Are You a Thinker or Feeler?
(And a Little Bit about Dog Training)
You’ll rarely, if ever, hear someone called a “oversensitive hard-ass” or a “cold bleeding-heart.” There’s Probably a good reason for that. Even those of us who are not familiar with Jungian personality type (Please see “About Type” at the end of this blog installment) will admit that some folks appear to decide with their heart, and others with their head. Once more, we sometimes find our opposite (of our own preference for decision-making) a bit annoying, and reserve pejoratives like “hard-ass” or “wussy” for those who have decision-making priorities so frustratingly different from our own.
It's a fool who will use his or her favorite tool for every task, instead of the best tool—or best combination of tools—for the work at hand.
Yes, some folks default to making decisions based on facts, data logic; some folks choose on values, potential impact on relationships, emotional cues. That accepted, it’s important to recognize that both ways of approaching choice are rational, or thought-based processes, and the only difference is what kind of information is prioritized in the decision-making process. After all, thinkers feel deeply, and many feelers are brilliant at logical thinking.
Thinking vs. Feeling
Is one way really superior to the other? Are you better off as a “thinker,” or a “feeler?” Let’s take a look. We’ll start with the thinking preference.
The great Indian polymath, Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.” And to feelers, thinkers sometimes feel like all edge.
“Don’t you care how your decision will impact the team?” or “How about asking how I am before asking me for my report?” you might hear a feeler ask a thinker who is forging ahead with a cool efficiency based on numbers and logic. And with a few moments consideration, we thinkers can see how all-logic will not always work for us.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made at least a few decisions based what they believe is pure logic, only to regret them later. For example, I took at least one job I can remember, wherein all the data was good: great money, challenge, opportunity… I took the role even though it was in an industry I wasn’t excited about, and the job didn’t feel like a fit. The long-range outcome? In spite of it job looking great on paper, I was miserable.
I can think of another time (in my youth) when I had a painful 180º performance review. Said review revealed that a few of my associates saw me as “insensitive” because during a certain meeting, I had laid out the details of a business solution without first considering the input of the team, or their feelings about the potential impacts to their departments. Ouch! Lesson learned! (Some of you thinkers reading this might be thinking, “Oh, tell them to suck it up and get over themselves!” but that would not serve my long-term leadership goals or values.)
Nowadays (as a result of practice and using techniques that I will write about later) I am much better at factoring in the moods and concerns of others and communicating with them about those concerns. Not only is this a more effective way of working, but I find that I enjoy life, work, and relationships more with this approach. As someone that tests close to the line between thinking and feeling preferences, I find balancing functions is especially beneficial to me and others when I am coaching and facilitating.
A healthy dose of factual data is powerful for slicing through emotional confusion, and making certain kinds of decisions, but was never meant to completely replace emotionally-bound values or emotional signals in our choosing. The good news is that keen logic, used with sensitivity and discretion and in partnership with feeling is a powerful force indeed. It can help us cut through what is holding us back — slicing through a veil of falsely limiting beliefs — while smoothing the way with kindness, or helping us to a truth that is beyond what the facts alone can bring us. To extend the metaphor a bit, a flexible knife-blade turned sideways, works as trowel to patch a hole, or smooth salve on a wound. The “edge” of logical thought need not cut.
What about feeling-based choosing? Water is often used as metaphor for emotion, and sure enough, thinkers who are faced with a feeler’s choosing-process can sometimes feel like they are drowning in turbulent, murky liquid. Yet, feeling-based thinking can have an edge, too. Like the focused “water lasers” that are used to perform surgery and cut fabric patterns, emotional energy can cut keener than a knife. We’ve all felt it the sting from an emotionally charged, targeted comment, or suffered the consequences of a personal choice that was based mostly on emotion—without ample consideration for available, hard facts.
Emotion is what moves us forward. Just as our physical bodies would die without water, we are walking-dead without the emotional energy of desire. Yes, emotions are important, but they are generated by thought. They are messengers. They are not meant as the sole basis for our decision-making, but are only advising our choices. As with logic-only thinking, choosing based wholly on values or feelings can backfire. I can remember times when I was less honest or direct than was appropriate, for fear of bruising feelings or causing discomfort. In the long run, this avoidance of short-term discomfort postponed the inevitable or worse, made for more long-term discomfort and difficulty as things came to a head.
