Thinkers + Feelers = Results and Success


For those of us of a certain age, the acronyms ENFJ, ISFP, ISTJ, or ESFP mean something: they are the letters that represent your personality type. If you recognize the typing, then you are familiar with Myers Briggs, an extensive personality test that was, for many years,  the way to learn about how you perceive the world and how the way you perceive the world effects the decisions you make. And though the Myers Briggs has been superseded in recent years by the DISC Method and StrengthsFinder, there is a part of the test that still resonates strongly in our work lives: are you a thinker or a feeler?

In Myers Briggs the letter combinations indicate whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert, sensing or intuitive, feeling or thinking, and judging or perceiving. Of these indicators, the difference between feelers, people who make choices based on how they or others feel, and thinkers, people who make decisions based on logic, usually causes the most debate. Many people interpret the differences in these personality types to mean thinkers are smarter, and/or feelers are more sensitive and less logical than thinkers. But is that true?

Thinkers are analytical: they weigh the pros and cons of situations and aim for objectivity in their decision making. Some of the characteristics of thinkers include:

  • Search for logical explanations or solutions;
  • Value fairness above all else;
  • Believe the truth is more important than being tactful; and
  • Doesn’t always see or value the people part of a problem.

Feelers are sensitive to their feelings and to the feelings of others. Some of the characteristics of feelers are:

  • Are very sensitive to conflict;
  • Make decisions based on relationships;
  • React with strong feelings to interpersonal challenges; and
  • Value the common good over objectivity.

Feelers and thinks are frequently frustrated by each other. To feelers, thinkers come across as fundamentally condescending and lacking empathy. To thinkers, feelers come across as overly-sensitive, whiny, and impractical. The truth is that, as with many realities in the workplace, both sides are right … and wrong. The key to bringing these groups together to achieve a goal is getting each side to not only value their contributions, but to see and come to understand the importance of what their counterparts bring.

Step 1: the most important thing to understand is that neither side is going to change and magically become someone else. Thinkers and feelers will always have to work together and therefore, the first step in valuing each other is accepting who you are and who your counterparts are. Feelers, understand that thinkers will express themselves logically with little or no emotion: this is who they are and how they express themselves. Thinkers, understand that feelers will express how they feel about a particular project or task: and while this is foreign to you, this is who they are and what they need to do to move forward.

Step 2: Have a positive approach in your interactions with your counterpart, be it in a one-on-one interaction, in a staff meeting, or in a project management meeting. Keep in mind that just as you have knowledge and expertise to bring to a situation, your counterpart does as well. They do not have the same skillset or the same focus that you have, but their contributions are equally valuable.  Thinkers, be mindful of your tenor and tone when interacting with feelers (remember they process information differently). Feelers, remember that thinkers want to cut to the chase (they don’t want long explanations, so get to the bottom line as soon as possible).

Step 3: The final step is to listen (really listen) to your counterparts when they share information. Thinkers, know that feelers will likely use some version of the following phrase “I feel like …, I don’t feel that …, It makes no sense that … .” It is vital that you do not tune out when you hear this message: listen and provide feedback, keeping in mind your tone. Feelers, know that thinkers will sometimes say “Can we wrap this up …, Can we not drag this out, or I’ve only 5 minutes so let’s get on with it.” Feelers have to be able to read the room and know when it’s appropriate to share.

Ultimately, both thinkers and feelers are needed to get the results your team, supervisor, and agency need: remember thinkers + feelers = results & success.

Kim Martin-Haynes is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Kathleen Vaught

“Step 1” – If all personality types would embrace this and not spend so much time trying to change each other, pretty sure we might get more accomplished in a day. 🙂 Great article! I am one of those odd balls where thinking and feeling always come out in a dead heat no matter the personality test. Some days I am a thinker who feels and on other days, I am a feeler who thinks.

Terrence Farrier

Hi, Kathleen

Probably the VERY best book I have ever read when it comes to managing people was Peter Senge’s – The Fifth Discipline! Why? It reads like a possible blueprint for how to think WITH others and how to react TO others in the form of dialogue…which is a learned technique and it correlates to your post.