This one might be a relatively quick read today, folks, because the topic of thinking and feeling is a pretty straightforward one. I could write a volume on sensing and intuition, but when it comes to thinking and feeling, it can pretty much be summed up in this image:
So there you go, friends. See you next time!
Kidding. We’ll unpack this, but keep that image in your mind, because it’s really the heart of this topic. What’s being represented in that image is this: feelers attach their ideas to their identity, and thinkers do not.
Back to that in a moment. First, some review — Remember that introversion and extraversion have to do with where we draw our energy from, and sensing and intuition have to do with how we prefer to take in information. Following those, thinking and feeling have to do with how we prefer to make decisions.
And as a side note, can we just go ahead and quickly acknowledge that the words chosen to represent this category are annoying?! It’s like you have to say you’re a thinker or you’re not a thinker, and if you’re a feeler who values intelligence and academics that’s probably going to grate on you. It doesn’t go the other way quite so much, because (fun fact) most thinkers are pretty secure, and therefore aren’t going to get too bothered about being not-a-feeler. But some may.
Okay, moving on. This is what those (possibly annoying) words actually mean: thinkers typically make decisions objectively based on rational criteria, and feelers typically make decisions based on how it will reflect their personal values and how it will impact the people around them. Thinkers can be compassionate while they make their decisions, and feelers can be logical while they make theirs, but if you’re wondering which you are, know that on a gut level one of those things is going to trump the other.
Thinkers are able to make hard decisions in spite of possible hurt feelings because they are legitimately able to separate themselves from the emotion involved in a situation so they can look at it objectively, both in terms of how it impacts others and in terms of how it reflects on them. Feelers simply can’t do that, at least not for long. Invariably emotion will creep in, whether on behalf of those being affected or on behalf of themselves and how they feel they’re being perceived or treated.
So read this carefully, because it is incredibly important: In conversations or debates, for a thinker it is the ideas that are going head-to-head, and to them it can be kind of exciting to watch ideas battle it out and see which one emerges victorious. But for a feeler it is the people that are going head-to-head, and many will think, Why would we want to put ourselves through that? Can’t we all just get along? But a thinker sees no reason two people can’t hash out their ideas while still getting along. For many thinkers, engaging in a friendly debate with someone is actually a way of feeling more connected to them, not less.
So. Back to that stick figure image. Because of a thinker’s logical approach, if you shoot holes in one of their ideas, he or she will look at what’s left and assess it and move on, either taking the idea and repairing and improving it, or else leaving it for dead. No hurt feelings either way.
If you shoot holes in a feeler’s idea, however, you will shoot him or her through the heart! They will try to look at the idea and assess what’s left of it, but that will be difficult because of the pain they’re feeling.
I want to attest to the reality of this from personal experience. I like to think of myself as a logical person, and yet I can NOT maintain an objective distance from the issues at hand when there is any kind of debate going on. At some point, emotion and/or insecurity find their way in. Meanwhile, my husband loves to explore the pros and cons of any idea, his own or those of other people. He can point out the flaws even in ideas he likes, and it’s not because he’s being mean. For him, pointing out the flaws only makes the idea stronger. For me, hearing the flaws pointed out in my idea makes me feel like I’ve failed at something!
Obviously, this affects how we approach disagreements with others. Do you want to walk away from a conversation knowing that everyone’s feelings were preserved, or knowing that the truth was made known? I am an ISFJ and this has always been a hard one for me. I am a feeler, but for reasons that are complicated to explain right here (but have to do with the interaction of those four letters), a desire for truth ranks pretty high for us ISFJ’s. If you’re like me and have a hard time identifying which one ranks higher, you must think honestly about how you behave when the rubber hits the road. In theory I place a high (maybe even the highest) value on truth and logic, but in practice, when I actually come face-to-face with a real human being with real human emotions, I avoid confrontation. I seek to find common ground. I try to affirm things in what the other person is saying. In short, I rank their feelings above the absolute truth.
Change one letter, though, and the scale tips slightly the other way. ISTJ’s have a high regard for people’s feelings, but when it comes down to it, they usually want to make sure the truth and the facts have all been made known. If they don’t do that, they’ll probably have that nagging feeling afterwards that won’t let them rest until they can say what needs to be said.
So who are the most feeling of the feelers? Some of our dyed-in-the-wool feelers are ESFJ’s. (Once again, just one letter off from mine. See how one letter can change so much? More on that in another post.) Yes, they can be logical, but they don’t waffle much on what they place the highest value on; it’s people and their feelings. Change one letter again to ESTJ and you have possibly the most thinking of the thinkers.
All of this is mildly complicated by one interesting statistic: the population at large is divided 50/50 into thinkers and feelers, but this is the only category where gender is actually a factor. As many as 70 percent of men are thinkers, and as many as 70 percent of women are feelers. That’s not a cultural perception, it’s a fact. Make what you want of that, but it’s going to have some interesting implications, for female thinkers especially. For one thing, because the majority of women are feelers, a female thinker will possibly seem like a bit of an anomaly. That may or may not affect much, but it’s something to be aware of, especially in relationships with other women. (I don’t believe this applies as much to male feelers. Even though it’s a similar situation statistically, it seems that generally, male feelers aren’t as likely to be at odds with male thinkers.) Meanwhile, female thinkers who are also mothers are going to look a little different than their male counterparts. I mentioned up there that ESTJ’s may be the most thinking of the thinkers, but I have a friend who’s both an ESTJ and a mom and she has a stronger nurturing streak in her than the male ESTJ’s I know. Her type hasn’t been changed by motherhood, but it does play out in different ways.
So. At the start of this series I said that knowing these things about yourself can have impact on how you run your business. In the introvert-extravert article we looked at how you can schedule your day to help you perform at your best, and I encouraged you not to compare yourself negatively against others. In the sensing-intuition article we talked about how that affects your style, and how you can consider your branding in terms of how it reflects your personality.
But for thinking and feeling, the professional advice is going to be the same as the relational advice: think about how your style of communication is affecting those around you.
A thinker can sabotage a good conversation by becoming too critical, and a feeler can sabotage a good conversation by becoming too sensitive, so keep those things in check. Those things are part of your natural wiring, but you get to decide how much control they have over how you communicate.
Feelers, know that thinkers don’t like to beat around the bush and they don’t like to be coddled. When you’re talking to them, it really is best to get straight to the point. Thinkers, know that you’ve got to put a little armor on a feeler before engaging in any kind of debate, even a lighthearted one. If they feel affirmed by you, their heart has a little protection around it when you start shooting holes in ideas.
And if you’re wanting to have influence in your conversations with others, know what approach they like and then take the same one. If you’re talking to a thinker, be sure to provide facts and statistics or examples in order to help them see things from your point of view. If you’re talking to a feeler, provide plenty of subjective evidence about how your idea will be best for the people it impacts, or how it will reflect the heart of your organization. This isn’t manipulative, it’s actually the opposite! It demonstrates love when you communicate with people in the way that’s most meaningful to them.
I guess I was wrong — this post was no shorter than the others! None of these are actually simple, because there’s so much nuance to all of it. We’ll be exploring that even more in weeks to come. But for now, tell, us: what makes YOU tick? Knowing that people feel cared for by you, or knowing that people see you as cool, calm and collected? Are you close to the line on this one, or all in one way or the other? We’d love to know!
Some of the concepts shared here were learned through GiANT Worldwide, a leadership training program focused on developing humble, intentional and liberating leaders.
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