Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rant on Thinkers vs. Feelers

I've been (way too) preoccupied lately with the fundamental differences between thinkers and feelers, especially in the workplace, and how, if you mix in a little pride and judgmentalism, those differences can over time lead to massive breakdowns in communication and respect, and leave everyone mired in a ponderous soup of distrust and disillusionment.

There's nothing quite so sad as being in a room full of really good people who are not seeing each other clearly. Personality differences aren't the culprit; they're just the catalyst. The real issue is pride.

I'm a feeler myself, and frankly, happy to be one. I like the way I perceive the world, the way I measure what's important in life and make decisions about it. I believe I was wired by God to be the way I am and I don't have any need to try to be something else. But, that said, I've learned a great deal from the thinkers in my life. And I value the perspective and insight they can bring to just about any situation. As long as there is mutual respect, great synergy can and does happen between these two powerhouse personality types.

If you suspect you may be butting heads with a thinker (if you're a feeler) or a feeler (if you're a thinker), then you might find it helpful to take a look at this PDF file, which gives some pointers on how to bridge the gap between you in a respectful way (for both of you).

And I'll add a few tips of my own, based on my own work with clients in both of these arenas:

For Feelers:

* If you're working with a thinker, don't assume or expect them to pick up the same emotional cues you do, no matter how stunningly obvious those cues may seem to you. They do not have the same level of emotional awareness as you do, and expecting them to is like expecting someone who's colorblind to distinguish between blue and green. If you want a thinker to know what's going on emotionally in a situation, you have to tell them--directly, plainly, without judgment or sarcasm. There is no shortcut to this. By doing this, you may feel at times like you are talking down to them, but you aren't, and they generally won't perceive it that way.

* Do not assume that because a thinker doesn't pick up on "obvious" emotional cues, or does something that you consider insensitive, that means they don't care about the situation or the people involved just as much as you do.

* Feelings are not truth. Feelings are feelings. Don't let your feelings become the compass by which evaluate your behavior. Scripture doesn't say "Love one another, except when you're really upset." Feel what you feel, but act in accordance with truth and your core values. True authenticity is living according to what is most deeply true, not according to what you feel in the moment.

* Become a student of thinkers. You can learn a lot from them. And once you get to know them you'll realize they have just as much heart as anyone else.

For Thinkers:

* Realize that you do not pick up on all the emotional dynamics in most situations you encounter. Whether you like it or not, those emotional dynamics are a powerful force, and unless you find a way to recognize them and respond to them effectively, your good intentions and well-thought-out decisions will be repeatedly cut off at the knees.

* Feelers have access to information you don't; they know things that are as true as any measurable fact you can point to, but they can't always tell you how they know what they know. This is understandably frustrating to you, but it is nonetheless true. You will do yourself a huge favor by finding a feeler you can trust and regularly checking in with them to tell you their take on any situation you are in. An honest, straightforward feeler in your posse can save you a world of hurt and frustration.

* Don't make the mistake of equating strong emotion with immaturity. Immaturity is when you let your emotions rule you, but it is very possible to express strong emotion without letting it rule you. It is just as immature, by the way, to let your intellect rule you. The mark of maturity is being ruled by your spirit, allowing neither intellect nor feeling to take precedence over God's heart within you.

* Emotions are not something you need to fix. Please stop trying to do this.

* Rather than focus on winning the point, focus on winning the relationship. This approach will take you a lot farther and get you to your goals much more quickly.

Any other thoughts on this? I welcome your comments.


Cheryl said...

It's so easy to take what people say from your own perspective, isn't it? And even when you've figured out they are not the feeler you are, you still tend to judge what they say based on feelings. If this happens (or maybe I should say when!) and you start getting worried or offended, it may be time to ask yourself what alternate "story" they are telling you. Feelers might need to take a step back before jumping off the deep end and think about 1 or 2 other meanings to what they've heard. See if one story better fits the person you know them to be, and the values that person carries. If it does, and it's better than what your emotions came up with, start with that "story" in your response. If you're still not really sure where they're coming from, state tentatively what it is that you THINK they are saying, and ask if that is correct. You may be surprised at the answer! Thinkers may need to look intentionally at the possible emotions driving what they have heard from the feeler, and once again, tentatively check out if they're right. Keeping the story of the other person in mind can make it safer to communicate without fear of being misunderstood.

lyricalico said...

As a feeler to the nth degree, I have had to do a lot of work not projecting my story onto every scenario that I step into. The thinkers in my life were able to watch and observe without their inner dialog going audio adrenaline on them. How long it's taken me to ramp down the ocean current running through my circuits, quiet down amplitude of all the buttons being pushed, and learn how to bring my discerning mind to read a situation. Integrating both mind and heart has been a rewarding journey. I'm thankful for my feelers... but also appreciative for the opportunity to cultivate that watchful eye and live with my ear to the ground.

David said...

* Emotions are not something you need to fix. Please stop trying to do this.

That statement right there hits home for me. So often I feel that my emotions are impairing my judgement and so I try to get rid of them.

Cheryl said...

Emotions are what makes us so unique and special. God created them - why would we want to get rid of them? They add another layer to life. But yes, sometimes it makes life a bit interesting!

neicybelle said...

i am the rare person in that i am a thinker and a feeler...i have close friends who tend to lean more one way than another. my engineer friend thinks i'm way too emotional, but my emotional friend is thankful that i tend to think through my words and am able to give him a balanced outlook on the situation...
i like the advice that you gave. thank you...

Anonymous said...

i gues i'm s feeler but its like their feelings emotions become my own and its entenceifing i sometimes don't won't to be around people. others its like a need i dont know whta to do. can you give some advice.

Anonymous said...

God its true!! feelings are just feelings, I am a chronic feeler (Ironically,an avid reader of it too)..But I screwed up a very promising relationship just because of the fact that emotions clouded my judgement. When emotions come in, I forget truths and facts and just blow up things...

Good read! thanks

Christine said...

Hello, I'm a thinker, and I don't mind positive emotions, but it's just negative emotions (like pain that is unwarranted: like being sad at constructive, helpful criticisms or sad at circumstances that I cannot change; or anger that is wrong: like being angry because of my pride). I don't like those emotions because they cause me to be angry at people who have perfectly good intentions and cause me to be bitter at those people whom I misunderstand. I try to "fix" these emotions so often. I love having unclouded judgment because it makes it easier not to feel wrong emotions (like worry; or a coveting of the acceptance of men rather than only needing the approval of God). I think it is okay to be this way as long as the thinker remembers to show compassion and gentle love to others in the way that those others need to be loved. Is it okay to be this way? I think a lot about thinking vs. feeling, and so far I have come up with this: a feeler is good at genuinely loving other people (a beautiful strength), but bad at controlling their negative emotions, especially inordinately coveting other peoples' acceptance. A thinker is good at controlling their wrong emotions because they have a passionate love for the truth, but bad at caring about other people's feelings, and bad at making other people feel good.
What do you think?
God bless :)

Michael D. Warden said...

Christine said: "a feeler is good at genuinely loving other people (a beautiful strength), but bad at controlling their negative emotions, especially inordinately coveting other peoples' acceptance. A thinker is good at controlling their wrong emotions because they have a passionate love for the truth, but bad at caring about other people's feelings, and bad at making other people feel good."

I think you're right on the money, Christine. :) The good news is that with mutual respect, thinkers and feelers can help each other get stronger in their weak areas AND grow in appreciation for the strengths both types offer.