Of the four personality preferences in the personality system created by Myers and Briggs, the gap is widest between Sensors and Intuitives. While the population is split roughly 50/50 on the other dimensions, a full 70% of people show a preference for Sensing over Intuition when taking a personality test. This can lead to quantum differences in personality, and Intuitives may spend a lifetime feeling like the odd man out.
Because Intuitives are the minority, the onus is on them to adjust to the Sensor way of thinking. Here are some points to help you overcome the communication barrier so you can start enjoying a Sensor's company.
The Perceiving Function, Distilled
In a nutshell, the difference between Sensors and Intuitives is this: Sensors prefer tangible information, whereas Intuitives prefer speculation and depth of insight. So, while a Sensor will perceive data points individually (one by one) and literally (as they are in that moment), an Intuitive will perceive them concurrently (all at once) and abstractly (as they could be in the future).
Let's look at an example. Here's how a Sensor might experience a flight:
- This takeoff is bumpy.
- My ears hurt.
- It's chilly in this airplane.
- There's a man sitting beside me.
- He's reading the book that I read last month.
You can see that the information a Sensor gets is highly factual. They make very specific observations about the things that are going on around them, and they do not attribute any meaning to those observations.
An Intuitive might experience the same flight like this:
- This take off will be bumpy.
- Why can't scientists do something about that ear popping thing?
- I usually feel chilly on flights. It might be anemia. I'd better get some blood work done.
- I read that book. It was pretty provocative.
- That man must have hidden depths, reading such a seamy book. I bet he does a spooky job, like a mortician or an arachnologist.
Intuitives read between the lines to size up a situation and take intellectual leaps of faith about the meaning of things. As such, their ideas are often difficult to communicate.
What should be clear from the flight example is that the stimulus does not change, but merely the window through which the Intuitive or the Sensor sees it. You might live in the same house as a Sensor but it can feel like you're moving through very different surroundings! So how can you get along with Sensors who seem to come from a wholly different world?
Sensors place a lot of value on family, history and tradition. These things are concrete and knowable, and therefore can be trusted. In practical terms, this means that Sensors are far more likely than Intuitives to uphold rituals such as holidays and anniversaries. They connect through these physical experiences and use them as a conduit for transmitting cultural values.
This can lead to problems if, for example, an Intuitive wife forgets her wedding anniversary. She does this because she places greater value on future possibilities than old traditions. Exactness (the date) is not as important to her as the symbol (marriage). To her Sensor husband, however, failing to recognize such an important ritual is disrespectful as it undermines his entire value system.
Rituals are especially important when raising Sensor children. Young Sensors have a need for tangible stability in their lives. They place great emphasis on having their own room, which is organized so they know where their stuff is. They may have strong opinions about the contents of their lunch bag so they can fit in with the lunchtime traditions of their friends (an Intuitive child won't even notice what the other kids are eating for lunch). They want to know timelines - the exact time when they should wake up, do homework and go to bed. These traditions are a practical application of the information that a young Sensor has accumulated. They need them to feel safe and connected with the world.
Appreciate the need for detail and be prepared to explain how something will work
As an Intuitive, you come in at a high level on the ladder of abstraction. You do not consciously define the steps that are needed to get from point A to point B because you instinctively leap across all the steps and make snap decisions based on an overall feeling.
Frustrations occur because a Sensor needs those mechanical details. They want to see a practical application of the information you are giving them, and they want to follow a logical sequence from start to finish. Rather than providing a global concept, you're going to have to break down your vision and present it step-by step. Here are some things you might explain:
- The starting point of your argument
- The conclusion you have reached (this should be definite and concrete)
- The process you went through to reach your decision
- The information you relied on
- How the conclusion is relevant to the here and now (Sensors can't rely on what hasn't happened yet, so future possibilities are less interesting)
- What, precisely, the Sensor should do to act upon the information (the bottom line)
- The times or deadlines that apply.
These details may not be on an Intuitive's radar, but if you want to meet a Sensor's needs, you're going to have to be as specific and concrete as possible. For even clearer communication, give examples.
Don't put words into the Sensor's mouth
Sensors live in the detailed, vivid world of the present. They value practicality and physical experience as ends in themselves. Much of the frustration a Sensor has with an Intuitive comes when the conversation bounces off in all sorts of directions that may be interesting for the Intuitive but has zero relevance for the Sensor.
Suppose, for example, that you're shopping for a new car. Your Sensor partner strikes up a conversation about fuel consumption, heated seats and tow packages. Because you focus on theory and metaphor, you attempt to extract a deeper meaning from the Sensor's literal words where none was intended. You are convinced, wrongly, that the Sensor is referencing the environmental impact of CO2 emissions and you can't understand why the Sensor keeps dragging you back into the mundane world of backup cameras.
What you have actually done is put words into the Sensor's mouth. They were having a benign conversation about cars, while you were setting the world to rights. The further you move from reality, the more annoyed a Sensor will get.
One way out of this jam is to lead with a different experience, one of action rather than exploration. Buy the new car first and then plunge into the theory pool of environmental degradation. Sometimes you just need to get the job done.
Being Intuitive is a bit like being left-handed - the world is not designed for you, and right-handed people (Sensors) may not even realize that you exist. But just because you are an Intuitive does not mean that you are not able to engage in the sensory world. Everyone has both components in their personality. Fundamentally there is value in each mental process, which is why they exist.
With practice, it is possible to become ambidextrous and engage in both worlds. This may not be instinctive or even pleasurable to you, but you do have that ability. These tips will help you get started. The rest is up to you.