A Tale of Two Dog Trainers
Cindy, a “feeler,” attended the same dog-training class I did. Cindy weighed in at about 120 lbs—about 40 lbs less than her dog, Ace—who was actually half wolf and incredibly strong. In spite of the best encouragement from the master trainer to use a “firm tone” and “say commands once, then enforce them,” Cindy couldn’t seem to bring herself to do either.
It was week three of the program when Ace decided to follow his olfactory curiosity instead of Cindy’s heel command and literally walked her around the grounds while sniffing about. The master-trainer (MT) had seen enough, and though an inch shorter and probably 15 lbs lighter than Cindy, seized the leash from Cindy, calmly, but firmly gave the command to Ace just once, and had the big wolf-dog toeing the line.
You see, Cindy, a feeler, was actually concerned about hurting the dogs feelings, and perhaps more acutely, how the dog might feel about her. What if she somehow made a mistake and overdid it with the discipline and ruined their relationship?
Cindy is the type of personality that buys chef-inspired dog-food because she identifies so much with her pets feelings and needs, so imagine what she felt when pulling on Ace’s collar to enforce a heel command! The MT, on the other hand, had no such concerns. The facts, as the MT saw them, were that the wolf-dog needed training, and would get it, even if the MT had to him train herself!
The good news is that Cindy could (and eventually did) bring some thinking into her feeling way of decision-making. After some additional counseling from the MT (and getting literally knocked off her feet by Ace going for a squirrel), she came to realize that firmness and strength would enhance her relationship with Ace, and not damage it. Cindy realized that Ace was less a hazard to himself and others when he could obey commands and respect her authority. Free from the discomfort of worry, Cindy would have more of the good feeling connection she was looking for.
And what can we learn from Cindy? Trainers who are too heavy on the thinking side might “think” they can muscle their dog into submission, or that the dog will do as they say, but a balanced approach will include a healthy dose of empathy, consideration for the dog’s wellbeing, and the health of the long term relationship with the animal. A great dog trainer trains with confident firmness, but also factors in the nature and needs of the dog. A great dog trainer understands the practical reasons for positive assertiveness in training, and doesn’t make it a win-lose, or lose-win battle, but seeks a win-win outcome.
So, are you better off making choices as a thinker, or a feeler? If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably guessed that my answer is neither. In fact, the most successful people I know have learned to balance their preference (at least somewhat) with its opposite.
But how is this accomplished?
Well, it’s true that as we get older, we tend to bring our less-practiced, or “inferior” preferences more into play, but here at SuccessWaypoint.com we’re all about deliberate choice, so I am going to suggest a more conscious approach, rather than leaving things to age or chance.
Lets first take a moment to review that making choices based on “feeling” is still a rational thinking process. Feelers prefer choosing based on feeling, and because of this others may experience them as “softer” or “warmer” in some ways, but this does not mean that they feel any more deeply than thinkers who choose mostly based on data. If you are a feeler, it is a mistake to assume that what you may perceive as “aloofness” or “cold rationality” in a thinker is a symptom of the absence of feeling. Thinkers may feel deeply—yet they may not always show it or process it in their decision-making.
Furthermore, it is a mistake for thinkers to underestimate the intellect or problem-solving capability of a feeler. A feeler may fully apprehend all the facts in a problem, and even understand them better than a thinker looking at the same set of data points—the difference is that the feeler may prefer to disregard cold data in favor of deciding based on what is important to him or her—and what is important to the feeler will most likely include values, relationships, and personal impact of the decision.
Lastly, it’s important to remind the reader again that everyone has access to both ways of decision-making—we are talking about preference here—and the preference, by the way, has nothing to do with level of ability within the preference. Thinkers most often consider material outcomes first, and then the impact on feelings of others. Feelers may consider the impact on feelings of others first, and then consider material outcomes.
Practices & Suggestions
I’m not an advocate of walking around all day asking myself if I am using enough thinking or feeling functions in my decision-making. That’s seems impractical to me — more like living a model than using a model to understand and consciously evolve a natural, organic approach. Plus, when relaxed and feeling empowered, most people naturally engage their inferior preference after they reflexively engage their superior one (thinkers will consult feelings/value information; feelers will consult with facts, etc.) Yet, I feel there are some practical steps or practices that we can do to expand our awareness and bring even more balance our conscious decision-making.
