How to do compassion as an INTJ personality type

The INTJ personality type is often accused of being cold or uncaring. And in many cases, we really are. As an INTJ I look at things in utilitarian terms, and getting results is often more important than making friends. This can be useful, but it can also be a massive liability. It took me years to realize that ignoring peoples’ emotional needs wasn’t the “smart” thing to do. It was holding me back.

That doesn’t mean it was easy to become more sensitive. Even trying our hardest, INTJs have a habit of accidentally hurting other people’s feelings or causing awkward moments. For us, trying to “do” feelings is like learning to speak a different language—one that has no clear rules.

That’s why I sat down with Kim Lajoie, an INTJ with a very un-INTJ career. Lajoie spends his time working with musicians, inspiring them to make their music better and empowering them to design their own independent careers. He’s one of those rare “warm” INTJs who has mastered his emotional side. But he’s also incredibly successful, and attributes his success largely to his ability to feel empathy with others.

I wanted to learn Lajoie’s secret—how he developed his compassion, what made him do it and what results it had.

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Why INTJs can be cold

Like me, Lajoie said he was insensitive for most of his life. Long before he knew he tested as an INTJ, he could tell he had an “extreme” personality type, but he also felt that he was far more rational than the people around him. He didn’t feel he needed to change because, as he put it, “It feels good to be right.”

He also felt he couldn’t change. His view of personality growing up was that, “You’re dealt a certain hand of cards,” and on any given day, “You can play those cards well, but if you’re not dealt a certain card you can’t play it. And some people have social skills in their hand of cards. I did not.”

But he knew he was missing out. By college, he had decided to pursue his interest in music alongside his love of computer programming, and he found himself spending a lot of time with theater majors and artists. He could see that they got results from their art by connecting with people emotionally. He also knew that he was lonely, and wondered if he could change his hand of cards after all.

“I’m really good at learning, so I felt, well I can apply this to something I’m traditionally really terrible at. I read psychology and sociology and went about studying all these crazy irrational people in the world.” This led to experiments in being more social and developing a sort of INTJ charisma.

Many INTJs go through this process. We treat social skills as a school subject that can be studied, practiced and improved. I used to set myself challenges to talk to five strangers in a week, checking off the conversations like items on a list. That might sound cold to a natural extrovert, but it works. Through practice, Lajoie and I separately learned how to be social. While most INTJs stop there, however, Lajoie noticed something else: what he calls “the power of emotion.”

The power of emotion

Speak to Lajoie for any length of time and you’ll notice he sounds different from other INTJs. He has the air of someone wise and caring. That kind of presence takes more than just conversation skills. It requires a deep emotional awareness.

That’s something I’m uncomfortable with. Like all INTJs, I do have feelings—but I see them as private, and I wish everyone else kept their feelings private too. Lajoie says that’s unrealistic.

“People are mostly governed by their emotions. This view that we all aspire to be rational, that our emotions are like a bug in the system—it’s highly wrong. Emotions are the system. And the logical and rational part of our brain is the bug. It serves no evolutionary purpose, it just happened to result in agriculture and civilization and iPhones… Once you get your head around that you realize that emotion is one of the most powerful forces in humankind.”

But just because something is built into human nature doesn’t mean it’s good. When I asked Lajoie why we should indulge this “force,” his answer was clear and simple. “Well. If you want to change someone’s behavior, you have to change their feelings.”

Learning to care

In Lajoie’s world, learning to be kind is one and the same with making emotion useful. And both require a shift in perspective.

“Utilizing the power of emotion means taking a three dimensional view of the world,” he explained. He referenced an idea from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert—also widely said to be an INTJ—that most people think they’re logical and everyone else is illogical, which is seeing in 2D. The 2D viewpoint ignores the effect of emotion on all people (including INTJs). To see in 3D means seeing how emotion influences us all.

No one is a born natural at this. People who are kind tend to believe that their kindness is genuine, and it might be. But Lajoie pointed out it’s a learned trait—something we absorb from others around us as we grow up. And that means even an INTJ can hone it.

