What comes first – the thinking or the feeling?

ThinkerIn most things, I don’t really mind if people agree with me, as long as what I say or do provokes a reaction. I was fascinated therefore by the passion with which some people argued the case for or against the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) when I recently wrote about it for TrainingZone. In a nutshell (and at the risk of oversimplifying sophisticated arguments), some dismissed it as pseudo-science and not sufficiently validated, while others stated that people and organisations nevertheless find it useful. I mention this only because I think the polarised arguments nicely illustrate the third of the Myers-Briggs dimensions.

The Thinking/Feeling dimension looks at how people make decisions, including of course whether or not the MBTI® has value. Those with a Thinking preference look for an objective standard of truth. They are analytical and logical, weighing up pros and cons, and using a problem-solving, rational approach to identify cause-and-effect relationships. People with a Feeling preference make decisions based on what’s important to them and the other people involved. They use empathy to assess the impact of their decisions, are guided by their personal values and make every effort to achieve harmony.

In some ways, this dimension involves some of the hardest issues that leaders have to master. Decision making is a key leadership skill, and there are numerous theories and tools designed to help: SWOT analysis, paired comparison, cost benefit analysis, risk analysis… there are so many, it’s hard to decide which to use! Establishing criteria, producing tables, possibly adding numerical values, all provide a structured approach that appeals to those with a Thinking preference; this can however ring hollow for those with a Feeling preference.

The thing many of the decision making techniques have in common is that they seem to equate decision making with problem solving; given sufficient information, there is a right (or at least best) answer. For those with a Feeling preference, decisions are not just about seeking an objective truth, but involve an exploration of values, both their own and others’. This key distinction between placing the emphasis on criteria or values in decision making becomes particularly apparent when decisions involve an element of ‘what is fair?’. Fairness from the Thinking perspective is about treating everyone equally, whereas the Feeling viewpoint is that in order to be fair leaders need to treat people as individuals.

As with all the MBTI® preferences, it’s not that people do one thing to the complete exclusion of the other, it’s more about what they will be drawn to first. It would be a mistake to say that Thinking types don’t take into consideration the feelings of others, or that Feeling types are incapable of rational thought. People with a Thinking preference may start with the logic, then consider the impact on people before returning to an objective standpoint to make a final decision. The Feeling approach tends to start by looking at the effect on people, then looks at the logic involved, before finally checking that the feelings of all concerned have been considered in the final decision.

Leaders with either preference can get frustrated when working with their opposite. Thinking types can dismiss the Feeling preference as soft and touchy-feely, and are sometimes baffled when people act in ways that defy all logical argument. Feeling types can characterise the Thinking preference as hard and insensitive, and may mistake an analytical approach to criticism as blunt to the point of rudeness.

In my previous article looking at the Sensing/Intuition dimension, I referred to the Disney Creativity Strategy, saying I would cover the role of the critic here. Being a critic is a leadership role that Thinking and Feeling types can both adopt effectively; they will however do so in their own particular way. The Thinking critic is likely to start by being sceptical, challenging what’s being presented to them before giving people recognition for what’s been accomplished. They see conflict as a natural part of relationships, and as they rarely take things personally may not fully recognise that other people sometimes do. The Feeling critic is more likely to start by appreciating what people have done so far, coming to an agreed understanding of what’s been achieved, before seeking consensus about what still needs to be done. Conflict is something Feeling types try to avoid.

As well as affecting decision making therefore, the Thinking/Feeling preference also involves how recognition and/or appreciation are given, which has a fundamental impact on motivation. Thinking types like to have their skills and achievements recognised, possibly financially but also in terms of increased status or responsibility. Those with a Thinking preference need less external feedback as they can use their objectivity to critique their own work. Praise should come at the end of a job well done, but is only valued if it comes from someone whose opinion is respected; routine praise is seen to be patronising.

Feeling types have less need to have the end result recognised and rewarded; instead they need appreciation for their personal contribution, including how well they work with others. Receiving regular feedback and sincere thanks are more important than material rewards, although most wouldn’t say ‘no’ if offered extra money or benefits. As relationships are extremely important, the opinion of others is required and without quality feedback, Feeling types can become unmotivated, doubt their own ability and lose their self-confidence.

It is always tempting to give others what we ourselves need. The risk is that Thinking leaders will give little routine praise and will launch into problem-solving mode when asked their opinion about a decision. Feeling leaders on the other hand may not provide enough concrete recognition for a job well done, and in difficult situations may offer emotional support at the expense of solutions. Effective leaders recognise these tendencies in themselves and provide balance by consciously accessing their less favoured characteristics.

This is the third in a series of four related articles looking at leadership in terms of the dimensions of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  It first appeared in TrainingZone.

The other articles in this series

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