Social interaction is not known as a strong point for INTJs. While INTJ personality types may inherently “get” many things, interacting with others and navigating the subtleties of social situations is usually not one of them.
This is a follow-up post to 10 Tips for INTJ Personality Types which discussed INTJ personality traits, potential pitfalls, talents, abilities, career possibilities and more.
This post covers INTJs and social interaction, including socializing as an introvert, developing social skills, and the unassuming but simultaneously deeply problematic social stumbling block for INTJs: small talk.
Originally this was going to be one giant follow-up post and also include sections on INTJs and social anxiety and INTJs and relationships, but it was (again) getting way too long so those will both come later in separate posts.
[Update: here is the INTJs and social anxiety post]
In any case, let’s get to it.
Socializing as an Introvert & INTJ
As an INTJ, your preference for introversion affects the way you approach and relate to social interaction. It at least in part determines the types of social situations you prefer, and those you prefer to avoid.
This also applies to people, and especially so when taken together with your “N” (intuition) preference.
First a quick primer on the differences between introversion and extroversion in biological terms:
The main difference between introverts and extroverts, at the level of the brain, is the way they respond to dopamine activity. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls reward and pleasure systems in the brain.
While introverts and extroverts have the same levels of dopamine, the way they relate to it is different. Introverts are more sensitive to dopamine than extroverts, and need less of it to feel “happy”.
Conversely, extroverts have more active dopamine reward networks and need more of it to feel the same level of effect.
This means extroverts are more incentivized to seek rewards in their external environment. They are more “reward sensitive” compared to introverts and become more energized at the expectation of reward.
As an introvert with lower reward sensitivity, you are less energized than extroverts by external stimuli and sensory input. Most of your energy is focused inwards rather than out.
(If you’re interested, here is a well-cited article that describes these differences in much more detail.)
In my experience this plays out in two important ways. It influences 1) the types of social interaction that give you energy or take your energy away and 2) the level of environmental stimulus that is ideal for you.
Let’s go through those one at a time.
As an introvert, certain types of social interaction likely feel either energizing or like they are taking your energy away.
In broad strokes it’s probably something like this:
Social interaction that drains your energy:
- Big, loud group settings (parties, bars, etc.)
- Talking to a person you don’t find interesting
- Talking about a subject you don’t find interesting
- Small talk (more on that later)
Social interaction that gives you energy:
- One on one conversation talking about a subject you do find interesting
- One on one conversation with a person who shares many of your ideas, outlooks, interests etc.
- Small group conversation talking about subjects you find interesting
Again this is in broad strokes, but it has mostly been my experience.
The second important factor for you as an introvert is the level of environmental stimulus that best suits you. Extroverts prefer environments with more stimulus (music, noise, visual stimulus like lights/colours, other people) while introverts prefer environments with less.
This doesn’t just apply to social interaction either, but work and leisure environments as well. For me for example, an ideal level of environmental stimulus is sitting in a coffee shop with headphones in, typing on a computer and drinking coffee.
There are other people around (but I’m not actually interacting with them), there is activity in the background and periphery but the main focus of attention (computer screen) stays constant.
Coffee has strong stimulatory effects physiologically and music adds more stimulus. Add the right task to this mix – maybe writing a blog post like this one – and I am in “flow”.
For someone more extroverted, this level of stimulus might be far too low. Maybe they’d prefer to be the barista in the coffee shop – keeping busy by interacting with new people all day. Or they might prefer working in another high energy environment like a nightclub or a busy office talking to people on the phone all day.
This is still quite general but hopefully it sheds some light on the mechanisms behind your preferences and why they are the way they are.
Now, all that being said –
Your introversion is not deterministic
It’s important to understand that your introversion doesn’t make you any less capable of socializing, having friends, experiencing success with the opposite sex, or really anything related to social interaction with other people at all.
You may naturally find these things difficult, but you are no less capable of them than anyone else.
Introversion and extroversion are not two distinct categories with no overlap between them – they are two ends of a spectrum. Regardless of where you innately fall on this spectrum, you can move along it depending on different circumstances, moods, environmental inputs and so on.
To use myself as an example again, I can be about as far as possible on the introverted side of the spectrum. There have been times where I go multiple days in a row without speaking to a single person except maybe to order a coffee. I’ve gone for months at a time where this is relatively commonplace and felt pretty good while doing it, if a little inside my own head.
At the same time, if I’m more used to being around people, living with roommates or just socializing often, I might feel completely different. I’ll start to miss people when I’m alone and my baseline state is one of being much more sociable, adventurous, outgoing and “free” feeling.
So despite being able to be comfortable far on the introverted side of the spectrum, I am equally OK at other points on the spectrum as well.
I think many introverts would find the same thing if they explored different circumstances and took the time to develop their capacities.
