What are you looking for?

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Managing to Manage

Part 3 of 5 of Managing to Manage? – How understanding MBTI® can help

Managers need to have insight. Not only are you expected to infer meaning and make decisions from reports read, presentations viewed and meetings attended, you are also required to observe staff performance and take note of client reactions and requirements. In other words, managers need to be able to ‘see’ not simply hard data to be analyzed, but also relational issues – both those on the horizon and those already taking place – in order to take the appropriate action and manage effectively.

The challenge facing the manager in all this is are you seeing the whole picture? Are you aware of all the revelant data at your disposal as well as bearing in mind the influence your perceptions can have on you? What you set about looking for is usually what you end up seeing, which may or may not relate closely to the reality of the situation!

However good you consider your insight to be, there is always scope for improving this aspect of your approach to management and it is in this respect that the MBTI® Sensing-Intuition dichotomy can be a particular help.

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In this article (part 3 of 5 in the series) I explain the key characteristics of Sensing and Intuition, help you identify your preference, and offer some easy to implement actions to help you put this learning into practice.

What are you looking for?

Whilst there may be many ways to skin a cat there are also many ways to read a report, take in a presentation, assess a performance issue or identify a client’s needs. As a manager you are expected to have insight into all sorts of scenarios but are you seeing the whole picture? Or put another way – what are you looking for in the first place? Do you see the bigger picture as well as the smaller (thought important) details? Are you taking stock of the situation as it stands today as well as considering the implications for tomorrow? Do you look for the robust statistics or research in support of your ideas as well as listening to your intuitive ‘hunch’ that has perhaps been honed through years of management experience? How you look at something will influence what kind of information you gather and what kind of meaning you infer. Your professional training can play a part here as well. For example, as a lawyer you may be particularly interested in getting everything right and looking for detail about client matters; whereas an accountant may be more interested in the profitability of the matter. If doing what you’ve always done gets you what you always got then perhaps looking for what you’ve always looked for means you see only what you’ve always seen. An understanding of the MBTI® Sensing-Intuition dichotomy can help you identify how different preferences take in information or see a situation and the merits (as well as potential oversights) of each approach in a given situation.

What is this dichotomy about?

The Sensing-Intuition dichotomy is about the kind of information you look for and how you gather data. We are not (yet) looking at how you make your decisions based on this information – this is the Thinking-Feeling dichotomy that I’ll cover in the next article – but rather what you tend to notice or look for in any given situation in the first place.

Those with a preference for Sensing tend to look for and focus on the present realities of a situation – the hard data, measureable statistics or tangible information they can interact with or observe. Quite literally it is that information that your senses can identify – what you can see, hear, touch, smell or taste. In contrast, someone with a preference for Intuition tends to look for and focus on the abstract, the conceptual or the meaning behind or beyond the report or presentation. In a business meeting scenario those with a Sensing preference may be reflecting on/discussing past experiences or thinking/talking about the practical implications of an idea being proposed. Those with a preference for Intuition may be throwing in previously unthought of ideas or alternative ways of doing things with an eye on future possibilities as much as present realities. When walking around a gallery, those with a preference for Intuition may infer whole stories from a single picture whereas those with a preference for Sensing may recall the fineness of the brushstrokes, the range of colours used or the number of people and the kinds of objects that were in the painting. Whilst one type may see a red square on a white background, another may see ‘anger’, a bullfight, or even a Ferrari!

Those with a preference for Sensing typically see and remember details – and consequently are often interested in the specifics of a project proposal, article written or conversation being held. Those with a preference for Intuition typically see and remember their abstract associations or inferred meanings from whatever they are looking into and often then link this information to other initiatives making new connections of their own. Those with a preference for Sensing will tend to trust experience over inspiration and those with a preference for Intuition, inspiration over experience. Equally, Sensing types are often drawn towards facts and have a realistic approach whereas Intuitive types are often motivated by ideas and enjoy being imaginative.

As a good manager, I consider both the bigger picture and finer details – is this all there is to it?

Good management training and/or experience would have taught you to use both Sensing and Intuition (though it may not have been phrased like this). Managers need to consider present realities as well as future possibilities – be that with projects, client relationships, team development or any other management issue currently being faced. Managers also need to consider hard facts and practicalities as well as allow room for imaginative approaches and new ideas. Be mindful though that you may often be utilising learnt behaviour rather than displaying your psychological preferences. As discussed in article 2 there is nothing wrong with this and different situations call for use of different preferences in differing degrees. However, knowing what your preference is can help you understand your typical approaches and reactions and offers you the opportunity to grow and adapt your style, as well as that of your team, to the benefit of yourself, team and clients.

