And the decision is…?

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Part 4 of 5 of Managing to Manage? – How understanding MBTI® can help

Decisions, decisions! It is impossible to manage without making decisions. How to handle that tricky client relationship? How to get the most out of your newly-formed team? When to delegate and when to do? When to wait for more information and when to strike before the opportunity passes you by? As a manager you will probably find yourself being judged on the quality of your decision making. So a good question to ask yourself is ‘are you making good decisions?’.

Or perhaps a more insightful way of looking at it is ‘are you consistently making good decisions?’. The numerous and often complex issues faced by managers calls for a range of approaches to making a decision and a manager that overly relies on any one ‘thinking style’ or ‘set formula’ runs the risk of one-dimensional decision making. To stand out from the regular managerial crowd, or even to simply keep up, managers need to display the ability to use the appropriate approach for the situation at hand and make a decision they are confident to stand by.

In the previous article, I discussed the kind of information you typically look for and rely on using the Sensing-Intuition dichotomy. In this article I look at the MBTI® preferences for what you do with this information once you have it – or put another way, how you prefer to make decisions. The relevant dichotomy for us here is Thinking-Feeling.

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In this 4th article in the series, I explain the key characteristics of Thinking and Feeling, help you identify which may be your preference, and offer some easy to implement actions to help you put this learning into practice.

Ever thought about how you make decisions? Any manager will know the importance of the decisions they make but do you find yourself effortlessly making the right decisions in some situations whilst struggling to understand the poor response your decisions receive at other times? Attributed to Einstein: ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ Different situations call for different approaches and the manager who can recognise their preferred style of decision making and know when and how to apply this, and when to look for an alternative style or assistance in making their decisions is a manager well equipped to face any problem. Understanding which side of the Thinking-Feeling dichotomy you prefer to sit can help you identify how you arrive at a decision; why you often make the decisions you do; as well as the particular strengths and potential pitfalls of each approach.

What is this dichotomy about?

In essense, making decisions! It’s is about what you do with the information you’ve gathered with your Sensing-Intuition preferences (see article 3 for more on this dichotomy). Sometimes this dichotomy is crudely described as ‘Head versus Heart’ which does a disservice to the value of both preferences and over-simplifies their different approaches and strengths. It is also unhelpful to look at preferences as being ‘versus’ or battling against each other. People with different preferences may well struggle on occasion to understand each other and sometimes clash, but the differences found between opposite preferences do not necessarily mean you will have conflict. It is how these differences are managed that is key. Indeed, difference that is well-managed often leads to a stronger team that operates more effectively than a group of people which always agree with each other but equally have similar blind spots and consequently miss opportunities or make mistakes.

Those with a preference for Thinking tend to make decisions based on a detached, objective logic. Faced with a situation between two members of staff, they will tend to ‘step out’ of the situation and try to view it from an unbiased standpoint. Often very ‘cause and effect’ focused, someone with a preference for Thinking will analyse ‘if I do X I will get Y’, or ‘when we last tried A we got B, therefore the best step to take is C’. Consistency and fairness are often important in a thinker’s decision making and personal factors or impact on relationships may not be the first consideration that comes to mind when faced with a decision. Having completed an important piece of work, a Thinker will often want their work, rather than their individual contribution, to be recognised and will probably be satisfied receiving this acknowledgement at the end of the project in an understated fashion.

Those with a preference for Feeling tend to make value-based decisions rather than apply a detached logic. Faced with the same situation between two members of staff, they will usually ‘step in’ to the situation and try to see it from the perspectives of those involved. Perhaps following the line of thought – ‘how would I feel if I was in their position?’ or ‘how would I react to this decision being made if it affected me?’ Impact on relationships is a high priority and those with a preference for Feeling tend to be mindful of how a decision will impact on people. Valuing individuals and promoting harmony are often important and conflict can be difficult for someone with a Feeling preference. In contrast, a Thinker may view conflict as a necessary and not necessarily unwelcome dimension to working life. When working on an important project, Feelers are likely to respond well to recognition at more regular intervals than Thinkers and tend to prefer their individual contribution to be acknowledged – the difference that they in particular made – as much as recognition for the accomplished task. Whilst a Thinker may think ‘if I’m not getting any feedback from my boss all must be well’ a Feeler may well feel ‘if I’m not getting any feedback from my boss what’s wrong?’.

Are Feelers ‘a soft touch’ and Thinkers ‘cold-blooded’?

The short answer is ‘no’ in either case. With their emphasis on harmony and relationships, it is a common misconception to see Feelers in business as ‘soft’ or ‘a pushover’. This is an unfair and unjustified position. Whilst those with a preference for Feeling may find conflict more uncomfortable than someone with a preference for Thinking, a Feeler is likely to stand firm on a point if it relates to one of their values or if they believe people/relationships are not being duly considered in the decision making process. Equally, it is incorrect to regard Thinkers as not caring about people or relationships – these are of course important in making a decision but for someone with a preference for Thinking issues of consistency and a decision based on detached logic are likely to be the first consideration. As with all the dichotomies, your preference is the one that repeatedly comes in to play first. You may well then use the opposite preference if you think or feel it’s appropriate.

So which am I?

As I have recommended in every article, 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. How, when and for what do you like to receive recognition at work?

A. Thinking types tend to prefer recognition in an understated fashion, at the end of a project, and for a ‘job well done.’ Feelers may prefer more deliberate and more frequent feedback and for their personal contributions to be recognised.

Q. If your team won a prize of a 2 week holiday in Hawaii but there were only enough tickets for half the team to go, how would you decide who went?

A. Feeling types may take into consideration how particular individuals would feel about going or not going and whether any one was more ‘deserving’ due to personal circumstances, They would also consider the impact on those left behind and on team cohesiveness / harmony. Thinkers may look at evidence such as ‘who had managed the highest number of cases’ or ‘who had worked the longest hours this year’. A consistent approach across the team would be important. In may be that in both scenarios the team leader decides to hand the prize back in for something everyone can enjoy / participate in.

Note: the same final decision may be arrived at by both Thinkers and Feelers though the process and rationale for that decision being reached is usually quite different.

Q. An issue has arisen between two members of staff and you’ve been asked to sort it out – what do you do?

A. Someone with a preference as a Thinker is likely to ‘step back’ and look at the issue as an outsider looking in and try to weigh up the ‘fair’ thing to do. Someone with a preference for Feeling would probably ‘step in’ and try to empathise with both parties. They are likely to be mindful of the impact of their decision on the relationship between the members of staff as well as how they are going to be viewed as a result.

Q. A friend or family member comes to you with a dilemma, what do you think/feel in the first instance? ‘What do we need to do to sort it?’ OR ‘How are they feeling about the issue/what do they need?’

A. Those with a preference for Thinking tend to identify with the first statement. Those with a preference for Feeling, the second statement/s.

Q. Your manager has asked you to put together a team to tackle a key project. How do you select your team members?

A. Feeling types will probably think/feel of putting together a harmonious team that hold similar values. Thinking types may well look for people based on their particular expertise with less concern given to the relational composition of the team.

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 Thinking or Feeling.

How does this help me manage?

Your ability to make sound decisions and to apply different approaches to the many and varied situations you face as a manager is crucial to your success, even survival. As with the other MBTI® dichotomies, there are three levels of application – with yourself, with your colleagues and staff, and with clients. Before I offer some specific ideas on how you can make better use of your preferences for Thinking or Feeling at work, there is a general principle on how to make the best use of all four MBTI ‘functions’ (Sensing, Intuition, Thinking and Feeling) as they relate to problem solving / decision making. Quite simply, you look at the issue from the perspective of each function in turn so that you approach it from all angles, consider all key elements and increase your likelihood of arriving at a rounded decision. In practice, you could follow the 4 steps below:

  1. Start with your reality – use your Sensing preference, or call upon an individual/team with clear preferences for Sensing, get hold of the key data, research and information as it relates to the problem being faced or decision needing to be made.
  2. Consider the possibilities – use your preference for Intuition, or call upon an individual/team with clear preferences for Intuition, to look at the big picture, the connections, the meanings behind the problem/decision and also to then creatively consider all possible solutions. Don’t evaluate ideas at this stage – doing so may stifle an idea before its had the chance to develop and work against the creativity you need.
  3. Apply an objective analysis – use your preference for Thinking, or call upon an individual/team with clear preferences for Thinking, to consider the causes and effects of each potential decision / solution. Weigh up the potential ‘costs and benefits’ of the decision in terms of available resources, the likelihood of the idea succeeding, and the impact on the business of it going well or otherwise.
  4. Consider the impact on people and relationships – use your preference for Feeling, or call upon an individual/team with clear preferences for Feeling, to assess the potential decision / solution from the perspective of those on the receiving end of that decision. Weigh up the potential ‘costs and benefits’ of the decision in terms of its impact on people and relationships with management, colleagues, and clients.

In addition to the above, if you have a preference for Thinking, consider doing the following:

  • Volunteering for projects that require a thorough cause-and-effect analysis. You are likely to be good at this and enjoy the challenge.
  • Getting involved in organisational policy/procedures – your desire for consistency and a fair / systematic approach is likely to be of use here.
  • When faced with a decision that impacts on people/relationships, seek the advise of a colleague with a preference for Feeling. They are likely to consider your decisions/solutions from a ‘people perspective’.
  • If your Thinking is internalised, find a means by which to share your objective analysis and logical reasoning with those who would benefit from it.
  • If your Thinking is externalised, learn to ‘hold fire’ until the group / client / situation is ready for your decision.
  • Acknowledging the others in your team who have a preference for Thinking and asking them for their analysis.

But also be careful of:

  • Coming across as ‘cold’ or ‘detached’ when the situation calls for sensitivity poor empathy.
  • Jumping in with criticism of someone else or their ideas/work even if from your perspective you can see flaws in their logic.
  • Being regarded as valuing tasks over relationships.
  • Not considering the impact on people of conflict in the workplace.

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

  • Volunteering for projects that call for a sensitive approach or that have an impact on important relationships. You will probably find yourself skilled in thinking through the ‘people issues’.
  • Getting involved in organisational change programmes – your values approach and emphasis on harmony will help the business consider how individuals are impacted and how to support people through the changes.
  • When faced with a decision that calls for objective analysis, seek the advise of a colleague with a preference for Thinking – they will help you consider the causes and effects of the problem at hand and the solution being proposed.
  • If your Feeling is internalised, find a means by which to share your concern for people/relationships when others are weighing up their options.
  • If your Feeling is externalised, be mindful of only sharing that which is considered appropriate by your colleagues, clients and company.
  • Acknowledging the others in your team who have a preference for Feeling and asking them for their views on the situation.

But also be careful of:

  • Coming across as ‘too friendly’ or ‘unbusinesslike’. Some may find this uncomfortable.
  • Taking criticism too personally – there is likely to be a positive intention behind the critique. Challenging your decisions does not automatically equate to challenging you.
  • Being regarded as valuing relationships to the detriment of achieving targets or getting the job done.
  • Avoiding difficult situations because of your displeasure of conflict.

What to do now?

You have lots of options with how you choose to apply all the above. The considerations offered to both Thinking types and Feeling types 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 Thinking may enjoy thinking through the possible outcomes of each idea and weighing up the costs and benefits before deciding which to try first. Those with a preference for Feeling may be drawn to considering which of these ideas fit well with their values and which can be used to enhance their working relationships or to manage conflict better.

Both Thinking types and Feeling types 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 rounded a decision you can make as a manager the more likely this decision is going to be well received and you recognised as someone who more often than not ‘gets it right’. Learn how to apply an objective logic as well as considering the impact your decision has on those you work with. Learn also how to draw upon those with the opposite decision-making preference to yourself – your decisions will probably be better for it and your colleagues, clients and company (as well as yourself) all stand to benefit.

In the next and final article in this series, I look at the Judging-Perceiving dichotomy.

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