Loose Change

From the horse’s mouth: How to work with INTPs

Posted in Musings by Neeraj on 05/23/2010

I’m an INTP and I’ve often felt that the rest of the world doesn’t really “get” how to interact with us. In this post, I’ll explain my thoughts on how to approach and deal with an average INTP person. Since, the post title may be a little misleading, I’d like to clarify that this post is not specifically about dealing with INTPs in your workplace (although you could very well apply these principles there too!).

First off, for those who are not fans of personality tests or  who do not know about MBTI personality types, INTP is one of the 16 personality types in the Myers-Briggs personality classification system (wikipedia). MBTI type indicators were developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Briggs and was derived from C. J. Jung’s theory on psychological types early in the 20th century. Here is a brief description of how the system works:

The identification and description of the 16 distinctive personality types that result from the interactions among thepreferences.”

Excerpted with permission from the MBTI® Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®

Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

Your Personality Type: When you decide on your preference in each category, you have your own personality type, which can be expressed as a code with four letters.


INTPs are one of the rarest personality types (by some estimates, they make up only 1% of the entire population). It is important to understand exactly what makes an INTP ‘tick.’ This page is a good start (and so is this one, for those who prefer shorter descriptions). INTPs are usually described asThinkers, which is to say they live mostly in their heads. INTPs view the world around them with a great deal of logical detachment. In addition, they are fiercely independent, consciously striving to be different from other people. INTPs also detest facades and greatly value frankness, both in demeanor and in conversation. This means that they do not much go for small talk or social niceties that are valued by ‘normal’ people with more extroverted personalities. Because these personality traits often make them seem cold, aloof, and uninterested in the people around them, INTPs are some of the hardest people to approach and interact with.  Other personality traits that compound the problem is their tendency to be skeptical of people in general, their propensity to withdraw into their own shell when in the company of more extroverted people and a liking for isolated places with few people around.

On the other hand, INTPs are also intensely curious about things, preferring to amass information on a great variety of topics. This makes them interesting conversationalists (if you can get them to talk first!). Also, unless an INTP’s beliefs and values are directly challenged, they prefer to take the back seat and let others be in control. This means that they are generally perceived as ‘easy-going’ by people who know them.

Although we are each too complex to be neatly boxed-in into an MBTI category, knowing that a person is an INTP (for example, if he displays typical INTP-ish behavior described above) can help you to not rub him/her the wrong way:

The key is to remember that INTPs are basically introverted thinkers. We do not take kindly to people invading our private space for frivolous (as we perceive it) reasons (e.g., only to make small talk). We also do not like having our trains of thought interrupted. This happens to me a lot and it usually turns me off that person instantly. The thing is, since INTPs instinctively avoid emotional disharmony, it can be very hard for the other person to tell if this has happened. Lately, I’ve come to realize that most people simply do not realize that INTPs are usually thinking about stuff almost all the time. It may look like we’re not doing anything or that we’re just lazing around, but we usually have tons of ideas we’re mulling over in our head. So, the next time you see an INTP just ‘sitting around’, make sure he’s not thinking very hard about something (a good way to tell is by checking if he doesn’t have that abstracted, glazed look in his eyes).

Another character trait that can help you deal with INTPs is to remember that we value individuality very highly. This means that a. we like to do our own thing, and b. we do not like being forced to do things (even if we wouldn’t mind doing those things on our own). So, if you share your workplace/home/living space with an INTP, remember to respect his private space and try to impose as few rules as possible (better yet, discuss which rules are worth having; an INTP will rarely renege on a deal that he has logically agreed to). Constantly looking over an INTP’s shoulder or badgering him to get things done is extremely counterproductive for everyone involved.

Another sore point for most people is that INTPs frequently seem to be excessively cold or emotionally detached. This perceived lack of empathy actually damages us on two levels: first, it may sour our relations with others, and second, it may obscure any feelings of genuine concern that we do have for the other person. To understand why an INTP frequently fails to emotionally soothe others is that emotions is a raw point for us. The fact that we are thinkers means that emotions (which are not subject to the power of logic) are seen as weaknesses to be, at best, controlled or, at worst, avoided. So, the next time an INTP you confide in doesn’t seem to sympathize with you, cut him/her some slack. This is hard for him/her too! Besides, an INTP’s logical detachment often allows him to see solutions that other, more emotional, people miss altogether. So, even if you do not get a hug or a pat on the back, you may get some real, useful advice out of the bargain.

I’ve already mentioned that INTPs like to collect information for the sheer joy of it. It isn’t unusual to find INTPs having twice or thrice the number of interests an SJ person has. Note that this does not automatically mean INTPs are experts on a wide variety of topics. Quite the contrary, we usually collect information just sufficient to quench our curiosity. Our true strength is connecting the dots between widely disparate topics. In any case, all this knowledge-vacuuming can make us appear scatter-brained to other personality types. Usually, this can be seen in INTPs rapidly jumping from topic to topic in a conversation. Very likely, in his attempt to make sense of the world, the INTP has invisible spider webs with strands that connect all those different ideas in myriads of ways. Anyway, there is no way around this personality trait. We’re born dreamers. Just get over it!

So, what do you think? Are you an INTP (since we’re on the Internet, the chances are quite high that you are; by some estimates, as many as 70% of people online may be INTP!)? I’d love to hear your feedback on this post and any more tips you may have that can improve the way others interact with us.

[The images in this post show some famous people who exhibited INTP-like traits. As you can see, we’re in distinguished company :)]


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