Talking to an INTP is unlike talking to any other personality type. They generally skip the small talk and the conversation soon turns to deep matters.
INTPs like to discuss problems, point out flaws and come up with solutions. They are curious and sceptical individuals who do not like to take things at face value, but love an intellectual debate. In discussions, they do not shy away from presenting controversial opinions and being brutally honest.
But simultaneously, there lies the trap for INTPs. Not everyone responds well to honest, straightforward communication. An INTP leaves too little room for emotions in difficult conversations and don’t always have eye for the other person’s feelings.
In this article we are going to dissect the communication techniques of INTPs. We are going to look at how INTPs engage in various types of conversations and how others respond to them. This will allow us to come up with strategies to improve communication with anyone that isn’t an INTP.
What makes an INTP?
The INTP is one of the 16 personality types described by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It is someone with Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving personality traits. They are sometimes referred to as The Thinker or Logician.
In contrast to extraverted personality types, INTPs are fine with being on the sidelines, away from the center of attention. They don’t shy away from social interactions, but these events can be exhausting, especially if it involves a lot of boring small talk.
After socializing, they will prefer to take some time for themselves in order to recharge. Recharging is done by introspection. INTPs spend a lot of time in their own mind and love to question everything. Time alone is not boring at all, because their minds will keep them occupied for centuries.
To other people, INTPs may come off as quiet, reserved, or even shy. But on the inside, there is a lot of activity; INTP are the prime example of still waters run deep. They have a broad interest, love exploring new topics and having deep conversations, and they constantly strive for self-actualization. Additionally, they are very observant, so they are more aware then they let you know.
How to Improve Communication with INTPs
The goal of this article is twofold.
If you are an INTP yourself, this article will help you understand yourself better and explain why you behave different than others in certain situation. Throughout the articles you’ll find multiple tips. You may use these to emphasize your strong points or explain your reasonings to other people. It could also help you overcome common misconceptions or obstacles that occur when you interact with people of opposite personality types.
If you are not an INTP yourself, but are close with an INTP, you can use this article to better understand this person’s communication. INTPs are rather unique in their thought process and perception of the world, and are therefore often misunderstood. They may come across as emotionally detached, cold, absent, or you may feel like they pick fights for fun. This blog will give you an understanding of what lies behind their actions and behavior, so that you can have a smoother relationship with INTPs in the future.
Conversations with an INTP
Like the Sigma Male, an INTP doesn’t need to be the center of attention or speak much in conversations. They are happy listening, watching, analyzing and thinking. Since the brain produces little noise when it is at work, INTPs are often perceived as quiet and shy. But in a smaller or more familiar group, and when the topic interests them, they can definitely take an active part in a conversation.
In large group discussions, the INTP is often on the sidelines. They then become a silent participant in the conversation, and others might just forget that this person was also at the table. However, when asked a question, it soon becomes apparent that he/she did listen carefully. The INTP person will suddenly come up with a list of arguments that summarize the entire discussion from both sides, or shine their light on a fallacious argument.
However, there is one big “but”. They have a habit of zoning out whenever a conversation is not engaging enough. You can easily catch an INTP daydreaming. They will train themselves to time nods and affirmative noises perfectly when someone else is talking. That way they can give the illusion to the other person that they are listened to, but in reality their head is elsewhere.
They could be thinking along the lines of the conversation, overthink a point someone made, ponder over some completely different question that was bothering them earlier that afternoon.
It’s therefore not uncommon for an INTP to be called absentminded, but I don’t feel that does justice to what happens. Their mind is running at full speed, just not in engagement with the actual conversation. Information is processed and appropriate brain power is allocated.
That’s also why they find it hard to remember names and personal details. Only when someone is repeatedly crossing your path, it will be important to remember that person’s name.
You can have very good 1-on-1 conversations with an INTP. They put themselves and the other person on equal footing and look for common topics to talk about. As such, they are open to talking to people from all walks of life.
The conversations almost immediately go beyond the small talk, looking for a deeper topic to exchange thoughts on. They’d rather not have a conversation they’ve already had numerous times.
You can also go to them with your existential problems, because they can pose confronting questions. They will dig through to the core of your problems and suggest solutions. Whether those solutions are actually for you, who knows. But talking to an INTP will always lead you to new insights, not least because you are challenged to formulate your own thoughts.
Texting with INTPs (don’t)
When they are no longer captivated by the conversation, INTPs are perfectly fine leaving the chat with an unanswered message.
You may be counting down the hours since you got a reply, but the INTP is not concerned with this at all. That’s why sometimes it can seem like you’re being ghosted, since it’s been two days since you’ve heard from the INTP. But I assure you that this is usually not on purpose. You are more than welcome to double-text.