None of this is set in stone, and if you’ve never put yourself in a situation where you’re called upon to be more extroverted for an extended period of time, you might be surprised at just how adaptable you are.
Something like going travelling or living with a group of people can be extremely worthwhile, even just to see what it’s like. After you’ve experienced being in a more extroverted place, you can then assess it and decide how much you like it. But if you’ve never done it, you’ll never really know.
Ultimately, introversion needn’t limit your social life (or quality of life) at all. A lack of social skills might (which is something different altogether) but it would be a mistake to think that you cannot satisfy any social need or want you have because you are introverted.
You can absolutely have as busy, rich and involved social life as you would like. And this isn’t to say you can’t thrive in loud or busy environments either. It’s just that doing so will probably drain your energy faster and to a greater extent than for someone more extroverted.
I would recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet (Amazon) for more on the particulars of introversion.
Being Honest with Yourself
It’s important to be honest with yourself about how much you really do want a social life.
INTJs in particular I believe can be subject to a patterns self-delusion in which we convince ourselves (very convincingly too) that we don’t really want something, especially something that is common or popular with more “regular” people. Of course we do want this thing, probably quite badly, and what’s needed here is a kind of brutal self honesty that allows you to clearly see the trick you’re playing on yourself.
Rationalization can come easily when fear or discomfort arises in social situations. If you’re not used to socializing, you find it uncomfortable or get nervous and anxious, it’s temping to believe that you don’t actually *want* anything to do with it at all.
Combine this with the sense of superiority harboured by many INTJs, and what you get is a cycle of antisocial and emotionally unhealthy detachment from other people.
If you think you don’t really want friends, success with the opposite sex or whatever else, just consider this one question.
If you had absolutely no hang ups, fears or concerns about social interaction – would you behave any differently?
Be honest in answering this question. Deep down you probably already know the answer, and only you can know when you’re being honest with yourself.
Social skills are something you can learn; learn them
If you find it hard to make friends, feel socially awkward or have social anxiety, I have good news for you. All of these things are “fixable” and social skills can be learned just like any other skill.
No matter how introverted you are or how much you don’t like being around other people (or think you don’t like being around other people), you do at least need to be able to socialize when you want to or when the circumstances call for it.
This is true for a few reasons.
First, you will need at least average social ability to enjoy whatever degree of social life you would like. This might range from a few close friends, to a small group, to a large social circle with many friends and acquaintances. It’s completely up to you, but again the important thing is to be honest with yourself about what you want.
Furthermore, as a INTJ you probably have some desire to make an impact in the world. In order for this to happen, no matter what you want to do, you’re going to have to interact with other people. To have positive impact, accomplish something meaningful or “make a difference”, social skills are reasonably important, so you may as well be good (or at least passable) at them.
And finally, if you just want to be competent and functionally “normal” in society, you will need at least a baseline of social ability.
What are “good enough” social skills?
Here is an (entirely subjective) metric that I think is actually pretty reasonable for assessing whether you have “good enough” social skills.
Are you able to do the following?
1) Hold a conversation with someone you’ve never met before
2) Have another person like you upon first meeting them
That’s it. If you can do these two things then you’ll have no trouble meeting new people, making friends and opening up possibilities for deeper relationships later on.
And if one or both of those things sounds difficult from where you’re currently standing, just keep reading.
Developing Social Skills
The key to improving in this area, I believe, is to take it as seriously as you would the development of any other skill.
If you take the time to learn relevant material, put it into practice and commit yourself to the process, you will overcome your difficulties and you will improve. This is basically guaranteed in any field and social skills are no exception.
I’ve experienced this firsthand in my own life. Without going into too much detail, my social skills were at one point atrocious and I put a lot of work into developing them. Now they are at least average in general and definitely above average in some areas.
I can get along with anyone, meet new people, comfortably hang out in groups, carry a conversation, make small talk, go on first dates with “success”, talk to girls in the day (“cold approach”, still with a lot of difficulty) and for all intents and purposes be a perfectly socially normal person.
You can too.
Trust me, no matter how much you lack social ability right now, none of this stuff is beyond you.
Any social skills problem you have is very very fixable.
The most effective way to develop social skills is to put yourself in environments where you are forced to constantly interact with new people. My recommendation for this is to go backpacking or travel to a foreign country, to get out of your comfort zone both physically and socially.
You can read more about backpacking, travel and developing social skills here.
I would also recommend the website Succeed Socially. It is an excellent resource, especially for people with below average social skills, and it is completely free. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author was an INTJ or similar type.
Let go of perfectionism around social ability
INTJs are already prone to perfectionism, and combined with other factors I think it can be particularly bad when it comes to social interaction.
