Oh, I just love this exercise!” Lauren enthused as her class divided into two sections.
I love it, too, because the exercise we were about to do is a real eye-opener—to the point of being transformational. Simply put, it helps us realize our differences without assigning blame, and that’s regularly life-changing.
It’s part of a day-long training on Psychological Type, which I have run for Leadership Northwest multiple times—and that’s why Lauren, Vice President Programs and Events, knows the agenda well.
Leadership Northwest is designed to develop resourceful, motivated business leaders committed to making their community a better place to work and live. One essential part of leadership is appreciating that we all have our differences, and that’s a good thing.
I put up a PowerPoint slide that asked the class to:
• Describe conflict and your relationship to it.
• Describe how you like to be recognized and appreciated.
• Describe how you like to be criticized or critiqued.
The participants were asked to identify where they first go when making decisions. Do they stand back and objectively weigh the pros and cons of a situation? Or do they first put themselves in someone else’s shoes—according to their own values—to assess the situation?
Of course, we all do both dozens of times a day to be successful. But for most of us, one is our most natural and preferred way of making a decision. The theory also suggests that this is the one we will do with greater skill and expertise.
If we think of this in terms of energy (not a trait, because it’s not), then the question becomes: What gives me the most energy in decision making?
Because both are rational. One, called a thinking preference (which I’ll shorten to Thinking), objectively assesses the situation. The other, called a feeling preference (Feeling), subjectively assesses the situation. Using logical analysis and making tough decisions is essential for business success. Motivating and developing people are equally important aspects of leadership.
The Feeling group nearly always answers: We don’t like conflict! We don’t like to be criticized! Please build a relationship first. Be gentle. Tell us what we’re doing right – then wrong. We value harmony and give a lot of positive reinforcement and compliments to others. Please give it to us.
The Thinking group nearly always answers: Conflict? Criticize? Critique? Bring it on! We love it – it improves our expertise. Lets us know what to fix and do better. We love to debate. In fact, we will reward your success with criticism so you can do it even better. We want recognition for our competence. Otherwise, your compliments are just a waste to us.
After the two groups report out to one another, their differences often provoke silence, staring, and genuine surprise.
Do you have questions for one another, I ask? And the haiku summary often goes something like this:
From the Feeling Folks: Arguments don’t upset you? When you criticize me it’s actually a compliment????
And from the Thinking Folks: I hurt your feelings with my directness?
It’s true that stuff generally rolls off the backs of Thinking Folks. You’d have a hard time insulting them, unless you’re judging their competence. You can be really direct—and they don’t take it personally.
On the other hand, the Feeling Folks generally pick up more readily on emotions and how people are engaging with them and together. Personalize first, detach second.
In this training, Debbie, an adviser with the program who has a doctorate in education, shared a story about collaborating with a colleague on a national initiative. One woman made what Debbie perceived as a critical comment in response to her suggestion. Debbie kept saying to herself: Don’t personalize, this is just how she thinks and talks. She’s direct. But two weeks later, she was still working to shake it off.
If we’re honest, most of us readily judge our opposite: Thinking types have no feelings. And Feeling types have no brains.
(As a former member of a leadership team, I used to be teased as the “touchy-feely” type with the implication that I was a little less than competent in decision making. Really? Yes, I’m a Feeling type, but I was also a co-founder and co-entrepreneur of a company for 11 years with staff and stockholders, and a business partner, Alesia, who remains my very dear friend.)
Feeling types have brains and thinking types have hearts. And when we possess the self-awareness of our decision-making strengths and limitations, as Debbie demonstrated, then we’re even better at solving problems and collaborating with each other.
Better still, appreciating our differences—which seems to be in terribly short supply—can energize a community (you pick the group), transforming it into a place where people are invited to thrive.
And on this count, both Thinking and Feeling types will readily agree.