They are not glued to their phone (to text). When you see them with a phone in their hand, they are not necessarily chatting up someone else. That person may just as well be reading an article, looking up a certain destination on Maps or jotting down a note because they happen to have something worked out in their head.
But once they do chat with you, they will want to talk about more profound things, anything beyond the small talk. So don’t bother wishing your loved one with an INTP personality a good morning on a daily, nor ask them about their days on chat.
INTPs are very self-conscious and spend a lot of time on introspection.
They love to analyze conversations afterwards. They’ll reflect on something they could have addressed differently, what words they should have used, or how the other person reacted. They then take self-corrective measures in similar conversation in the future.
An INTP does not have a giant palette of varied emotional responses that seem totally genuine. They often speak their brain, and don’t have the natural gift of utilizing body language. Instead, they are controlling their bodies almost like a puppet master. They know how they are supposed to act in certain situations. But not everyone is the best actor, which may result in a clumsy imitation of reality is just not lifelike.
Mimicking conversation partner
Their best tactic is to mirror their conversational partner. If a person is friendly, funny, boisterous, and waves their hands around a lot, the INTP will start gesticulating, speak in a louder voice, and smile and joke more to match the other’s behavior.
This is often enough to get by, as long as there isn’t too much pressure. If the pressure increases or the situation warrants it, however, an INTP will switch back to their regular selves for as long as necessary, perhaps stunning their acquaintances with a display of cool, clear, cogitant reasoning.
Difficult to understand
INTPs do not behave or respond in a socially expected way; thus people cannot predict INTP behavior, and this makes them nervous. For example, they cannot tell for sure what will make the INTP smile, laugh, or become annoyed. Nor do they know how to approach an INTP in such a way as to get what they want from them. Their usual techniques fall flat, and the INTP is too impassive to read anyway. This can create an awkward predicament, which is perhaps most apparent when texting an INTP person, as mentioned above.
“Freedom of speech gives us the right to offend others, whereas freedom of thought gives them the choice as to whether or not to be offended.”
~ Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Arguing with INTPs
INTPs love a good discussion.
Calm and civil in debates.
They like debating about politics, religion, spirituality, racism, science, cultural values, and they have very strong (and often controversial) opinions.
Any discussion with an INTP might as well be done in the dark, because they are not constantly searching for eye contact to verify their opinion with the other person. When they have formed an opinion, they dare to express it unconditionally. And they will defend their views, even if they stand alone. They are less susceptible to groupthink and will not sway with the majority.
To overcome the reaction of people that reject their ideas, they adapted strategies of logic to bypass the “gag reflex” of others. One of them is the Socratic method.
In a debate, INTPs will convince others of their reasoning by linking question after question. This generally does a better job of convincing people than stating the truth flat out, and as a side benefit, it may catch the other person off-guard.
An example of how this works:
An INTP guy gets into a discussion on gender equality with a feminist. He knows that saying out loud that women should be treated differently at work will cause frowns and perhaps hostility. So instead he sets up the following line of questions:
A: “Do you think that men and women are different biologically?”
B: “Should the work environment accommodate women in their biological needs?
C: “Would it be good to allow women to take a day off when they are on their period?”
The other person will cautiously agree to each individual item, not really understanding what the INTP is getting at. Then finally, when all the prerequisites have been proven, the INTP connects the dots and reveals the whole:
“Very well, since you believe A, B, and C, then you must agree that women should be treated differently at work.”
An INTP in debate about a subject they know well, is like a chessmaster who is one mental step ahead of their opponent. They will lay traps in the form of seemingly innocuous statements, wait for their opponent to agree with them, then snap the trap closed and prove their point.
Rational > Emotional
In their heads, there are mostly rational thoughts going around and this also visible when they are having a conversation. In a conversation they will focus on logical and intellectual findings. They are actually more interested in discussing an idea, than the social interaction.
INTPs try to categorize everything around them and to validate the logical rigor of these categorizations. They feel the best when their categorizations turn out not only to be logically correct, but are also confirmed in real life.
You can trust them with confidential information. Gossip passes them by, they don’t concern themselves with drama. They are very willing to help you and offer a listening ear. But for emotional support, you shouldn’t turn to the INTP, and here’s why:
When communicating, INTPs are as respectful, well thought out, and to the point as they come. However, at times they may appear a bit distant. They are not often emotionally attached, and they may come across as reserved, detached. To others, they appear to be lacking warmness and cordiality.
Hearing an INTP’s steely objective analysis and critique, might cause others to become emotional or take their analysis personally. When this happens, the INTP is often surprised by the overreaction of others to their words. INTPs critique a situation without the intention of offending or hurting anyone, but that’s sometimes how it comes across.