So which am I?

The best way to try and discern which you might be is to receive some feedback from a registered MBTI® practitioner who can help you identify your preferences. In order to get the most out of MBTI® it is strongly recommended you do this. However, if you aren’t in a position to do this in the near future, as a start, you may like to reflect on the following questions:

Q. Do you consider yourself to have a photographic memory or are at least good at recalling details?

A. Sensing types tend to be able to recall specific details to a good degree. Intuitives tend to recall associated feelings/ideas or more of an overall impression.

Q. What do you tend to notice first when looking around a potential property to buy or rent?

A. Intuitives often have the ‘can I see myself here’ reaction – projecting themselves forward , seeing possibilities and going with the ‘feel’ of the property. Sensing types often look at dimensions of a room, notice any cracks or marks, see the quality of the finish etc.

Note: particularly with a big or important purchase or decision, you will prohbably take in both types of information but your preference usually comes first and is what is given the most attention. You may find you have to tell yourself to consider the non-preferred information as you recognise its importance.

Q. What is your preferred approach to DIY, cooking a dinner for friends, installing a computer…?

A. Those with a preference for Sensing often find they like to follow the detail of the instructions or recipe and are methodical / particular. Those with a preference for Intuition are more likely to look at pictures of the end result / intended outcome and be less precise with measurements, sequence of events. Of course, a particularly bad experience of doing any of these activities, or lack of confidence, can lead you to act out of preference here. Try to think if there were only positive experiences associated with the activity – how would you prefer to approach the task?

Q. How do you tend to read a report at work? Are you looking for specifics / evidence for the ideas/analysis put forward or preferring to look at the overall picture and what this may mean for you or the firm’s tomorrow?

A. Intuitives often look for meaning and possibilities, Sensing types often facts and present reality.

Q. When communicating at work how do you tend to try and influence, persuade, motivate?

A. Sensing types may seek to compel through use of statistics, evidence from past experiences or relevant research. Intuitives may seek to compel through the idea /concept itself, the values or meaning behind what is being done/proposed, or the ‘bigger picture’.

In all the answers given, it’s as much the reasons behind the answers, as the answers themselves that helps you discern whether the evidence is pointing towards Sensing or Intuition. For example, both sensing and intuitive types may enjoy DIY but for sensing types it could be a love of getting the detail right, being precise, or simply handling the materials whereas for an intuitive it may be being able to see the new cupboard/room take shape or visualising how they will feel when its done and can be enjoyed.

Is it possible to tell if someone has a preference for Sensing or Intuition?

As with Extroversion and Introversion, people will display behaviours that may give you ‘clues’ as to what their preference is but be careful not to assume their type. An individual has at their disposal much more information about themselves than you will ever see. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that a colleague who is ‘blue sky thinking’ in a meeting is an Intuitive, or a client who is asking about the specifics of a proposal may have a preference for Sensing. People can, do and need to use both preferences and you may be witnessing learnt behaviour based on similar past experiences or due to the individual’s decision that their non-preferred side is expected or required in this situation. MBTI® team days can be a real help here as you will not only discover the type of those you work with but also learn how best to make use of each other’s type for the benefit of all involved.

How does this help me manage?

Your ability to have insight into situations, to see the bigger picture as well as consider the fine detail, to have vision for tomorrow as well as a grasp on today, and to deliver information to others in a way that works for them are all essential to good management. It may not be that you have all this at your disposal as an individual but a good manager will recognise that they can harness all of these through the team they work with. Differences of perspective can be utilised as strengths if it is appreciated that those who see it differently from you can offer valuable information you may not have considered yourself or even realised was there. The more informed you are the more ‘in form’ you are likely to be. As with the previous article, there are three levels of application – with yourself, with your colleagues and staff, and with clients. Below I offer some ideas on how you can make better use of your preferences for Sensing or Intuition at work.

If you have a preference for Sensing, consider doing the following:

  • Opting/volunteering for tasks that require a keen eye for detail or the collection of data/research – you are likely to be good at precision and enjoy working with facts rather than ideas.
  • When you need to generate some new ideas or weigh up a project proposal, include some intuitives in the process. They will probably offer possibilities not yet considered and tend to make connections with the bigger picture/other initiatives.
  • Noting down specific facts and details you find important/necessary from catch ups, meetings, presentations etc. You will probably find this information useful when following up action points, seeking clarification or suggesting alternative courses of action.
  • Running your presentations by someone with a preference for Intuition to ensure you are offering enough ‘big picture’, ‘story-telling’ and future focus.
  • If you externalise your preference for sensing, allow Intuitives in your team to throw in their ideas and ‘think big’ before you consider the practicalities. Encourage this creativity in them and it can serve you well when needing to make decisions or try something new.
  • If you internalise your preference for Sensing, offer up your eye for detail to others when it would be of benefit. Remember also to sift and sort the stored evidence or collection of data so it is at your disposal when the situation calls for it.
  • Acknowledging the others in your team who have a preference for Sensing and asking them to offer their insight on the detail, facts, specifics and practicialities.

