Ask two people to relate a memory of a shared experience and, odds are, you’ll get two different accounting of events. This isn’t due to one person being more aware than the other or differences in memory, but rather how each individual takes in and processes information.
These perceptions can have an impact on how we communicate in general. But between the Sensing and Intuitive types, this clash in perspective can occur based on how events are experienced. Because these two styles gather and interpret information differently, their experiences can be polar opposite. Sensing types translate their world through tangible, concrete sensory information. Where Intuitive types are more likely to rely on their impressions of past events to idealize the unbridled potential of what is and could happen.
This pairing can be a creative powerhouse where possibility meets hands-on practicality. However, these same dynamics can cause misunderstandings and communication breakdowns if each type struggles to accept the fundamental differences in how the other perceives and processes the world.
Practicality Meets Possibility
To understand how these different perspectives show up in our daily lives, let’s imagine a couple––Sensing Sam and his wife iNtuitive Nancy, working to remodel their kitchen.
“What do you think of this tile?” Sam asks, holding a sample tile in the air. He squints, moving it around as if he can conjure up their kitchen right in the tile aisle.
Nancy sighs, shifting her tote bag in her arms to pull out a folder. “I don’t know, Sam. We haven’t decided on what color to paint the walls yet. Is that even the right color scheme?”
Sam drops his arms, putting the piece of tile back in the box with a huff. “We can’t decide everything based on a picture, Nance.”
“We can’t decide anything based on which tile is shiny or what fixture feels good in your hands either,” she retorts.
“Better to feel the texture and know the details will work for us first,” Sam argues. “Remember that time we bought that couch? Sure, it looked great on the website. But it’s so uncomfortable the dogs won’t even sleep on it. And they sleep on the floor, Nance.”
Nancy grinds her jaw and looks away.
“At least this way,” Sam continues. “We can make realistic decisions based on what’s functional. And then you can create your inspiration board.” He waves his hand to her folders and magazines, tabbed and catalogued with meticulous care in her tote bag.
Tears spring in her eyes. “This is a waste of time. Just a waste of a perfectly good Saturday. Have fun feeling your tiles, I’ll wait in the car until we actually have a plan.”
There are any number of ways this conversation can go wrong. Sam may feel pressured to browse the store faster, getting more irritated as he’s rushed through each aisle. And Nancy could feel that she’s losing time to get a solid feel on how the room should look. Every time one or the other pressures their partner to make a decision their way, the frustrations will end up hijacking their project. As Sam and Nancy get in their car, neither one feels listened to or understood. And yet, they can bridge these style differences with a little focused communication.
Since projects are momentum driven, the longer Nancy takes to settle on an entire look for the room, the more anxious Sam is likely to feel. Instead, they can talk through deciding on a major feature together, say a color scheme. Once that’s decided they can both lean into their strengths and work together. Sam can visit the store, collecting swatches and samples to bring home in their agreed colors. Nancy can focus on choosing how she wants the room to look, filling in the details as they go.
In the end, Nancy’s big picture approach mixed with Sam’s appreciation for sensory details will lead them to a finished product they both love.
Concrete Details Versus Abstract Visions
For this next example, let’s imagine Sam and Nancy are co-workers. They’ve been assigned a project where they have to compile data from multiple locations, analyze it as a collective whole, and make a recommendation on whether to move forward or not. But they have to present their recommendation as a united front.
“Hey Sam,” Nancy says, leaning over the edge of their cubicle wall. “Ready to make a recommendation?”
Sam looks up from the endless spreadsheet on his screen. “You’ve already reviewed all the data?” he asks, disbelief coloring his tone.
“I’ve skimmed the trend lines,” she replies. “I think I have a good grasp on how things are headed.”
“Trends aren’t facts,” Sam counters. “There’s a reason we’ve been asked to review the previous data from all the sources.” He shakes his head. “This isn’t something I’m willing to hurry through. I bet you didn’t notice how the second and fifth years showed the exact same dips in summer sales with teen consumers.”
Nancy frowns. She hadn’t caught that detail. But a quick look at overall results through the months showed a clear trendline.
“Dips won’t matter if the overall sales lines are positive,” she replies.
