Getting Along: Sensing vs Intuitive

My picture name"I have to buy some presents for a couple of people," I said to my wife just before Christmas.

"What are you planning to get?" she asked.

"I don’t know," I said. "I’ll just walk through the mall and see what jumps out at me." For me, this is very similar to the African hunter who stalks through the bush waiting expectantly for something to jump out at him. A big game hunter, that’s me, creeping along, threading the crowds, hoping to bag something for the pot, or the stocking, in this case. (What eventually jumped out was a small TV set, so after some intense bargaining and some manly chest-thumping, I took it home.)

However, when I had this conversation with my wife, she looked horrified. Most disappointingly, she doesn't seem to see me as a hunter.

The difference between us is that she is a practical sensing person and I am an intuitive. Dealing with intuitives can be hard work, and can be quite perplexing to people, especially in business. They tend to spend a lot of time in the jungle, waiting for things to pop out at them. Their sense of time is fluid, and although they have the best of intentions, they are often late for many things. Their office is often a mess because they have so many projects going on at the same time. Because they are dreaming of the future, they don’t notice the practical, down-to-earth facts of life. Sensing people are the opposite. They live in a detailed, vivid world of the present and value organization and practicality as ends in themselves.

Last week, I talked about extroverts and introverts, especially in the business world. Extroverts tend to be the folks who like to talk about things; they may be accused of spending all their time at the water cooler or copier machine, gossiping with others. Introverts tend to be the opposite: they also like people, but they tend to focus less on others and more on their own rich inner world. They may be accused --especially by extroverts-- of being quiet, secretive, even withholding.

Well, we may be either quiet or talkative (that is, extroverted or introverted), but how do we perceive the world around us, how do we take in information? Dr. Carl Jung told us that there are two basic ways to perceive the world: either with our five regular senses (which we refer to sensing, as in my wife); or with a special sixth sense (intuition, like myself). It seems to me that no one has improved upon his theory since. Let's look at these two a little closer.

Like my wife, sensing people tend to be the practical ones. In a way, they are like an old-fashioned TV with rabbit ears: they take in everything within a very limited radius. In other words, they specialize in all the facts which are under their noses. In the office, they are very good at keeping track of things, of organizing projects and looking after the details. The sensor's limitation is that they tend to be very slow to see possibilities beyond the obvious. They are often slow to engage the larger world beyond their limited reception.

So, are you a sensing type? If you're not sure yet, let’s try a little quiz. Sensors tend to remember a great number or facts and work well with them.

  • Do you want data to back up theory?
  • Are you realistic, factual and detailed?
  • Are you good with your hands?
  • Do you like smells, textures, spices, pleasant things?
  • Do you dislike theory, instead preferring the practical?
  • Do you adapt to the immediate situation?
  • In your sense of time, do you live in a detailed, full present?

What is your sensing score? Does it sound like you, or someone else you know?

Intuitives are quite a different sort of person. They are the dreamers, not so much focused on the present (as the sensing types are), but focused on the potential for the future. Unlike the sensing types (who are more like a old-style t.v. with rabbit ears), they are like a TV satelite dish, bringing in signals from all over the world. Because of their ability to tap into many channels beyond the immediate local ones, they tend to see things before others do. While the sensor is worried about the here and now, the intuitive is down the road and half-way around the world. All of the truly filthy rich people I have known have been intuitives, who could see the entreprenial potential in a business opportunity before most of their peers could. That being said, if you are an intuitive, you need a sensing office manager or partner to keep you on track.

Which of these characteristics fits you?

  • Do you know things, but don't know how you know?
  • Are you quick to see patterns in details?
  • Do you tend to value imagination and inspiration?
  • Do you have a vision of how things should be?
  • Are you future oriented?
  • Do you become aware of ideas, projects, and solutions to problems?
  • Are you entrepreneurial?
  • Do you live largely in the future?

What is your intuitive score? Does this sound like you, or someone else you know?

This theory does not measure intelligence, or if we have neurotic (we have weird, illogical obsessions) or psychotic (we think we're J. Edgar Hoover) tendencies. It fits all us normal people. Like introversion and extroversion, we all have both sides --sensing and intuition-- in our natures, just in differing ratios. Sensing people tend not to trust their intuitive inspirations. Intuitive people tend to wait for the intuitive flash before they make sense of all the sensing facts surrounding them. Because people use their preferred side more frequently, they tend to trust that side of themselves more often. That preference can be depended on to give them the solid information they can trust.

In the same way, both types, intuitives and sensors, prefer their first function (what they're best at) and tend to distrust the other side of themselves, much as you would be unlikely to operate a chainsaw with your left-hand if you're right-handed - it just doesn't seem like a good idea. Because intuitives tend not to trust their sensing side, and sensing people don't trust their intuitive side, when they run into people with the other preference in the workplace, they tend not to trust them either.

This is unfortunate, and one of the biggest sources of friction, tension and distrust in many offices (and organisations, and families). We must remember that, when face-to-face with a person of the other type, we should value them according to their strengths, and not write them off as being "flaky" or "short-sighted," simply because they don't look at things the way we do. All of these pairs (introversion and extroversion, sensing and intutition, etc.) are two sides of the same coin: the two sides complete each other. What we're good at, they may be bad at and vice versa. In all likelihood, they are a perfect compliment to the way that you work.

Has anyone had any experiences with this dynamic inside or outside work that they want to share with the class?

Henry Sharam

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Sensing, Intuition and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

This topic, and more, is covered in many books about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a short multiple-choice evaluation tool which sorts people on the following dimensions: Introversion-Extroversion (social style) Sensing-Intuitive (absorbing information) Thinking-Feeling (cognitive style)and Judging-Perceiving (general approach to life - life needs to be planned insofar as possible vs. enjoy life's opportunities presented by serendipity).

There exists a large volume of research, many books, and some online discussion about how people differ. The bottom line is that everyone needs every aspect for success in life. Some personal aspects are natural; others must be developed. The MBTI, and associated research, indicates which styles are natural for you and also helps you understand those who's personal styles are different from yours.

Quick Look

In-depth Resourse

Center for Applications of Psychological Type