By Boye Akinwande
Many ENFJs get mistaken for INFJs if they are either socially shy or reserved, or if they are pensive, academic, and intellectual. Similarly, some ENFJs looking into typology mistype themselves as INFJs for the same reason, or walk away from typology altogether, since many of the ENFJ descriptions imply that ENFJs are all about the social arena, with little to no internal life.
Now in theory, it might also be true that some INFJs who are socially soothing, charismatic, and assertive would then mistype themselves as ENFJs. But that doesn’t fit with my experience of the field. Though we have tried to add nuance to typology, showing how all types can have specific capabilities and shine, the majority of the field is still stuck in some biases, where it’s cooler to be introverted than extroverted; cooler to be intuitive than sensing.
So as I have already hinted, ENFJs can be socially shy and reserved as well as academic and intellectual. In the same way, INFJs can come across as socially active and more interested in people than in principles and ideas – they are not all intellectually minded.
While both INFJs and ENFJs tend to be holistic and often arrive at profound insights in relation to human beings and the social order, one could say that ENFJs are more often inclined to be concerned with that social order for its own sake, and with applying their insights to this order instead of just thinking of them in a vacuum. The contrast between Pythagoras, who started his own social movement – his own community of like-minded people – intent on making a difference in the world, and Plato, who mostly just reflected and refined his ideas, is apt here. As Plato even says of himself in one place:
“As a young man I reflected a lot about how society could be improved … but I refrained from action.”
That is to say, ENFJs, being extroverted judgers, will more often take an interest in applying the insights they are dealing with directly to their audience, indeed, to the specific situation at hand. They are, in other words, more prescriptive than INFJs and may, like the Buddha does in the Pali Canon, effortlessly adapt their terminology, intellectual level and frames of reference to where the audience is, so that their teachings will be effective.
Now, if we turn to INFJs, they are of course also typically socially oriented, mindful of people and may even need people as a medium to recognize certain intellectual truths, just like ENFJs do. On the other hand, since INFJs have tertiary introverted thinking, that is, they are able to direct it whereas it remains repressed in ENFJs, this means that INFJs will typically have more of an interest in building up their intellectual system for its own sake. One could perhaps compare the eternal and perennial flavor of Plato’s system with the teachings of the Buddha, which were skillfully adapted to the social context of his day. Indeed, one of the most important facets of the Buddha’s teachings, and one that is often overlooked, is that he stressed that his teachings were nothing ‘in themselves’ – they were solely means to ‘reach the other shore,’ that is, to escape the dissatisfactions of empirical existence and achieve nirvana. That is to say, his teachings were only valuable so long as they served a clear function; only so long as concrete people could actually benefit from them.
Another difference is that INFJs, being introverted perception dominants, will more often appear detached – indeed, when engaged in their thinking role, they can seem cold and distant (which is probably one reason why many people think, or used to think, that Plato was an INTJ or INTP type).
By contrast, even when ENFJs are solitary and detached, such as perhaps Erasmus and Goethe, they always still seem to have a sense of presence about them, as an old friend speaking directly to us and looking us in the eye. Goethe is perhaps the best example of this elevated-yet-present inclination in ENFJs: Looking at his accomplishments, though he was clearly one of the most intelligent people who ever lived, his thoughts are rarely forbidding and hard to follow, the way Plato’s might be. On the contrary, he speaks in a welcoming and cordial manner, always genuinely mindful of his audience and the overall feeling-tone of his expressions. He would not talk down to us or hide behind mystical utterances, for as he himself says:
“It [is] natural to me to empathize with the condition of others [and to] sympathize with it with pleasure.”