TIP: You may puzzled by a colleagues’ hostility to you, but it usually is because of a word of critique that has hurt them personally. Understand that sometimes harmony is more preferred than honesty. Other people need to be on good terms with you, in order to talk or work with you. To them, a debate or critique of ideas is akin to a personal rejection of their perspectives. Unless you’re brainstorming for solutions or clearly having an open discussion, refrain from critiquing situations when you see arise.
Emotionally detached from the discussion
Generally, INTPs are sharp and feel strongly about certain ideas and topics. The more significant the topic, the longer they have thought about it rationally. This will be apparent by an extensive rundown of arguments for and against, which the INTP-person has already considered. In this, emotions can be mentioned, but not actually utilized. After all, getting angry about a particular topic is not going to lead to a better discussion. Hence, they are not easily swayed by emotional arguments; they pierce right through those and remain relatively unaffected.
An INTP person can have an emotional discussion without revealing their personal emotions. They don’t like emotionalism, anger and arguments that are not based on facts. These discussions will not be productive for either side.
This can lead to tremendous confusion:
Person A: “Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents.”
INTP: “But what of the child mortality rate in third world countries? It’s a normal occurrence there.”
Person A: (stunned that anyone would say such a thing) “You don’t think it should be like that, do you?”
INTP: “Of course not.”
Person A: “But you just said–”
INTP: “I didn’t say I approved of it. I merely noted that there is nothing out of the ordinary about children dying before their parents in most parts of the world.”
The result might be that other people misrepresent or oversimplify the views of INTPs. But INTPs choose their words carefully, each word having a precisely chosen weight and meaning, with appropriate qualifiers added so as not to imply an incorrect generalization. So you must not rely on your underbelly feelings, but take the words exactly as they are said.
Advocate of the Devil
When they find themselves in a discussion that they already have several times, they start to come up with their own ways to spice things up. They will throw a controversial opinion into the mix and watch the discussion derail into a completely different direction.
By seeing the discussion as something that discusses purely a concept with little emotional weight, the INTPer is able to readily play devil’s advocate. Sometimes purely for fun, with a sarcastic undertone (that sometimes goes unnoticed). As a result, the other person may remember a particular discussion very differently. “You thought communism could work, didn’t you!?”
It often annoys people how INTPs argue against things that they actually believe in. Keirsey (1998a) has suggested that INTPs do this to look for what truth there might be in an opponent’s position. I think that an INTP also wants to refine the terms of the argument into a set of definitions that are as accurate as possible from the perspective of both parties. They wish to ensure that statements are universally true, with any exceptions noted.
TIP: Be sure to make it clear at the end of the discussion whether you were serious and whether it reflects your personal preference.
What Helps Successful communication for an INTP:
- There is enough time available for thinking about the topic
- The topic of discussion is conceptual in nature
- A need to find hidden, unobvious possibilities
- A need to clearly understand how events may unfold
- The topic calls for a creative approach
- The other party is an NT or ST person
What Hinders Successful Communication for an INTP:
- Fast-paced conversation on a topic with weak logical connections
- The topic is of purely practical nature
- The topic heavily involves the finer feelings of the soul for too long
- Long communication with SF people
For a loved one of an INTP, it can feel like you are in some kind of business meeting during a quarrel. This is because your lover wants to solve the problem you are having as if it were a challenge that needs a consultant. They take a step back, put all arguments factually on the table – ideally they would like to write it out on a sheet of paper – and then they will try to come up with a solution. In this way, they think they can avoid a relationship problem in the future.
But a loved one needs more than a logical solution to the problem. Bottled-up emotions need to be expressed; the person wants to see that the issue has affected you as much as it has affected him/her.
The lack of emotion is both an advantage and disadvantage for the partner. They don’t get riled up easily. Whereas the INTP person may get all sorts of swear words and innuendos thrown at them, they won’t return a lot of rancor. Also, the INTP will not easily get manipulative or physical to prove his/her rightness.
The disadvantage is that it is difficult for a more emotional person to express feelings to an INTP and be understood.
The difficulty of showing emotional support
Giving emotional support is hard. If your partner comes up to you with a experience that caused distress, insecurity, anger, worry or rejection, we don’t really know how to react. Your first instinct will be to find a logic-based solution for the problem. But in this emotional state, you partner is not necessarily looking for a solution, they look for emotional support. They want to be comforted, listened to, and want to see that you share their emotions.
Personally, I have run into this communication problem a few times in my relationships. I think I’ve gotten better at it, though, because I’ve become more aware of how starkly different I approach a relationship conflict.
How to solve relational conflicts
You will have to really try your best to be compassionate and give room for emotions of the other person and yourself. It helps to ask about the other person’s feelings: How did that make you feel? But it is just as important to ask yourself this question and express it to your loved one.
