Thinker vs. Feeler: How People’s Oughts & Shoulds Affect Performance

Thinkers vs. Feelers: Population Distribution

While every other preference set comprises a 50/50 ratio of men/women, the Thinker vs. Feeler dynamic is the only preference with a gender skew. In this case, 70% of women have a right-handed preference of Feeling versus 70% of men who have a right-handed preference for Thinking. Due to the disproportionate ratios, this preference necessitates greater considerations for cultural “oughts and shoulds” around the gender experience and expectations we all face.

Female Thinkers

If you are a female with a dominant Thinker preference, you have probably grown up feeling that you’re not quite exactly what all the other girls and ladies want you to be. You may have felt like a bit of an outsider, or wondered why you seemed to think, feel, and act differently from other women. As a result, many women with a right-handed Thinker preference tend to report having fewer female friendships, while their male friendships usually make up a greater portion of those in their circle of friends. They also tend to prioritize wanting to be measured against their task, achievement, or career accomplishments rather than their friendships, popularity, identity, or other standards that are often more important to Feelers. One of the most difficult moments for many Thinker woman comes when thinking about children.

In some ways, having children can represent the ultimate form of dying for most Thinker females, because everything within the “dream” says having children should be the ultimate fulfillment of your relational feeling. The idea that you should feel totally overwhelmed by a giddy sense of joyful, selfless desire to nurture this young life, even if it means never going back to work, is both terrifying and nauseating to the female Thinker. Every Thinker woman contemplating this possibility wonders, “Do I really want/need kids? If so, how long do we have to do this for?” A great majority of you Thinker women out there are probably trying to reassure people: “I’m not just some cold-hearted ruthless killer of the business world, but honestly, if I don’t get back to work sooner rather than later and get my brain working again, I’m going to lose it.”

Consequently, many Thinker females take a more competitive approach to children, saying “Right, if I’ve got to do this baby thing, I’m going to make it a task and a competition. How do I produce the best children, the most perfect children, and how do I make sure that they achieve in every way?” In fact, Thinkers as a whole, not just women or men specifically, often have to be careful not to project too much of their own ambitions, desires, and competitiveness onto their children. Since Thinkers tend to view their children as an extension of themselves, they can easily wander down the path of trying to dictate their child’s every move or otherwise mold them in their exact image. Everything tends to come down to, “If this is our task, how do I win?”

Expectations such as the ones for women about children or assertiveness are part of what makes it so difficult for men and women in the minority of their preference set ratios to feel okay with being themselves. For women, being nurturing and kind is expected in the workplace, but too much of that makes you “weak” or “soft-spoken” and “not strong enough” for leadership; but on the other hand, leaning too much into your natural Thinker preference relegates you to being a “hard ass” who is “too serious” and “unlikable” to be a good leader. It’s not a fair conundrum in any sense, but it remains the current reality and represents a much-needed area of improvement.

Male Feelers

Guys, those of you with a right-handed Feeler preference make up the 30% of men who tend to prioritize relationship and relational harmony when making decisions. Though you may often find yourself in the minority among your male friends, the Feeler’s inherent emotional intelligence generates a true authenticity that helps you more easily build depth relationships. Most male feelers have grown up being forced to learn to use their other hand (Thinker preference) because the expectation is that you better be tough, you better compete, and you better win. America is the most competitive culture in the world, and if you don’t fight, you won’t eat, so there becomes a strong social expectation that tends to shame men who are naturally right-handed Feelers, while also conditioning them to only embrace the Thinker “ideal.” As a man, particularly one in America, if you’re not sure whether you’re a Thinker or Feeler, you’re much more likely to be a right-handed Feeler who’s learned by culture how to use the other hand.

Since most thinkers find themselves in an organizational or social culture that’s very competitive, they usually receive a high degree of affirmation for being who they are,  which creates less ambiguity for them. It’s not universally true, but it’s very often true. If I asked you, “How emotionally intelligent are you?” you would probably have already ruled out the average Thinker of your age. Growing up, young male Thinkers drive to win, compete, and fight, often trying to show off for peers and girls in classic displays of macho culture. The Feeler males, however, are usually more naturally gifted at building strong relationships due to their attention to emotionally intelligent behavior. Their default sensitivity and consideration engenders them to others – especially the more emotionally intelligent women in their lives – as kind, sincere, and more desirable for friendship when it comes to the opposite sex.

In the same way that the Thinker females often maintain a majority of male friends, many of the Feeler men tend to be more popular within the wider circle of women.

So What?

So, why does all of this matter?

Well, in addition to the “ought and should” burdens placed on Thinkers and Feelers who go against the cultural norm, there are a number of other expectations that impact our ability as human beings to accept and lean into our natural preferences and skills. Whether they are the result of our upbringing and societal norms, or the pressures of our workplace or job requirements, these expectations repress an individual’s ability to bring their best. Sometimes the weight of these presumptions suffocate the deeper yearnings or motivations that bring life and energy to someone, thereby reducing their effectiveness, stamina, and productivity. Other times they cause people to overreact, such as when a male Feeler overcompensates for the social or workplace expectations by becoming too assertive and critical, ultimately becoming a dominating leader. Or a female Thinker feeling like she must rein in her opinions and tip-toe around colleagues so as not to be perceived as cold and rude.

In the end, it’s important to understand the expectations placed upon our colleagues, friends, and employees in order to be intentional about creating an environment where they can be their best selves. If we want to get the best work from our people and create the healthiest culture, we need to give them permission to be who they are – to extend an invitation that encourages them to flex their natural skills and abilities, rather than being ashamed of them.

This was originally posted by GiANT Worldwide and I wanted to share it here as well. If you’re interested in learning more about how your personality type affects your leadership, I’m happy to schedule a meeting to discuss. Just click the contact button and let me know!