The INTJ action plan for compassion and kindness

I asked Lajoie how to develop the power of emotion, hoping for a sort of checklist. Just as I had learned social skills through workbook-like challenges, I expected to learn emotional resonance the same way. I wanted an action plan.

But Lajoie would have none of it. “Compassion isn’t something you do,” he told me. “The way to act compassionate is to be compassionate. It’s not a matter of ‘doing’ anything in particular… The reason you’re not compassionate is not because no one told you how to do it. The reason you’re not compassionate is because you’re seeing the world in 2D and you need to see the world in 3D.”

From there, he told me, I can figure out the “doing” part on my own.

To an INTJ that’s a slippery answer. But that’s sort of the point—compassion and kindness don’t work in the logical way INTJs prefer. A proper explanation of these things sits largely in our blind spot. Too often, INTJs try to understand emotion by forcing it into the mold of reason. Lajoie takes the opposite approach. He’s forced his own head out of the mold, and dares to look at feelings on their own terms.

Is it worth it? I’ll let him answer that one:

“The world is run by people. The reason anything happens at all is because of people. And the reason people do anything is because of emotions. If you can master emotions then you can master people. And you will have more power than you ever thought you could achieve.”  retina_favicon1

Kim Lajoie is a music producer and mentor who helps artists design their own careers in a way that fits the 21st century. His book The Golden Age of Independent Music teaches you to succeed as an artist without being “discovered,” and create deep emotional connections with your audience. Spanning far beyond the music industry, The Golden Age is being read by artists of all backgrounds, including writers and visual artists. Learn more about The Golden Age of Independent Music.

Seminar for INTJs: Our partner Quistic offers a course for INTJ success. “Best Practices for Leveraging INTJ Strengths (and How to Be a Likable INTJ)” is a four-part webinar from career coach Penelope Trunk. Includes access to a private Facebook group with nearly 200 success-oriented INTJs. Learn more about the INTJ course here.

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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert


  • Dan N Cass says:

    I’m an INTJ with deep emotions and compassion. Most people I know have NO idea, or interest, in how to get past their superficial emotions because they are too afraid to connect the dots and be self reliant.

    Here’s an excerpt on the exact topic from my upcoming memoir, “Fifty Two @ 52: An introvert’s 52 week battle with Fear”.

    It only took three or four weeks after arriving in Vancouver before people began to notice I wasn’t the overbearing consultant dominating every room or conversation. I spent most of my time observing and listening, asking lots of questions and taking copious notes. I confirmed and reconfirmed my understanding on white boards. Over a Killer Whale Ale in a Granville Island pub, one of my clients asked, “How come you’re so quiet? You never talk about your problems. Why don’t you ever open up”?

    The cold beers in frosty mugs loosening my usual reticence, I replied, “To who? Complete strangers? I’m not compelled to share my life. In fact, I’m incredibly particular, almost obsessive about who I share personal information with. I’m not antisocial or misanthropic, but I discovered most people don’t care about my problems and worse, many are happy I have them. I often think it’s inconsiderate, almost rude to unnecessarily burden someone with my problems, looking for an easy solution. If I really wanted help, I’d find someone who had solved the same or similar problem. That way I wouldn’t get an empty opinion without experience or a simple validation of understanding. The problem is, those people are usually incredibly busy, working on their own problems. If I talk about my success, I feel it’s arrogant, almost bragging. So in a sense, I often feel trapped into silence or worse, small talk”.

    “You’re quiet, but you always seem so confident, like you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing?”

    “Thanks. I appreciate that”.

    “How do you do it”?

    “Like a detailed project plan at work I have a personal plan, a To-Do list of goals, which keeps me focused. I set my attention and my intention before trying to consistently act”.

    “Sounds like a lot of work. How can you be so sure it will work?

    “I’m not. I’m constantly reviewing and revising it. There aren’t any guarantees”.

    “You’re weird, you know that”.

    “Yes, I’ve been aware of that fact for a very long time”.

    “Maybe you could help me”.

    “With what”?

    “I’m not sure exactly what I want to do with my life”.