- Allow for, and come to appreciate the opposite of your preference. Begin noticing how others make decisions, and seek the value in what they are doing. You don’t have to agree with the ultimate decision or even the data points to do this. You’re attempting to appreciate the process of another; you are not accepting them or their choices willy-nilly. Cultivating this attitude of appreciation will smooth the way for the balances you wish to affect in yourself. This step helps to align your beliefs and attitudes with your desire — a step you MUST take if you are to achieve your aim (in anything) without creating internal stress.
- Take a deliberate “pause for balance” whenever you can — before making a decision or reacting to or preparing for an experience. This is more difficult when you are stressed for any reason, because stressful situations tend to push us more to our main preference and make this exercise more difficult. If you are a feeler, you’ll see the most impact from this exercise in situations where you have some compelling factual data that you must consider as part of your choice. If you are a thinker by nature, you’ll get “bang for your buck” in a situation that has a political aspect, or are deciding on something that will challenges someone’s personal values or risk hurting their feelings.
- Notice your customary way of approaching this choice or experience.
- If you are a feeler, imagine that the decision has nothing to do with you, or imagine you are a judge in a courtroom, and MUST follow the law without involving your own values, emotional reactions, or even empathy. This may seem harsh, but you attempting to balance your normal preference, so you need to get into a space of detached logic to do so. DO NOT consider any values or other people’s feelings as you work with the data. Consider only the outcome desired, and the data points going into the choice. Follow the logic through short-term and long-term outcomes. Along the way, resist the temptation to make judgments (especially value-judgments) of any kind. How do your results differ from those you would get using your habitual approach to deciding? Some feelers may find this exercise uncomfortable, but think of it as like trying to write with your opposite hand… a bit uncomfortable at first, and more comfortable with practice. Now introduce you normal feeling approach back into the mix. How is your new, more balanced perspective different from your usual view?
- If you are a thinker, imagine how the decision will emotionally affect others around you. Imagine the short and long term implications of this impact. Cultivate empathy, but taking a moment to imagine what it is like to be the other person — and then the other person looking at you. Suspend judgment over whether this emotional impact “should or shouldn’t matter.” Your perspective on what matters is not what will affect buy-in or appreciation of your choice—for this exercise you are considering where others are coming from when they perceive your actions and choices. At first, you may feel very uncomfortable dealing with this “squishy” information, and may even feel some frustration as to what to do with the “soft” input you now have to manage. With patience and practice, you will find that that your new approach might smooth progress for your projects, and ease others’ resistance to your ideas, plans, and choices.1 Whatever else is going on, remember that feelers care about relationships, and that attention to the quality of their relationships is always playing — either in foreground or background — as a factor in whatever they are doing, no matter what it is. This truth is going to factor into all sorts of choices in business and home life—thinkers who simply ignore it risk failing to realize their greatest success and happiness.
- Develop an “ear” for your inner guidance. We all have an emotional compass that knows what is appropriate in any situation. This kind of thought is different from thinking or feeling decision-making. I call it heart-thought,2 and it generates emotions and sensations that are different from those that come from more surface cognitive processes. Using this part of you feels as if you are backing up behind yourself, and can see another level of choice, or as if you are making decisions from your chest area or your gut. With practice, you can feel this guidance come into play, and use it more and more. Have you ever made a decision based on what you “should do” (this works for both thinkers and feelers), but ended up feeling worse and not better for the choice? That is your emotional compass telling you that regardless of your criteria for making the decision, it was not appropriate to your desired outcome and overall wellbeing. Actively listening to body sensations and emotional cues that come from thoughts and intended choices is a powerful way naturally balancing thinking and feeling approaches to deliberate choice. This inner guidance aspect to using thinking and feeling functions is incredibly powerful, and practice in this area will positively impact everything in your life.3
- At least once per day take a pause from whatever you are doing and ask, “What do I want here.” Keep a pad and pen at the ready and repeat the question and don’t settle for the first answer. The simple action of pausing in the moment and focusing can have profound effect. And writing out the wants makes use of built-in psychological and neurological responses that assist us in becoming present to our emotional state, and allow us to "check out" our thoughts. Once you’ve written your wants, write something more about these desires, including why you want them and how you might take steps to making them real. Donald Robert Perry Marquis wrote that, “Ours is a world where people don't know what they want and are willing to go through hell to get it.” That’s almost too close to the truth for either thinkers or feelers to find humor in it! See if you can put yourself among the empowered few who know what they are wanting, and are going for it. This is another powerful exercise that will encourage a natural balance of thinking and feeling.
