About a year ago, two of my friends and I were playing a song when an argument broke out. The bassist and drummer had reached a standstill. One wanted to launch into the introduction at full blast – drums crashing, bass thumping, and electric guitar screaming. The other thought we should build the song and add to its energy incrementally, as we moved from introduction to verse to chorus and so on.
Each friend carefully laid out the logic of his opinion. But they couldn’t agree. So they asked me what I thought. All I could say was, “I like both of your ideas… I think either would work.”
While I really did have an opinion, I couldn’t bring myself to share it. I was too worried that I’d offend one of them. To me, relational harmony was paramount.
Thinking and feeling are terms the Myers-Briggs personality system uses to describe how people make up their minds.
Do you know which you prefer?
People are motivated by different factors.
Thinkers prize effectiveness. They take an objective approach to making decisions and try not to let personal feelings cloud their decisions. They remove themselves from the equation so they can consider the pros and the cons of an argument, carefully evaluate the evidence, and let the data speak for itself.
They want to know what the facts say.
Feelers, on the other hand, want to take care of everyone and everything they care about. So they empathize and put themselves in other people’s shoes. They tune into their inner values, read social cues, and pay attention to people’s feelings.
They want to know that everyone will be okay and live in alignment with who they are.
All of us prize effectiveness, people, and values. But we usually start with our preference – thinking or feeling – when making decisions. This is particularly true of big decisions.
Think back on a few you’ve made. How did you approach them? When you wrestle with an important matter, your preference comes to the forefront.
Have you ever asked…
- Should I keep supporting the charity or missionaries, even after receiving a pay cut at work?
- Should I go to my dad’s alma mater like he wants me to, or choose my own school?
- Did my boss make the right call when he fired my coworkers, or should he have cut back on research and development?
What other important decisions have you faced?
Your definition of “fair” can also help you determine whether you are a thinker or feeler. Do you define fair as equal and believe everyone should be treated the same (thinker)? Or do you think fair means every person is treated as an individual, according to his needs (feeler)?
For another clue, look at the way you give feedback. Thinkers tend to be critical. They’re natural analysts who are great at spotting and diagnosing problems, shortcomings, and errors. Feelers, in contrast, make excellent encouragers. They’re the first to praise and cheer you on.
I can illustrate this difference with a story from a training I participated in last summer.
Two classmates and I were grouped together so that we could practice and evaluate each other’s presentations. I volunteered to go first, hoping for some grace.
Both my classmates were thinkers. When I finished presenting, they tore my presentation to shreds, deconstructed it, and highlighted every flaw. There was little encouragement. When I evaluated their presentations, however, I tried to combine praise with suggestions for improvement.
In the end, I was struck by how differently we responded to criticism. They actually welcomed the feedback. I took it personally (feeler), while they received it objectively (thinker).
Before you make up your mind about whether you are a thinker or a feeler, beware of cultural bias. In America, men are socialized to be thinkers. And a lot of people assume all men are thinkers and all women are feelers.
In reality, men who prefer feeling are common. According to an article written by Rachel Suppok, about 43% of all men are feelers.
So take some time to think about this. And try to step away from any preconceived notions you may have. As Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, the authors of Do What You Are, point out, it can be freeing to nail down your true preference.
So are you a thinker or a feeler?
Other blog posts in this series include: