How Not to Be a Pushover…Even If You’re a Mediator (INFP)

Laura’s avatar

INFPs – a.k.a. Mediators – have a reputation for being pushovers. Need six dozen cookies for a bake sale – tomorrow? Of course, we’d love to! Want help cleaning your house? Give us fifteen minutes, and we’ll be there – even if our own place is in shambles.

Are you a Mediator (INFP)? Take our free personality test and find out.

Here’s the thing: Mediator personalities care deeply about other people, and we want everyone around us to be happy. The result is that, in our daily lives, we may find ourselves putting other people’s needs before our own. In the short term, this can work out well. We’re naturally empathetic, so making other people feel good makes us feel good.

But this approach to life doesn’t come without consequences. When we feel as if we’re meeting everyone else’s needs and nobody is meeting ours, it’s all too easy to become resentful and isolated. And that’s not good for Mediators or their relationships.

Fortunately, even Mediators can learn to speak their needs in a way that doesn’t feel selfish or unnatural. This article will give you concrete tips on how to get what you want – without being untrue to yourself.

“Assertiveness”: A Fancy Word for Being Selfish?

If you’re a Mediator, chances are the following conversation sounds at least a little familiar:

You: I have so much stuff to do, but it has to wait. I need to go help Rosie’s cousin with his college essay.

Well-Meaning Friend (WMF): Are you getting paid for that?

You: Uh, no.

WMF: So, why did you agree to it? You’re super busy and burned out right now.

You: Because Rosie asked, I guess?

WMF: Do you like helping with college essays?

You: Not really.

WMF: So why didn’t you just say no?

You: I couldn’t.

WMF: Of course you could’ve. You need to be more assertive.

Be more assertive. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that, I’d be writing this article from the deck of my superyacht. But is “be more assertive” good advice? And what does it even mean?

First of all, let’s talk about what being assertive doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean:

  • being rude,
  • acting selfishly,
  • manipulating people to get what you want, or
  • assuming that you’re always right.

In this case, we’re also not talking about the personality trait of capital A Assertiveness, which has to do with how you react to adversity.

For the purposes of this article, “assertiveness” refers to a communication style in which you say what you mean clearly and unapologetically but not rudely. If you imagine a continuum with “aggressive” on one end and “passive” on the other, then assertiveness would be a happy medium. When you speak assertively, you don’t threaten, belittle, or intimidate (which would be hallmarks of aggressive communication), and you also don’t say something just because you think it’s what another person wants to hear (which would be passive communication).

Instead, communicating assertively means that you speak your truth without trying to bring anyone else down. And deep down, that’s what we Mediators really want. We don’t want someone to like us just because we agree with them – we want them to like us for who we really are, and that means we need to speak openly and honestly, even when it isn’t easy.

How Not to Communicate

Let’s go back to the example above – the one about the college essay. Here’s what an aggressive communication style would sound like during the call with Rosie.

Aggressive Communication

Rosie: My cousin needs to have his college essay done by next week, and he hasn’t even started it yet. I know you’re a really good writer – can you help him out?

You: What, you think I have time to help some stupid kid with his essay? If he waited ’til the last minute, that’s his fault, not mine. Do you have any idea how much I have on my plate right now?

If you’re a Mediator personality type, chances are just reading that last line of dialogue – which is heavy on the belittling – made you cringe. But the following example of passive communication might sound a little more familiar.

Passive Communication

Rosie: My cousin needs to have his college essay done by next week, and he hasn’t even started it yet. I know you’re a really good writer – can you help him out?

You: Oh wow, I mean…of course I can. No problem.

A hallmark of passive communication is voicing agreement with someone even if you don’t actually agree with them. In this case, the “you” character agreed to Rosie’s request even though they clearly had some misgivings.

There’s another style of communication that’s worth mentioning: passive-aggressive communication. As a communication style, passive-aggressiveness involves saying something indirectly (or not saying it at all) and hoping the other person figures it out. Here’s how that might look.

