As the old joke goes, there are only three types of people in the world. 1. Those who can count. 2. Those who can’t.
I’ll use the same approach to suggest that there are two basic types of people in the world: Those who feel and those who think. Usually they do not understand, let alone appreciate each other very well. And if you are in a personal relationship with someone who operates at the opposite end of your preference, you will completely relate.
Feelers tend initially to react to events on an emotional, gut level while thinkers’ initial reaction is one of logic and analysis. One approach is NOT better than the other per se, but it seems sensible to believe that in some instances a feeling approach is the most appropriate response while in others, an analytical approach is preferable. So, when talking to the mother of a soldier recently killed, it is not the time or place to suggest that “he knew what he was getting into” even if that objectively might be a true statement. Soldiers probably do go into combat situations knowing that there is a likelihood that they may not come out alive. I suspect (just a hunch here) that this is not what the bereaved want to hear.
While most of us have a disposition toward responding initially on an emotional or on an analytical level, the crucial thing to remember is the fact that we have an INITIAL response which we do not have to be locked into. There has long been a perception that women are primarily feelers while men fall into the thinker category. One article suggested that there was a 70-30 gender split with women being 70% feelers while men are 70% thinkers. I haven’t been able to locate any credible research that confirms these percentages, but John Grey dramatically illustrated this when he wrote “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus”.
We do know that most women and men do tend to communicate in line with their gender socialization, but what about the 30% of both that do NOT fit the common stereotype? For these types of women you will frequently find that they prefer to work with men, have fewer very close female friends than typically do feeling oriented women, find high feeling men difficult to work with. If they watch Big Brother they can’t understand what all the crying is about.
Feeling men, unsurprisingly, prefer to work with feeling women. Both feeling sexes prefer to work with those who are sensitive toward the needs of others, work in harmony rather than in aggressive competition, establish personal relationships with colleagues, and make decisions based primarily on how people will be affected by the decision. Thinking men and women have a decided preference for making decisions based on principles, facts, and logic, and unswayed by emotions. This is why you will find such disparate views when it comes to discussing issues of justice. Justice, from the analytical logical point of view is an objective set of rules that seek to treat all equally without the intrusion of personal bias. Feelers, on the other hand, see this type of justice as being manifestly unfair since it fails to consider the individual and individual circumstances.
Fortunately, in the workplace, most of us are not so locked in to a preference that we cannot come to a reasonable compromise over most issues. But, if you do find yourself reacting to someone whose style is diametrically opposed to yours, consider the following BEFORE the battle is well and truly commenced:
Determine whether or not you are dealing with a thinker or a feeler. Thinkers will use words and phrases such as “I think”, facts, data, “studies show”, and fairness. Feelers will say things like “let’s get along’, “work together in harmony”, empathy, compassion, and “I feel”.
If you are a thinker, be cognizant that feelers are particularly adverse toward dealing with conflict especially if highly emotionally charged; make decisions based on personal relationships; and react with strong feelings if they feel they are being personally challenged.
Feelers should be aware that thinkers often lack awareness of the impact of their tone; think that conflict is an inevitable part of reaching a decision; and will use logic to justify their position on an issue.
So, if this is true, what can you do?
If you are primarily a feeler, tone down the emotions; be calm and present your thinking and not just your feelings; be logical; don’t ramble with no apparent purpose, and do not uncritically be a cheerleader for every new idea.
If you are primarily a thinker, be personable and friendly; start discussions with areas of agreement first rather than jumping into the areas of disagreement first; show how your ideas or solutions will benefit people rather than just using theoretical logical arguments; and realize that HOW you communicate is just as important as WHAT you say; and stop overwhelming them with facts that show you are right.