Three Communication Dilemmas That Can Ruin Relationships Between Thinkers And Feelers15 October 2020 / By Jena Brown Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on October 15, 2020
Opposites attract. It’s an adage we’ve all heard, and in many aspects it’s true. Finding our opposite can bring balance to our personalities. No matter what type of relationship we’re in––friendship, business, marriage––this give-and-take helps us grow.
When it comes to balancing perspectives, the Thinker-Feeler partnership is perhaps the one that adds the greatest depth. Thinkers offer a more grounded, logical view of the world, while Feelers open the door to unbridled emotional potential and possibility.
Unfortunately, the very things that make this pairing so powerful can also lead to communication mishaps. These mistakes can be productive at best and apocalyptic in the extreme. And it all stems from the fundamental differences in how Thinkers and Feelers process and prioritize information.
The head versus the heart
The most obvious communication difference between a Thinker and a Feeler is how they prioritize logic over emotions. This core communication driver may seem obvious on the surface, but Feelers can often mistake how low emotions play in a Thinker’s mind. Thinkers approach every situation from their head, ignoring or even entirely dismissing the heart as relevant. And this can be difficult for a Feeler to understand, especially in matters that a Feeler considers to be emotionally driven.
Let’s say you just got a job offer. If you’re a Feeler, your first instinct is probably to share the news with those closest to you right away. Above anything, this is an emotional announcement, where you likely want to revel in enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter what the details of the offer are, you want to celebrate the win.
But a Thinker will greet your enthusiasm with a thousand questions. They want to know what the details are, thinking about if you should take the job or hold out for something better. Celebrating to them feels premature until these core questions are answered. Unsurprisingly, this attitude can dampen a Feeler’s excitement and joy.
Rather than getting frustrated at their reaction to your news, it’s important for each type to take a step back and look from the other's perspective. Feelers can help their Thinkers stop and enjoy the moment. They don’t always need to have the answers in order to experience happiness and celebrate the small wins. And Thinkers can bring a grounded sense of victory to the celebration. Perhaps it’s best to keep the announcement small instead of telling everyone until the situation is analyzed and a final decision is made.
When the head meets the heart, we can find the perfect blend of excitement and prudence, helping maintain a healthy balance of optimism and pragmaticism.
The truth dilemma: tact or fact
Feelers very often will try to soften difficult conversations, believing that tact is the most important thing when relating to someone. Thinkers, on the other hand, will not. If you’ve ever asked a Thinker their opinion on clothing or a haircut, you are probably very aware of their tendency to be blunt. And the belief that truth matters more than your feelings can cause communication problems that bleed into other areas of a relationship. Feelers want a cushioned truth. But, since a Thinker may not notice the harsh nature of their words, a Feeler can often be left deeply hurt when asking for a Thinker’s opinion.
Because feelings are such a huge part of a Feeler’s world, they often assume everyone communicates through a similar emotional lens. They live in the world of subtlety and nuance, reading between the emotional lines. And this can raise difficulty when it comes to communicating with a Thinker.
Thinkers take words at face value and rarely examine them for hidden meaning. If you tell a Thinker you’re fine, they believe you. A Feeler may have expected the Thinker to ask follow-up questions, or perhaps pick up that in your tone you emphasized that things were not, in fact, fine. They won’t, and they will legitimately not understand why you’re upset that they took you at your word.
In order to overcome this communication dilemma, both parties will have to find middle ground. Thinkers can take the opportunity to learn that there is more to conversation than words alone. By paying attention to body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, they can practice adding emotional depth to their listening skills.
Feelers can use this opportunity to help their Thinker in this regard which, in turn, will help them communicate clearly and more directly. When Feelers learn to be more vocal and precise in communicating their emotional needs, they will be surprised at how often those needs are met. Finding the tactful truth allows both parties not just the chance to grow closer, but also to minimize hurt feelings and stifle potential resentments.
Decision-making 101: gut-checking a checklist
Thinkers prefer everything in their lives to be methodical. Give them a checklist, a flow chart or, in the best of circumstances, a PowerPoint presentation, and they are happy. Feelers, on the other hand prefer to go with their gut, making instinctive choices in the moment rather than waiting to analyze or assess every option available.
While each style has several points in the pro-column, they also have plenty of downsides. Reading every Yelp review may leave a Thinker feeling confident about their lunch options. But they won’t be left with any time to actually eat. On the other hand, walking into a restaurant because of its cute vibe can lead to bad food, or worse.
In a work environment, a Thinker may dismiss a Feeler coworker if they view them as rash or impulsive. And a Thinker’s deliberate, logical style can be frustrating to someone who wants to move forward trusting their instincts and base knowledge, as opposed to needing to fact check every item on the list––or making a list at all. And this clash can be disastrous in team environments.
Feelers will always value the input of everyone on the team equally. While this can lead to an assortment of thoughts and opinions, it can also lead to decision paralysis. A Feeler may not want to hurt anyone’s feelings or leave them feeling left out, which can halt forward momentum or lead to cumbersome solutions.
On the other hand, Thinkers can be quick to dismiss these same thoughts and opinions if they deem them irrelevant. This can also lead to difficulty in implementing solutions as people can view a Thinker as difficult to work with, or even insensitive. By valuing data over people, projects may suffer from starts and stops instead of progressing smoothly.
The key for both is to realize when to push for one style over the other, and to compromise on the rest. Thinkers can learn that while logic is important, people can bring value in ways outside of their defined parameters. Being part of a team means learning how to listen instead of pointing out every inaccuracy all the time or insisting on following a redundant checklist.
Conversely, Feelers can understand that gathering information doesn’t always mean you’ll be bogged down by details, and it won’t hurt to take some extra time to review the facts. When you’re able to merge gut-feelings into condensed checklists, decisions can be made efficiently and logically, which really is the best of both worlds.
When the Thinker and the Feeler work together, the communication dynamics between the two types can be incredibly well balanced––especially once each side realizes that while their priorities might be different, their intent is generally the same. Thinkers want people to make the best choice possible, and that means taking into account every logical fact and possibility. Feelers want the same thing; they just believe in embracing the full magnitude of emotion while weighing their choices.
The key for both is to learn how to listen to others, and in return they’ll discover how much more they’re listened to in return.
Pooja (not verified) says...
I am a thinker and I think my husband a feeler. But he seems more logical to me at times and the way he explains things, I feel I was wrong and too blunt.
KatieLoo (not verified) says...
While I agree with a lot of the main points here (as a feeler married to a thinker), I think there were some overgeneralizations made about each group that are not necessarily true. For instance, while feelers do often want to share their victories with those they care about, my ExTx friends definitely do too. Thinkers aren't always sensors and feelers aren't always encompassed by the world of intuition. Lastly, some feelers are remarkably methodical (myself included), and many thinkers do their best thinking without limits or guidelines. I think the hypothetical thinker and feeler here are portrayed as an ISTJ and ENFP, respectively, and likely aren't perfectly representative of every thinker and feeler
Simao (not verified) says...
Agree 100%. In this article some supposed "thinker" tendencies are more introverted Sensing than actualy Thinking
Miss Donna (not verified) says...
Thank you for a great article. I have not been able to find other sources that explains the differences between thinkers and feelers so well. They are a huge help to me in understanding the thinkers in my life and for me to try to communicate in ways they understand.
A Feeler (not verified) says...
"When you’re able to merge gut-feelings into condensed checklists, decisions can be made efficiently and logically, which really is the best of both worlds." For whom? It depends on your priorities. Many thinkers and feelers work better by starting a project then adjusting as they go. It is inherent bias to assume that efficiency will always produce the best results.