Take care if you think that Feelers are the peacekeepers of the workplace. While they certainly strive to maintain harmony and appear caring and tactful, the fact is: Feelers communicate differently than Thinkers and this can be to their own detriment. Feelers tend to argue less, apologize more, and personalize each and every experience – all of which can undermine the team's success.
Here are five ways that Feelers unwittingly sabotage communication in the workplace – and some tips on what you, as a boss, can do about it.
1: Walking Away
It's no secret that Feelers avoid conflict like the plague. They're so susceptible to feeling hurt or guilty when conflicts arise, their first instinct is often to turn away from the problem. They do this not because they think the conflict is none of their business, but as an act of self-preservation. When you have a deep, personal need to feel liked and appreciated, the slightest hint of disagreement can really damage your confidence. So, you walk away.
This response is completely alien to someone with a Thinking preference. Thinkers may be oblivious to interpersonal discord because they're so focused on finding a solution to the problem. When a Feeler stonewalls the argument or walks away, a Thinker may get angry because all the necessary conversation has been shut down. This causes problems to fester and mistakes to happen which will frustrate the Thinking members of your team.
As a manager, you must find ways to keep Feelers in the conversation and tolerate some healthy conflict in the name of moving forward with the situation. One solution is to have the Feeler suggest a solution when everyone has calmed down.
2: Playing the Judge
We know that Feelers care deeply about how people get along with each other. There's a personal cost to them of not getting involved in other people's arguments, since they're driven to restore harmony in the team. Feelers also have a habit of preferring what is "right" over what is objectively best for others, and they tend to make decisions based on personal relationships.
Put these traits together, and there's a risk that a Feeler will insert himself into someone else's argument and take strong sides without knowing all the facts. This can make conflicts far worse than they actually are, especially for Thinkers, who may not understand why a Feeler is introducing personal and moral concerns into a workplace conflict. What the Feeler perceives as run-of-the-mill kindness, a Thinker might perceive as favoritism and a personal slight.
How to manage the situation? Encourage your employees to always clarify the problem with each other using hard facts and moderate when people start seeking out allies. Acknowledging others' perspectives is the only way to make sure that everyone feels genuinely heard and understood in a conflict situation.
3: Taking the One-Down Position
Conflicts reduce cohesion in the team, so of course Feelers want to resolve them as quickly as possible. However, yielding too quickly can sabotage workplace communication. When someone downplays their certainties or gives in before reaching a proper conclusion, just to avoid an argument, you will have to discuss the problem again and again. Taking the one-down position is also a vicious cycle, destroying the Feeler's credibility so that no one listens when she does speak up.
There's a lot to be said for choosing your battles wisely and, as a manager, you must decide what's important and whether you should let isolated incidents go. But if major issues go under-addressed or a Feeler is always surrendering her own opinion to more assertive voices in the group, then you need to step in. A good approach is to bring all interested parties together to brainstorm solutions and keep pulling Feelers back into the conversation. Good teams build on the ideas of others. To do that, everyone must have an equal voice.
4: Over Apologizing
Feelers tend to use apologies not just as a way of saying sorry, but also as a conversational tool to establish empathy. However, apologies are regarded very differently by Thinkers who typically will not apologize unless they are objectively wrong. A Thinker is unlikely to apologize for situations that are not their fault, for example, and tend to have a much higher threshold for the type of mistakes that warrant an apology.
Excessive apologizing sabotages communication because it leads to Feelers being perceived as weak when they are not. This, in turn, limits their power and influence. As a manager, it's your job to help Feelers recognize when an apology is and is not necessary and encourage them to stop taking unnecessary blame for a situation. Of course, it takes two to tango. The flip side is making sure that Thinkers take accountability for their role in the disagreement in order to defuse the situation.
5: Seeing Quarrels Everywhere
A good team is made up of different personality types who sometimes rub against each other. Not every conversation that gets heated is a quarrel. But Feelers, who react very strongly to interpersonal challenges, may not see it that way. They use human-based considerations when weighing up the health and culture of an organization, and this process is not infallible. Some Feeling types (ENFJ, ESFJ) live for the intensity of emotional experience, and may see anger or sadness when it simply isn't there. Others (INFJ, INFP) may read a conflict situation well, but miss opportunities to explain their own intentions. The result is a tendency to see conflict in every simmering engine, and view the entire workplace as an environment of toxic emotions when it is not.
Reality checks are essential here. Don't be afraid to ask your employees what annoys them. What are they squabbling over? What could be better in communication? Talking about emotions openly adds perspective and clarity to the conflict – which probably is not as bad as it may seem.
Conflict is part of every workplace and both Thinkers and Feelers react in a way that can make the problem worse, not better. By recognizing the subtle differences in communication and the role they place in achieving workplace harmony, managers can help their staff face tomorrow's difficulties with greater understanding and success.