This is part of an ongoing series on the differences between INTPs and INTJs, and how those differences are evident in myself and my husband. If you’re not familiar with them, you should first read this primer on Myers-Briggs and cognitive functions.
In my recent interactions with a number of INTJs, I’ve noticed a trait that they all seem to share: in casual conversation, INTJs often seem incredibly smug. This holds true for my INTJ husband, who often seems like a completely different person when he’s interacting with other people compared to when we’re alone. He tends to come off as a smug asshole when talking to people he doesn’t know well.
I thought this air of smugness might be because INTJs think they’re smarter than everyone else, but according to my husband it’s actually a façade of false confidence meant to hide their insecurities in social situations or when interacting with people they don’t know well. (When INTJs actually do think they’re smarter than you, it’s usually so obvious to them that they’re more matter-of-fact or exasperated than smug.)
This got me thinking about the differences in how INTJs and INTPs approach social situations. Both types are obviously not socially adept, and each has their own coping mechanisms to deal with their social ineptitude. INTJs rely on a formulaic approach to social conversation that causes them to appear smug and overconfident, while INTPs are more likely to be caught with a deer-in-the-headlights look. INTPs are always using their Perceiving function to take in new information, which slows down their ability to form a response, because social situations are full of foreign information for INTPs. INTJs use their Judging function to organize and interpret what they already know, shutting down their information intake until they feel they need more information. This helps them in social situations because they know from the start that they are likely to be uncomfortable, and therefore need to put on a mask of confidence (which comes off as smugness). INTPs are unable to put on this mask because an INTP needs to know the particulars of the situation before they can decide how to respond to it. The response is usually slow and inelegant because INTPs lack knowledge of social conventions.
When faced with social situations necessitating small talk, both INTJs and INTPs tend to come armed with a repertoire of stories they can tell. INTJs are more likely to use tried-and-true stories that they have told several times before, while INTPs are more likely to spin new stories out of more recent occurrences, but both types tend to ‘rehearse’ their stories and other avenues of small talk. I will rehearse an anecdote in my head to make sure I can tell it well, the same way I’d rehearse an important presentation. But in conversation I speak extemporaneously, taking into account the context of the conversation and the reactions of my audience. If they look bored I’ll skip part of the story, or if they seem interested in some particular aspect, I’ll elaborate more on that.
When an INTJ tells a story, he tells it the same way every time, with nearly the same words and phrasing. Because of their lack of Perception and their need to plan everything in advance, INTJs are unable to gauge their audience’s reaction and amend their storytelling on the spot, so they plow ahead until they reach the end of the story and can bounce the conversation into someone else’s court.
I even notice this difference in phone conversations. When my husband talks to friends and family on the phone, he tends to talk for a long time without pausing about everything that has happened in his life recently, then expect the other person to talk for a long time about him or herself. He can then use the time while the other person is talking to prepare what he’ll say next. When I talk on the phone, I prefer a livelier back-and-forth, taking turns telling one anecdote at a time and pausing often to elicit a response. I don’t like to talk for too long without pausing to see if my friend is still interested or if they have something more important to say.
The INTP approach is likely to lead to awkward silences in which they don’t know what to say, and the INTJ approach is likely to make acquaintances feel cornered or like the INTJ is a know-it-all. I am comfortable with silences and used to them, so it doesn’t really bother me. What makes me really uncomfortable is talking when nobody cares what I’m saying, or having false confidence be disproven. I never try to be overconfident because bravado can be easily deflated by those who are actually more confident or knowledgeable. But to an INTJ, whose J makes them need to be as prepared as possible for every situation, unpreparedness breeds anxiety. Being caught without something to say, or stumbling over their words, is worse than a bored acquaintance or seeming arrogant.
Since I have pointed out my husband’s tendency to be smug, he has started pointing out times when I am smug. This usually only happens when we’re alone, because he is the only person who I feel comfortable enough with to be smug– while I am the only person he feels comfortable enough with to not be smug.