But also be careful of:

  • Being too particular about detail and specifics. Intuitives may interpret this as being overly fussy or time-consuming.
  • Jumping in too quickly to point out inconsistencies, practical problems or contrary facts to ideas being offered or new initiatives being proposed. This may be regarded as a negative attitude or being resistant to change.
  • Overloading others with information/facts not asked for or required.
  • Missing the bigger picture.
  • Sticking too rigidly to a plan or agreed sequence of events when circumstances call for greater flexibility or a change of course.
  • If you have a preference for Intuition, consider doing the following:
  • Opting/volunteering for projects/presentations that require working on/communicating new ideas, concepts and the future direction. You will probably find such exercises energising.
  • When generating new ideas or looking for solutions, include Sensing types in the process. They can help identify how things will work in practice and highlight any potential problems with the concept.
  • Noting down the reasons behind the ideas offered/discussions had with clients and colleagues and linking this to your overall vision for the relationship or practice. Recalling this information will prove helpful to you in following up action points, clarifying issues or when offering alternatives.
  • Running your presentations by someone with a preference for Sensing to ensure you are providing enough of the detail, hard evidence and practical information.
  • If you externalise your Intuition, this allows Sensing types in your team to offer their critique of your ideas and suggest alternatives.
  • If you internalise your Intutition, offer your insight into meanings, connections and the bigger picture when the situation calls for it. Your Sensing colleagues may not have thought of your fresh perspective.
  • Acknowledge the other Intuitives in your team and encourage their participation and insight.

But also be careful of:

  • Losing interest once a project has started and the ‘newness’ is gone, Be mindful of seeing things through to completion.
  • Reacting to Sensing types who offer their analysis to your new ideas – they offer important information that can help make the idea a success in practice.
  • Overlooking key details.
  • Offering new possibilities when the situation calls for consistency.
  • Losing the attention of your colleagues or clients through the use of too many metaphors or abstract thinking.

Should I always stick to my preference?

No. Good type development is not only making the most of your preferences but also encouraging your non-preferred side. Ideally you would have both your Sensing and Intuition at your disposal so you can pick and choose when to use each. This said, be careful not to force your non-preferred side or expose yourself to situations that frequently ask for you to act ‘out of preference’ – you will find this stressful and your performance as a manager could suffer.

Is this about creativity versus practicality?

It is sometimes suggested that Intuitives will be inherently better at creative thinking and Sensing types better at practicalities. Whilst each may display preferences for these kinds of activities you need to be careful with what you mean by ‘creative thinking’ and ‘practical application’. There are many forms of creativity and many considerations when putting ideas into practice. Sensing types can often display high levels of creativity especially if it relates to working with facts and figures or even working with their hands – remember the senses side of Sensing! Equally, Intuitives can often display high levels of practical thinking for example, when considering how else the product/idea/project may be interpreted/received by others. Remember that you can and do use both preference; good management is recognising what you and your team have to offer and the benefits that opposite preferences bring.

What to do now?

You have lots of options with how you choose to apply all the above. The considerations offered to both Sensing types and Intuitives are deliberately straight forward and easy to implement. Try them out and see which ones work for you and also which ones work for those around you. Those with a preference for Sensing may enjoy re-reading the article and noting the detail of what I’ve covered. You may also like to do some further research – there are numerous articles and books available that further unpack this aspect of MBTI®.

Those with a preference for Intuition are perhaps already thinking about how this information can inform future projects, conversations and management issues. You may find it helpful to rephrase/repicture the concepts and ideas presented with your own metaphors and stories to consolidate your learning. Both Sensing types and Intuitives should use their knowledge about their MBTI® as a starting point, a point of reference, from which to have non-confrontational conversations and helpful dialogue with each other. The more information you can gather as a manager, from as diverse perspectives as possible, the better your insight will be. Learn how to see the bigger picture as well as the finer details. To have an eye on tomorrow as well as today, to consider the possibilities as well as the practicalities, and you will be better able to ‘see’ whatever your life as a manager throws your way.

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