    His downcast eyes and energy revealing the complete story, I wanted to emphatically respond ‘No’, or ‘Absolutely not’, but politely settled for, “Sorry, I can’t help you with that”.

    “Why not”?

    “You’re not serious”.

    “Yes I am”.

    “You’re not. If you were serious you’d tell me the specific problem you’re having. How am I supposed to help with such a broad, generic problem? What exactly do you want me to do”?

    “I don’t know exactly, but I think about it all the time”.

    “C’mon Brian. You’re a well educated adult acting like a boy on Christmas morning hoping Santa will bring you a new toy keeping you happy and distracted for a few weeks”.

    “That’s not fair”.

    As he expectantly waited for my tacit agreement, apology or both, I surprised him, “What do you want me to do with that”?


    “The present you gave me”.

    “What present”?

    “You wrapped your big box of ‘I’m not Happy’ problems with a lovely ‘That’s not Fair’ paper of guilt, before sliding it over to me as a present. I just removed the wrapping, returning your problems without a receipt. Instead of effusive validation of your problems, my emotional Get Out of Jail Free card, I’m actually doing something to help you”.

    Completely bewildered by the strange direction of the conversation, he resorted to attack, handing me another present, “Don’t you have any feelings”?

    “Yes, I do have feelings, but I’m taking a big chance trying to help, shaking you out of your illusions. I’m not trying to be hurtful or provocative. After watching you make deliberate, difficult choices for the last month in the office, I thought using disruption would shake you out of your complacency but you’re so used to everything sugar coated and easy, you can’t see my approach.

    Since we’re talking about feelings and emotions, let me explain my problems trying to help guys like you. The first is I can clearly see what you’re going through. I often wish I could go through life blind or at least indifferent to your problems but when I see you suffer my compassion and empathy shift into overdrive. My feelings multiply as I move to understanding, patiently listening to your growing list of excuses, rationalizations and distractions. After watching you insist on complaining about a problem without taking even the smallest action, my compassion and empathy becomes frustration. Somewhere along the way, when I discover I have more belief in your abilities than you do, I become angry, wondering where do I draw the line? I’ve learned no matter how much time or emotional energy I invest I can only help you as much as you want to change. Eventually, when all of my emotions simmer into a stew of exhaustion and guilt, I have to let you and your collection of excuses go, accepting you’re an adult with free will, choosing to suffer.

    You misunderstood when you called me quiet. Silence is my protection. I used to carry your collection of energy draining emotions with me for weeks or months. Now? I’ve been through it so many times, with so many people, it only takes me about sixty seconds to see it coming from miles away. You taught me to detach with an indifferent shrug, coldly saying ‘No’ without explanation, saving my energy for people who are serious. Since we’re being ‘fair’, I’m obligated to give you a present in return, but I’ll be more direct. “What are you going to do to resolve the roller coaster of compassion, empathy, acceptance, frustration, helplessness anger and guilt, you put me through in our short conversation”? My question was pointless, because I knew he’d never considered his complaining was a burden to others.

    It was far worse in personal relationships. I couldn’t detach so easily. I’d listen to people I deeply cared for sharing a problem. It was raining in their world and they were getting soaked to the bone. In the beginning, I’d indirectly suggest they come in from the rain to where it was dry. When they responded, the guilt filled implication I should be more supportive, I’d hand them an umbrella in their favorite color and style. When the umbrella, viciously ripped to shreds was thrown back at me in rage, I’d reach my hand out the doorway into the pouring rain, patiently letting them feel my calm energy. The worst part is when it became crystal clear nothing I could do or say would be enough until I was standing in the rain next to them, complaining and suffering together.

  • Aya says:

    As INTJs, I think we probably do emotions quite well, just not in the same “language” as everyone else. “Shallow” emotions (or rather, raw emotions without the introspection to understand/notice where they came from) tire us, so we protect ourselves by “not caring” and only give empathy when we can afford to. Most INTJs seem to be more than capable of empathy, but we only have so much we can give, and even then do so in our own way that may not be in terms that others understand.

  • Quiche says:

    This article has the least amount of responses as expected.

    INTJs care and are compassionate. The “problem” is the way we express it (or not).