terms. For example, you might say, "I don't think that worked because," or "For me, the answer is this because."
This technique is quite difficult for INTJs to master because, usually, we're not just defending our own truth, but the absolute truth. Statements like "I see what you mean, but...." or "I agree up to a point, but ..." feel rather superficial, as if we're walking on eggshells or deliberately play acting the good cop/bad cop role. But your choice of works will definitely influence how others perceive your message.
Uncomfortable as it feels, the technique of staying with yourself is an effective tool in conflict resolution because it allows the other person to respond in a way that speaking in absolutes does not. It takes the confrontation out of the conversation and opens up a dialogue, not a monologue. You might think the distinction is frivolous but the chances are, it's not frivolous to the person you're talking to. Conversations work better when the other person feels like they're being listened to; when it's a two-way street.
#4: Be humble
If you're not sure whether something will make you sound rude or arrogant, your safest option is to couch messages in one of the ultimate face-saving terms:
- "I think [this] for [these reasons] but I'm not sure if I'm right. What do you think?"
- "I have some thoughts about that, if you're interested?"
- "Do you want to vent, or would you like some advice?"
- "Come to think of it, sometimes I'm not good at taking criticism either."
Self-effacing statements like these help to transition you from a position of honesty to a position of diplomacy, which is telling the truth but in a sensitive and tactful way. Plus, it's always worthwhile to determine whether someone is looking for emotional support or actual authentic feedback before giving your opinion. This minimizes the risk that you'll offend someone by sharing insights that they were not psychologically ready to hear.
Honesty is the best gift you can give someone
INTJs are not naturally attuned to people's feelings, but that's no excuse for acting rudely. Truth, without grace, makes you a bit of a jerk. Luckily, it's not an either/or situation - you can be both honest and inoffensive, if you take the time to think about your language.
Diplomacy is hard work, and there may be times when you unintentionally hurt someone's feelings. You can't control how other people will react to the truth. And you shouldn't have to. The best you can do is enjoy the small wins; the time when you make your point in a way that is not perceived as rude, disrespectful or gloating. Honesty is the best gift you can give someone ... but only if the other person hears.