- If you over-identify with your preference, stop doing that. Instead of seeing yourself as thinker or a feeler, think of yourself as an individual with preferences. Regardless of how you’ve handled things in the past, the present is your point of powerful choice…
It's a fool who will use his or her favorite tool for every task, instead of the best tool — or combination of tools — for the work at hand. As Shakespeare once wrote (Hamlet), “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” This is true of any preference, and is certainly true of thinking vs. feeling decision-making. Now go forth, and seek balance. Greater happiness and success is waiting for you!
A Little Bit about Psychological type…
In 1921, Carl Jung published “Psychological Types,” his theories on our preferences for how we get emotional energy, take in information, make decisions, and relate to or interact with with life experience in the outside world. It is this seminal work on which Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabelle Briggs Meyers based their MBTI (Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator) which they first published in 1962, and which made Jung’s theories of psychological type accessible to the general public.
Today, it is estimated that more than 2-million people per year take the MBTI, and it is widely accepted as an excellent instrument for assessing Jungian preference. In fact, The MBTI is so widely known, it is often used in conversation (though incorrectly) as if it is the only way to assess Jungian type—kind of like “Jello” is used as an every day term for gelatin.
But actually, there are at least 10 instruments in existence for assessing Jungian type. In fact, another widely known and powerful approach came from David Keirsey, who in the early 1970s, combined Kretschmer's model of four temperament types with Isabel Briggs Myers' Jungian model of eight function types. Keirsey published his work in the book Please Understand Me in 1978, along with the Keirsey Temperament Sorter instrument. Keirsey’s work on Temperament brings additional depth and power to our understanding of Jungian type preference. If you haven’t yet explored it, I highly recommend that you check it out!
For the sake of brevity here, I’m not going to go into the details of type or temperament, but I will refer you to this methodology-neutral, excellent summary of many popular personality-type approaches, where you will find some lovely capsules regarding Jungian type and temperament, and get a great idea of where thinking and feeling approaches to decision-making fit into the different models of describing decision-making.
A simple thing like including some genuinely friendly inquiry in your emails to your “feeler” friends and colleagues (“How was your weekend?” or “I hope you are well”, etc.), or taking a few minutes before a meeting to take genuine interest in a colleague or friend’s current challenges, can go a long way towards greater mutual respect and appreciation. 2
Heart-thought is my term for a kind of powerful knowing we can each experience. It’s a term that I began using with clients and in workshops several years ago (I have since Googled the term to find that Physicist Robert Neil Boyd also uses the term in some of his essays). Heart-though feels as though it is coming from the chest or torso area. Heart-thought has an appropriate, next-step feeling to it; combined with
this quality of what can only be described as undeniable truth; combined with a feeling of something “snapping into place.” Heart-thought is a knowing
that is often difficult to put into words, and that generates its own emotions. Caveat: passing it through the normal intellectual channels of your mind often dilutes or distorts the message for others. As an aside, but perhaps worth mentioning: researchers have found that the heart in fact generates its own electromagnetic field. Findings of regarding the impact of that field are receiving serious consideration from corporations and even the military. You can read more about this here 3
For example, when coaching a client, if I am too much of a thinker, I may gloss over or fail to prioritize values ore relationships important to the client. If I use to much of the feeling function, I may fail to deliver a difficult message, or ask a difficult question, that could make for a breakthrough, for fear of making the client uncomfortable or hurting my relationship. Listening to inner guidance for what is appropriate is a life-saver in such situations.
Under the heading, “Full Disclosure,” I’ll point out here that in addition to my SuccessWaypoint work, I am acting VP of business development and a certified trainer for SpeedReading People. Give me a day, and I can teach each person in a room full of people to assess Jungian personality type on the fly, and then adjust communication and listening to match. By the end of a six-hour training, I’ve seen a room full of 80 people do it, from videos, with near 100% accuracy. If you are interested in hiring us to deliver a SpeedReaching People workshop, please use the contact page on this Website to reach me. Serious inquiries only, please.