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Welcome to the next issue in our series exploring the psychological patterns described by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™. Last time, we looked at Sensing and Intuition and how they affect the way we communicate. In this issue, we’ll examine the next pair on the MBTI: Thinking and Feeling.
But before we get started, we’d like to thank you for the positive feedback from so many of you on these PSSP articles. It’s gratifying to know that we’re offering information that is directly benefiting your everyday professional life.
Your input has caused us to take a fresh look at what we’re about at CEI. We’ve gained a major insight into what we do that has resulted in a new mission statement we think captures what we’re about in our training and consulting. It goes like this:
To promote excellence in communication,
Through the years, we’ve found that the vast majority of professional people who have come to CEI for communication consulting or training have been in high change. And that has meant that a lot was at stake in their lives that could only be addressed by improved communication. It’s been our pleasure to watch many professionals navigate their way through “high-stakes” challenges and opportunities to even higher achievement.
So it is in that “high-stakes” spirit that we dedicate this and all future PSSP articles to those of you who know that excellence in communication has really made a difference in your lives.
“Mars and Venus aren’t Just Planets!”
What, you’re probably asking, do planets, especially Mars and Venus, have to do with your Myers-Briggs profile? When you start examining this pair (T for Thinking and F for Feeling), you quickly spot a connection with gender communication. Historically, these functions (as they’re called in the world of Myers-Briggs) have been strongly associated with humanity’s two sexes and the ways each communicates. MBTI demographics reveal that still about two-thirds of all Thinkers are men, and about two-thirds of all Feelers are women. What this means is that ways men and women have traditionally found to communicate—and which can so often be at odds with each other—can be very well described by this pair of letters. In fact, John Gray, the author of Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, has made an entire career out of elaborating on the differences between men’s and women’s communication styles, and has drawn on the significant research done on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™ in that process.
A driving word in the paragraph above is “historically.” As more and more women take their rightful place in the professional world, the traditional association of these letters with gender is blurring, and both sexes are discovering the benefits of each other’s communication patterns.
So let’s look at these two letters and see what they can tell us about how to communicate more effectively, especially when the stakes are high. Remember that the first two letters in your profile have told you how you accumulate information. And now that we have all this great information about the things and people around us, what do we do with it? One thing is, we make decisions with it. And that’s what the third pair of letters describes.
Thinkers like and are good at making rational, logical, “thing” decisions. Thinkers are great in a world of reason and policy. Their highest value is to be “fair” with everyone. Feelers, on the other hand, are best at making “people” decisions. Their aim is to be “caring.” The gravest accusation that can be leveled against a Feeler is “you just don’t seem to care about us,” whereas the Thinker’s greatest fear is to be told he or she is “unfair” (playing favorites, making exceptions, etc.).
The problem comes in when Thinkers should use some “feeling,” and when Feelers need to rely on more “thinking.” We’ll see this more clearly as we look at how your style impacts your communication in some of the areas we covered in the previous two PSSP issues.
Styles of Thought
Our cognitive styles, of course, affect every aspect of our lives and especially our communication styles. Thinkers get their reputation for being cooler and analytical because they believe in and act on the proposition that people are basically rational and will seek out their own logical best interest. They imagine that the world would be such a better place if only people operated on logical principles rather than out of (ugh!) emotion. While this position can cause them to agonize over emotion-based decisions like handling a stressed-out or difficult employee, it is very helpful to them in their more rational pursuits, such as creating strategic plans, writing procedure manuals, and analyzing data.
You thinkers, however, may need to re-examine your belief in human rationality, especially as applied to the workplace. The world is a far more emotion-based place than you may realize. I remember when Volvo advertised itself as making the “Thinking Man’s Automobile.” If there’s any decision people make less on rational criteria, it’s buying a car! From haggling over the price with a salesman, to ordering all the extras, to proudly driving it off to “show the relatives how well we’re doing,” buying a car is a total exercise in emotion! Oh, and remember your reaction, when you found the first scratch on the door made by some “idiot” in the parking lot!
We devoted our very first issue of PSSP to the assertion that “People might forget what you said. They may even forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” (Check out the issue at http://www.talk2cei.com/ezine/archive/vol1_num1_workplace.htm.)