These other factors might include a lack of social experience, as well as the INTJ tendency towards analysis paralysis and overthinking. All of this together can manifest in the belief that there is some “perfect” way to behave in social situations, and that anything less is a total failure.
Some of this perfectionism can dissipate if you understand a few things.
Firstly, understand that social interaction is almost by definition imperfect. There are an enormous number of unknown variables in one or more other people – more than you could ever account or control for. Trying to make things go “according to plan” at a fine level of detail can’t really work when this is the case.
Furthermore, it can help to understand that most other people don’t have extremely high standards for things like you probably do. No one is holding you to an ideal of being extraordinarily charismatic or smooth in social situations. You can take some pressure off yourself, because no one else is putting any on you.
It’s also true that first-time interactions between people with good or even great social skills can still be slightly awkward. Sometimes it’s awkward when two people don’t know each other and are talking for the first time – this is fine. You might get nervous – this is fine too. Other people are often nervous as well.
So if you’re trying to improve in this area and beating yourself up because you’re not “perfect” yet, go a little easier on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect. Everyone has idiosyncrasies and people are generally quite forgiving. Most people just want to be liked and get along.
There’s no perfection here and no one is holding you to an impossible standard – there’s no need to hold yourself to one either.
How to be likeable (in less than 200 words)
Understanding a few basic principles and then practicing is all that’s really needed to get good at getting along with other people. Again, most people do not have high standards and will like someone who is friendly, seems “normal” and is not obviously mentally or emotionally unstable.
In order to be interesting, be interested. Ask questions and let people talk to you. Make eye contact and indicate that you are listening.
Read books like How to Win Friends and Influence People (Amazon). If you read 3-5 books on social skills and put even a quarter of what you learn into practice, you’ll be improving in no time.
Smile a lot. Even if you think you are already smiling, smile even more.
Don’t be negative. INTJs seem particularly prone to negativity, but it is almost universally unappealing. Classic personal development (positive thinking, goal setting, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy etc.) can be very good for overcoming this.
Don’t complain. Don’t argue. Don’t try to be “right” – it doesn’t matter. Most arguments are a waste of time and energy and people rarely change their mind anyway.
Try to give off “good energy” and make people feel good. In very basic terms, people like people who make them feel good.
How to Solve Your Small Talk Problem
I may do an entirely separate post on this in the future but for now we’ll go with this.
INTJs generally hate small talk. I get it. It seems pointless, annoying, a waste of time. And from our default perspective that places value on utility above almost all else, it’s easy to see why.
But small talk is a feature of life and it’s not going anywhere. As with social skills in general, if you want to function normally in society and/or have an impact in any meaningful way, you will almost certainly need to be at least passable at small talk.
And trust me, it is possible to engage in small talk without getting annoyed. It is possible to “understand” it and you may even be able to actually (!) enjoy it.
I already mentioned the superiority complex many INTJs suffer from. They believe they are “better” than other people in some fundamental way (usually related to intelligence or a corollary) and this can lead to reluctance to engage in certain common activities, one of which is small talk.
My recommendation in part 1 was to avoid this attitude of superiority at all costs, and the same goes here. It doesn’t serve anyone, including you, so drop any sense of superiority you may have about engaging in small talk.
If you really hate small talk, it may be worthwhile to think about where your perspective is coming from and why it is the way it is. Certain INTJ personality traits likely cause you to dislike small talk in a unique way, and that is not the experience of most people.
It may feel like small talk drains your energy without serving any function, and is therefore a net negative to life with no upside. However, this is likely due to your tendency to view social interaction (and most everything) as needing to achieve some specific goal or serve a greater purpose.
Most people don’t see things this way. And extroverted types, particularly those who gain energy from any type of social interaction, may find small talk highly enjoyable.
The common idea among INTJs that small talk is shallow or pointless is (ironically) due to an inability to see what’s going on at a deeper level.
Small talk is performing an essential function and meeting people’s needs – they’re just not needs that you necessarily have.
Generally it takes time and familiarity for people to get comfortable around one another. Small talk is a way to pass that time.
Engaging in small talk also indicates that you understand certain basic social rules and norms. Rightly or wrongly, a person’s behaviour in casual interaction is often used to extrapolate out to more general assumptions about them.
And for those who aren’t comfortable immediately diving into deep, complex topics (read: most people who aren’t INTJs) small talk is an effective way to gradually get there.
There are probably many more functions of small talk, but I don’t know what they are since I am also an INTJ. Innately it seems pointless to me too, but I do it because I understand its functions and utility.
In any case, the point is that people don’t just exchange meaningless information because they’re idiots, no matter how much it may seem that way. Small talk does meet needs and serve important functions, and it will continue to do so.
So if you’re resistant to it, I would suggest letting go of the resistance and becoming at least passable at it.
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