TIP: Don’t immediately shoot into solution mode. Sometimes the solution to a relationship problem is simply to listen to each other and voice minor annoyances. Don’t try to balance these annoyances against each other, because you can’t possibly know what the emotional weight is (has been) for the other person. Try to unravel this by asking follow-up questions, in order to get a better estimate of emotional impact for the other person.
How to show emotional support in four (not-so-easy) steps:
- Validate the other’s feelings
Figure out which emotion they are feeling and show compassion.
“You must feel pretty upset about that”, “that must have hurt”, “you’re worried, huh?”, “oh no, that must’ve felt awful”
Your job here is to mirror their emotions and put them into different words in a compassionate way.
- Listen, without trying to solve things
Your partner is full of emotion that he/she needs to vent and will need the space to be able to do so. Listen carefully and try to keep your mind from wandering. Don’t go off thinking about solutions just yet.
- Narrow down what they are upset about
Ask a series of questions to figure out what specifically is bothering them. This will encourage them to open up more and express their feelings on deeper levels. They might feel relief from the clarity that you bring them.
- Comfort your partner by telling him/her that you love and value them
Give examples of things you appreciate about your partner. Counteract their negative perceptions of themselves. Provide examples of how things turned okay in the past. Construct a positive picture to replace the negative one.
So… when do you provide solutions?
Only when your partner specifically asks for them. Or after you completed all the four steps above, you can ask for permission to give advice.
Honestly, I wish I could tell you the truth
INTPs hold themselves to high moral standards when it comes to honestly. They will find it hard to let the truth be unspoken, even if this will result in people getting hurt. They don’t follow the unwritten norms for social interaction, which makes for fun conversations, but sometimes a confrontation.
It’s common that another person will think: “How can you say something like that?”
TIP: Ask for permission for being honest. Not everyone likes your bluntness and directness. And even if people ask for your opinion, it is not always wise to answer instantly and concisely. Mold your conversation partner with some tediously slow build-up sentences. Go for the indirect suggestions first.
GIRLFRIEND wants to battle!
GIRLFRIEND picks DELICATE QUESTION:
“Do you like this dress?”
Don’t answer: “Nah, it makes you look chubby.”
Answer: “You know, I was thinking the other day. Do you remember when we sat down for a cappuccino at that market square in Milan? Right next door to that café, you bought a cute black dress that’s a little bit loose-fitting, remember? You haven’t worn that dress in a while. Can you try that one on?”
Instead of making up a lie, INTPs would rather stay silent or tell a partial truth. When presented with a question that demands an answer they don’t want to give, they’ll try to simply ignore the question altogether. If that doesn’t work out, they find a way to answer that doesn’t reveal the whole truth. They will think of a specific wording that will satisfy the asker’s curiosity, and keeps their genuine feelings classified.
It’s questionable to some whether this can be considered lying. Is it really the INTPs fault that you didn’t ask the right questions?
Conversely, INTPs are good at uncovering lies by using their sense of logic and fact-keeping. They look for logical inconsistencies and holes in a story.
For the INTP, the point is to ascertain pure truth, even if leaving an untruth standing would actually help their cause. This may frustrate allies, who mistakenly come to believe that the INTP does not support their point of view.
There is no INTP in Teams
INTPs are brilliant and insightful individuals, and they may not be able to tolerate others who are not as fast. This is especially true if they are working in a team and the INTP’s progress is hindered because of a slower member.
TIP for employers: Allow the INTP to work independently or give him a role that requires less participation or input from others so that he may not be hindered in this manner.****
Present Ideas in Big Picture format
INTPs dislike talking about routine or straightforward tasks; they also do not like going into specifics of issues. They believe that the general discussions of an issues would suffice, because everyone would have grasped the big picture.
When you are discussing with INTPs at work, don’t provide details of the task until you have given them the overarching objective or principle. When they are convinced of the necessity of the big picture objective, they will understand the rationale behind the specific tasks naturally.
For others, encouragement and positive feedback can be motivation for them to excel in their work. Learn to offer words of praise for small accomplishments or small gestures of kindness. You may feel it’s not significant, but these small acts of kindness can go a long way in building a strong working relationship.
Also, realize that for some people, there is no such thing as a work-life divide. If they are going through personal issues, they will find it hard to focus or excel at work.
TIP: Be ready and willing to help others with their personal issues, and learn to share a more personal side of yourself.
A Sigma Male is a man who chooses to live his life outside of the traditional hierarchy of society. He prefers freedom, independence and solitude over money, status and fame. He seeks adventure and knowledge, rather than material possessions. Many INTPs will recognize themselves in this description of the Sigma Male.