Sorry, Thinkers, but nothing has happened in the intervening months and years that has dissuaded us from the truth of this statement. People, more times than not, will act out of emotion, and usually strong emotion.
Now, Feelers really believe in and act on the above saying. They acknowledge the true emotional makeup of the vast majority of humanity and willingly accept this as fact. Because they have spent a lifetime studying their own and other people’s reactions, they usually have high emotional intelligence. They’re good at reading body language, picking up nuances of speech, and acting with diplomacy in touchy or difficult interpersonal situations.
Where Feelers can get derailed is when they insist on maintaining a particular value that just doesn’t hold up under the laws of pragmatism. One time, Jan was a member of a women’s business association that put on a large national conference and exhibit. The exhibition company sent Jan a faulty exhibit floor map, which caused her and her colleagues a lot of headaches. Later, when Jan settled the $100K-plus bill, she refused to pay the $40 for the incorrect map. A dispute ensued, but Jan was willing to devote any amount of time necessary to stand up for “the principle of the thing.” After sufficient hours, in my view, had been expended in this Quixotic pursuit, I exclaimed “Pay the blinking $40 dollars and move on! You’ve already spent a hundred times more than that in the time you’ve agonized over this.” Jan hung in there, though, got the company to change the bill, and declared a Feeler’s victory! For me, ever the Thinker, it was a hollow triumph.
Feelers can also get highly upset with a problem employee they have to discipline or fire. If they’re in sales, they can be paralyzed by the fear of rejection. They can also hold grudges for enormous periods of time (as we saw all too frequently in the women’s business association Jan belonged to).
Presentation and information-handling styles
Thinkers’ and Feelers’ cognitive styles quickly pour over into their information-handling and presentation styles. This includes presentation of self. Thinkers will usually feel a strong need for analysis. Their idea of a good presentation is one that provides lots of information, usually in the form of numbers, tables, and graphs. As a result, thinkers come off cooler than Feelers. Thinkers, whether male or female, are likely to be seen by audiences as somewhat distant. They also operate under the misconception that the highest purpose of oral presentations is the conveying of information (but more on that in a future issue).
Feelers, on the whole, tend to gauge well the human impact of their actions and decisions, and value their ability to make others feel comfortable. In presentations, they’re more likely than Thinkers to infuse their talks with personal stories and human examples to make their points. This makes them engage an audience immediately and emotionally, and makes them come off warmer. Where Feelers are at a disadvantage is when they have to discipline an employee; they’ll tend to be too empathic and soft-hearted, thereby sending mixed messages.
When we coach Thinkers in public speaking, and the stakes are high, we often advise them, “Be more like a Feeler! You’ll engage your listeners more, especially on dry topics!” When we coach Feelers through high-stakes management messes, we often urge them to “access your Thinker side here; you’ve got to be fair with everyone!”
This also applies to interviewing, whether one-on-one or in front of a group, and the higher the stakes, the more critical these functions become. If you’re interviewing for CEO, your interviewers will be looking at your leadership style, especially if the previous CEO lacked people skills in a major way. Thinkers, beware! Feelers will read the interviewers quickly. Feelers are usually very adept in picking up nonverbal as well as verbal cues about what the interviewers consider important. The trap Feelers could fall into, however, is giving the interviewers the impression that the Feeler might not be able to make the tough decisions. If you’re a Thinker, learn from your Feeler colleagues, recognize the dynamics, and monitor everybody’s body language and speech as well as your own.
All of the above is not to say that Thinkers don’t have a heart and Feelers don’t have a brain! When the time comes to craft policy, solve problems, analyze conditions, and be fair, Thinkers have a natural advantage. When emotion needs handling, people need motivating, and maybe someone needs a “shoulder to cry on,” bring in the Feelers!
The real truth is, neither Mars nor Venus rules. As we’ve seen before with the other MBTI letters, we all need some of both styles. And the person who can use both styles effectively will have one more tool to use “when the stakes are high.”
Yours in great communication,
Jan and Neal Palmer
Interested in learning more about how we use Myers-Briggs to help train executives in interpersonal communication, public speaking, and team-building, when the stakes are high? Please give us a call at (800) 410-4CEI (4234) or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be glad to talk with you.
And that's our People Skills for Skilled People for today!
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