Make Up Your Mind: Personality Type and Decision Making
Copyright © 2019 by Thomas Piccin
In the early 20th century, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung observed that whenever a person’s mind is active, it is involved in one of two activities: taking in information from the outside world, or processing that information to draw conclusions and make decisions (Kirby et al., 2011). Jung referred to these mental functions as “perceiving” and “judging,” respectively. Further, he identified two different ways that people can perform each of these functions.
Perceiving can occur either through sensing or intuition. Sensing is about taking in information through the senses in the present moment. It is about tangible, practical realities. In contrast, intuition in many ways is about seeing what’s not present. It’s about perceiving abstract ideas, relationships, patterns, and possibilities. Jung described intuition as “perception by way of the unconscious” (Myers et al., 2009, p. 24).
Jung called sensing and intuition the “irrational” functions (Myers et al., 2009, p. 24), meaning they take in whatever information is available through observation or experience without attempting to apply rational constraints. In contrast, the “rational” functions are the judging functions, which analyze and evaluate the data collected by the perceiving functions. The judging functions are thinking and feeling.
Thinking relies on identifying logical, objective, cause-and-effect connections among data points to arrive at a decision through linear analysis. Feeling considers the values and priorities of the people involved, including the decision maker as well as those impacted by the decision. In this regard, feeling is a more subjective approach to decision making than thinking.
Jung believed that everyone can and does use all four of these mental functions, but not with equal ease or comfort (Myers et al., 2009). Specifically, he believed that we each have a preferred perceiving function (either sensing or intuition) and a preferred judging function (either thinking or feeling). In the Myers-Briggs model of personality type, which is based on Jung’s theories, the perceiving and judging preferences are reflected in the middle two letters of the personality type code. For example, if your type code is ESTJ, then your preferred functions are sensing (S) and thinking (T). Similarly, if your type code is INFP, then your preferred functions are intuition (N) and feeling (F).
What are the best functions to use in order to make the best decisions? All of them, of course! All four functions provide valuable information and valuable perspectives. A decision made by an individual or a team that focuses on just one approach is doomed to be suboptimal. For example, when the CEO of an engineering firm proposed restructuring the management hierarchy to prepare for future expansion, managers (primarily Sensing types) rejected the idea because they felt the current system was working just fine (Clancy, 1997). Their focus on the here-and-now may have prevented them from considering future possibilities. Similarly, a research and development team comprised mostly of Intuitive types was found to have repeatedly failed to accurately plan for the amount of time and resources necessary to complete a project (Fitzgerald, 1997), presumably because their focus on abstract ideas caused them to overlook real-world constraints. Similar failures have been found among teams made up of predominantly Thinking or Feeling types (Myers et al., 2009).
Isabel Briggs Myers herself first outlined a model for optimal decision making that incorporated all four functions (Myers et al., 2009). The best decision making starts with knowing your own personality type and the types of your team members. From there, you can take steps to ensure you include perspectives of underrepresented types. For example, suppose your leadership team includes mostly Thinking types. You can expand your decision-making process to include Feeling-oriented questions such as “How will the people involved be affected? How does each alternative fit with my values? How will each alternative contribute to harmony and positive interactions?” (Myers, 2015, p. 51)
Myers said, “No one has to be good at everything.” If we know our differences, and embrace our differences, we will be stronger, more effective, and more successful as a team.
Header photo by Thomas Piccin. View of Cape Town, Signal Hill, Table Bay, and Robben Island from the top of Table Mountain, South Africa.