Passive-Aggressive Communication

Rosie: My cousin needs to have his college essay done by next week, and he hasn’t even started it yet. I know you’re a really good writer – can you help him out?

You: Oh wow, I mean…I have so much on my plate right now. I’m super behind at work, and my apartment’s a mess, and I really need to go to the dermatologist. But if you really, really need me to help him out, then I will. I’ll have to put off getting this mole checked, but I’ll just have to hope that it isn’t cancer.

How to Be Assertive (a.k.a. How Not to Be a Pushover)

So, I’m not an assertive communicator, you might be thinking. Am I doomed?

Good news, fellow Mediators: assertive communication is a skill. And like any skill, it can be practiced and improved. At times, we might think that our personality types set restrictions on what we’re capable of. For example, I’m a Mediator, so I never stand up for myself. I just can’t help it.

According to our research, Mediators are the personality type most likely to tell people what they want to hear instead of what we really think. But that doesn’t mean that we’re doomed. Mediators might not find it easy to speak assertively – especially when that entails disagreeing with someone or letting them down – but that doesn’t mean that we’re not capable of it. In fact, our values of honesty and empathy can actually become superpowers when it comes to speaking assertively.

With that in mind, here are three key tips for Mediators who want to brush up their assertiveness skills.

1. Say What You Mean

As a Mediator personality, you know how painful it feels when you’re not true to yourself. And when you verbally agree with someone even though you don’t agree on an intuitive level, you’re compromising one of your most valuable traits: your authenticity.

If you find yourself communicating passively, pause and ask yourself: “How do I really feel?” – and speak from that place. In the short run, it won’t be easy, but in the long run, you’ll be glad to have founded your relationships on what you really think, need, and feel.

2. Don’t Expect Mind Reading

Mediators can be incredibly sensitive to other people’s feelings and needs. When someone is holding back from us, we can often sense it. But not everyone has this same sensitivity. That means that we can’t expect other people to read our minds or anticipate our feelings.

For example, if you need to say no to someone, don’t say a reluctant yes in the hopes that they’ll pick up on your reluctance and let you off the hook. They might take you at face value – and as a result, you might end up feeling resentful or exhausted.

3. When in Doubt, Use the Magic Words 

Speaking assertively can be tough, especially when you’re not in the habit. Sometimes you might not have the emotional energy to assert a boundary or disagree with someone. Suppose that a friend asks you for a favor, and you’re not sure whether you can help them, but you’ve had an exhausting day at work, and it feels as if it would be easier just to say yes like you usually would.

In these moments, use the magic words: “Can I get back to you on that?” This allows you to reflect on whether or not you’re able to help without succumbing to the pressure of the moment. These magic words can be especially helpful for those of us who find ourselves flaking on commitments or routinely making plans and then canceling them.

Speak Honestly and Kindly (And Send Those Good Mediator Vibes)

So, what would that conversation with Rosie look like in an assertive communication style? Well, it might go a little something like this:

Rosie: My cousin needs to have his college essay done by next week, and he hasn’t even started it yet. I know you’re a really good writer – can you help him out?

You: Oh wow, thanks for thinking of me. I’m not able to help him out right now. That said, I saw a book on essay writing at the library, and it looked really good. Maybe that would help him find some inspiration.

Rosie: You’re sure you can’t help him? Maybe you could come over for just an hour or so and get him started.

You: Yeah, this just isn’t a good time for me. I’ll be thinking of him and sending good vibes.

Dear Mediators of the world, do you ever worry about being a pushover? If so, what’s one area of your life where you’d like to be more assertive? Tell us in the comments!

Further Reading

Assertive Mediator (INFP-A) vs. Turbulent Mediator (INFP-T)

“I Don’t Want to Hear It”: Compassion Fatigue and Feeling Personality Types

Self-Interest and Personality Type Part II: The Guilt Factor

Try the Dark and Light Side of Personality tool in our members’ Academy.

Take a 16Personalities survey on Bullying.