Sam scoffs. “Unless those are more than anomalies. And are warning us of future problems in upcoming summer months, or with teens.”
“Look,” Nancy says, irritation laced in her words. “They have another team working on this too. If we’re too late in reaching a recommendation, we lose this account.”
“And if we make the wrong recommendation, or miss valuable information, we’ll lose more than the account.”
What’s happening here?
There’s a lot of pressure on both parties here. Sam wants to get it right, even if it takes a little longer, and Nancy trusts her gut instinct to make the right call. But the more she pressures Sam to hurry, the more he’s going to dig in his heels, feeling like he’s slow and unproductive.
On the other hand, Sam’s insistence on pointing out details in the numbers is likely to make Nancy feel like she’s inattentive and doesn’t have a strong attention to detail. For both Nancy and Sam, these negative feelings are going to raise their doubts, which are going to hinder their productivity. Instead, they can lean into each other’s strengths to present the best possible recommendation to their boss.
If Nancy and Sam can start by talking about Nancy’s gut-feeling based on the data trends, Sam can go in and look for information that supports or hinders this analysis. Rather than both of them working from beginning to end independently, they can join forces. Perhaps some areas of the project need more details, but other areas can move forward with Nancy’s quick judgements. By conquering their own biases of there being a right or wrong way to approach things, Nancy and Sam can become a power duo at work, impressing their boss and succeeding in their overall career goals as well.
Adaptive Meets Innovative
For this last example, let’s go back to Sam and Nancy, the married couple. Only this time, they’re having some difficulty seeing eye to eye when it comes to their children.
“I just don’t see why keeping her in music is a bad thing,” Sam says. “Kaitlyn hated soccer, but we asked her to stick with it, and now look. We can barely get her out of her cleats. Same with Tony and football.”
Nancy shakes her head. “Because Silvi isn’t Kaitlyn, Sam. Or Tony. They’re entirely different people.”
“I know they’re not the same, Nance,” Sam replies. “Maybe she needs a little extra incentive. Or at the end of the season, she can find a new hobby.”
“You just aren’t hearing me.” Nancy throws her hands up. “Silvi doesn’t respond to these structured activities like the other kids. We have to look at the situation from a new perspective. Not the way it was with Kaitlyn and Tony.”
“Nancy,” Sam says. “Kids are kids. They do well with structure, we have two teens proving that. I’m sure there’s another class or session we can find for Silvi. It’s just a matter of finding the right one. We can’t just give up.”
“It’s not giving up. It’s finding what works for Silvi, not us. Sometimes we have to try something new, instead of trying to put a bandaid on a broken limb.”
“And sometimes we need to stop trying to fix what isn’t broken in the first place.”
What’s causing this disagreement?
Building a framework for how to do anything is a solid approach to life. But so is learning when we may need to figure out an entirely new approach. The communication struggle between Sam and Nancy is trickier here, because this isn’t about leaning into their strengths and learning to work together as much as being able to utilize different skills in order to solve the problem and find a solution.
Sam may feel that finding an entirely new approach to helping Silvi find hobbies and activities that interest her is cumbersome and time-consuming. And Nancy feels the same way, except she feels doing the same thing and adjusting is wasting precious time. Sam and Nancy aren’t fighting about their motivation regarding helping their child, they are fighting over how to solve the problem. It’s important to remember their goals are aligned. It’s their approach to the problem that is the issue.
Nancy can use Sam’s knowledge base and help him not get mired in the facts and details of what worked before. And Sam can help Nancy see that perhaps some of their problems can be solved by applying a slight twist on what worked before while also coming up with new approaches for the rest.
As Nancy and Sam are able to see through each other’s perspectives, they will not just understand how their partner thinks and works but will be able to practice different skill sets in order to solve problems in a more fluid and dynamic way.
Understanding how each type gathers information and then processes it is vital to achieving balance between a Sensing-Intuitive partnership. They need to learn to communicate through their differences, which then creates the necessary framework for trust. While their approaches may be different, the goals can still be aligned. And once they begin to rely on each other while having confidence in themselves, this dynamic can power through any obstacle together.