How Do INFJs, ISFJs, ENFJs, and ESFJs Read People So Well?

Every personality type has unique, powerful gifts. For the FJ types, one of those gifts involves an ability to read people well. Exactly how this skill shows up varies from person to person.

  • You might meet an INFJ who picks up on so much about you that it seems like they’re reading your mind.
  • Or perhaps you know an ESFJ so in-tune with how people work in groups that every event they plan is an unqualified success.
  • You might find yourself in a group lead by an ENFJ who manages to make every single person there feel included.
  • Maybe you meet an ISFJ who knows exactly how to act in dozens of different social situations and always makes the people they interact with feel valued.

The FJ types all use a mental process called Extroverted Feeling, or “Harmony” (to use Personality Hacker’s nickname). ENFJs and ESFJs use it as their favorite (or primary) mental function. INFJs and ISFJs use it as their co-pilot (or auxiliary) function. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at how this cognitive function helps INFJs, ISFJs, ENFJs, and ESFJs read other people.

What is Extroverted Feeling?

One of the first things to bring up when talking about Extroverted Feeling is that this is considered a rational, decision-making function. It is what Lenore Thomson identifies as a “left-brain Judging function” which prompts us to define and organize familiar perceptions “in a systematic way.” Extroverted Feeling does this by helping us organize “data by relatedness to ourselves” and how it fits-in with our values and the values of society (Personality Type, p. 317, 318).

In less technical language, Extroverted Feeling is about how we relate to people in a conceptual and analytic way. It’s the mental function used when we look at “people’s outward behaviors” and “interpret them in a standardized way” (Thomson, p. 320). It’s about values, ideals of behavior, and cultural expectations. Isabel Myers wrote that Extroverted Feeling “depends wholly upon the ideals, conventions, and customs of the environment” and that it “finds soundness and value outside of the individual in the collective ideals of the community” (Gifts Differing, p. 79).

In practice, FJ types are warm, relational, and caring individuals who are deeply invested in the people around them. From a very young age, these types tend to see their interactions with others as one of the most important things in their lives. They learn to make decisions based on meeting others’ needs and to seek harmony in all their relationships. They tend to determine how valuable information is based on whether it brings people together or divides them (Joel Mark Witt and Antonia Dodge, Personality Hacker, p. 71).

How Do INFJs, ISFJs, ENFJs, and ESFJs Read People So Well? |
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Type Differences

How someone uses Extroverted Feeling (Fe) depends in large part on how this function interacts with their other mental functions. None of us use the pure form of any one mental function in isolation. We are whole, complex people with layers to our personalities.

SFJ types use Extroverted Feeling alongside their Introverted Sensing function. They compare present behavior to past behavior and filter their experiences and judgement about other people through the lens of how they fit into a community. SFJ types tend to be people-focused, service-oriented individuals with strong values.

NFJ types use Extroverted Feeling alongside Introverted Intuition. They look at patterns in human interactions and behavior to predict future possibilities, and are “galvanized by people’s potential” (Thomson, p. 330). They also tend to be people-focused and pour their energy into sharing their values and helping others reach their potential.

How Fe shows up is also influenced by our preference for introversion or extroversion. IFJ types tend to put themselves into helping roles and prefer service positions to leadership positions. They’re “guided by the immediate needs of the people around them.” The EFJs are far more likely to play the role of a leader, especially in a coordinator role (Thomson, p.331-32). They’re deeply in-tune with expected social cues and are fluent in the non-verbal language of social itneractions.

How Do INFJs, ISFJs, ENFJs, and ESFJs Read People So Well? |
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How They Read People

Since Extroverted Feeling is focused on the outer world, it’s actually better at reading other people than it is at helping someone process their own feelings. Because other people’s emotions occupy so much of our focus, we FJ types become adept at picking up on their responses to us and each other. This makes FJs very good at understanding what is going on with another individual, with a group of people, or in larger social movements.

“Harmony users posses an almost uncanny ability to understand social dynamics, unwritten social rules, and cultures. This emerges from a lifetime of focusing on everyone’s feelings and needs. Since it’s impossible to met every single person’s needs all the time, Harmony users instead set up conditions to meet the needs of the collective. This often manifests as etiquette.” (Joel Mark Witt and Antonia Dodge, Personality Hacker, p. 70)

I’m most familiar with how INFJs use Fe, since that’s my type and I’ve written a book about INFJs. Many INFJs describe themselves as empathic, sometimes to the point that they literally feel what other people feel. When we combine with our talent for pattern-recognition and adopting different perspectives, it can look like INFJs have mind-reading abilities. We use our Introverted Intuitive function (also called “Perspectives”) to guess how other people’s minds work on both a conscious and unconscious level based on our observations of our own thought patterns.

ENFJs do something very similar, though they rely more on their Extroverted Feeling than their Introverted Intuition. The ISFJs and ESFJs (who use Introverted Sensing instead of Introverted Intuition) don’t typically report the same type of mind-reading that the NFJs do. They still read and predict others’ behaviors, though — just from the perspective of Sensing instead of Intuition. The SFJs tend to be better at working within existing systems, though, and from personal observation the SFJs I know are even more ready to help and support others in their social groups than the NFJs I know.

Developing Extroverted Feeling

How Do INFJs, ISFJs, ENFJs, and ESFJs Read People So Well? |
Photo credit: Joe via Pexels

Some FJ types reading this article (or maybe those who know an FJ type) might be thinking that these descriptions of reading other people don’t sound like them at all. I know the first time I read that INFJs could understand people so well it was like they could read minds I was skeptical. Sometimes I can empathize with people well and pick up on social cues, but in many cases (especially in trying to figure out what they think of me) I feel like something is blocking me from reading other people.

For me personally, I’ve figured out my challenges with reading people are largely connected to social anxiety. Even if an FJ type doesn’t struggle with social anxiety, though, not all are naturally comfortable in social situations. This largely has to do with past experiences and how well we’ve developed our Fe side. Here’s a quote from Thomson’s book that I found fascinating:

“Young EFJs can be surprisingly awkward in social situations — particularly when compared with the more outgoing Extroverted Perceivers. Until they know how to gauge people’s expectations well enough, they’re self-conscious and reluctant to take action.” (Thomson, p. 334)

Basically what this all boils down to is that expert use of Extroverted Feeling only comes with practice. For ENFJs and ESFJs, this practice typically happens naturally as they grow up because this function is the one they use most readily. INFJs and ISFJs usually develop it enough to interact with the outer world, but it’s not the most comfortable for them. For the interoverted types in particular, getting comfortable with their Feeling function can be one of the most rewarding personal growth goals (something I talk about in more detail in my INFJ Handbook).

For any of these types, pressure from family or peers to behave in a different way can side-track development of Extroverted Feeling. Since this function is so good at reading people and adapting to their wants, all FJs can act as chameleons to fit in with their most important social groups. The good news is that even if you’re an ESFJ, ENFJ, ISFJ, or INFJ who hasn’t fully developed Extroverted Feeling due to outside pressure, anxiety, or any other reason it’s always there in your personality. You’re free to explore and develop it as much as you like, honing your interpersonal skills until you can read people and use your gifts to create harmony in relationships.


Featured image credit: via Pexels

If you’d like to know more about the INFJ personality type, check out my book The INFJ Handbook. I just updated it with a ton of new information and resources. You can purchase it in ebook or paperback by clicking this link.

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