"Let's start at the beginning, the very best place to start." When it comes to cognitive processing the information sources that we focus on are going to have a huge impact on how we understand the world. Differences in preference for information can result in very different views of the world. Understanding those differences is key for working effectively with others.
Preference: Detailed Hands-On Data
Some people focus on the data from their immediate surroundings that they can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Not surprising, in Myers Briggs terminology it is called a preference for Sensing. Being physically close to the information they prefer means that they are usually pretty good at remembering the details of their surroundings. It also means they have a better sense of practical causes and effects, and the appropriate application of this information. As a result, they tend to trust experience over some vague seeming theory. This close-up view of cause and effect means these folks also tend to be good at developing and following Standard Operating Procedures.
One practical way of thinking about the preference for sources of information is how we think about directions when we drive. This sensing preference is like having turn-by-turn, street level view instructions. You know to turn left at... then right at... etc. Having taken that road before or getting your directions from someone else who has, you might even have important information about potholes and other problems.
Preference: Big Picture Pattern Data
Some people focus on the larger map of how the world works. They tend to mistrust any data, including their own experiences, until they find where it fits in a pattern, or theory. The immediate connection of data to a patterns allows them to make leaps of logic. (Think of the alphabet. If I say “ABCDE” you will already be thinking F before I say it.) By extending established patterns a step or ten, they can anticipate potential problems down the road and imagine new, innovative ways of solving problems. In Myers Briggs terminology it is called a preference for Intuition, due to those characteristic leaps of logic.
Back to the driving analogy. This intuitive preference is like having a large map of the area you are trying to navigate. Having this big picture provides a sense of how the system of streets and neighborhoods work together. With this knowledge you know to drive north, and that this street will take you within a mile or so of your destination, at which point you need to head east, etc...
Working with All Kinds
The frustration tends to come in when we don't understand these differences. The person with a preference for hands-on experience may often see the leaps of logic as baseless, reckless, impractical, and even dangerous. In contrast, the person with a preference for patterns and theories may often see the focus on past experience and daily practicalities as short-sighted, limiting, slow and even dangerous.
It takes both kinds to to be successful. In this fast paced world, we need new possibilities as much as we need practical considerations. We need to attend to details so we don't fail before we achieve the big picture. Understanding these preferences is the first step towards effectively bringing both mindsets together. The next step is to find ways to work better together on a day-to-day basis.
So, if you have a preference for big picture processes, how do you work with a hands-on, detail person to incorporate their knowledge of the practical with your big picture?
- Be aware that leaps of logic come to you like breathing to the point that you may not realize it was a leap. Other people may not make the same leap.
- Communicate: stop and connect the dots, and give facts that support your leaps of logic.
- Engage: once you have anchored the details/facts of the present situation that you are already aware of to your big idea, ask them to help you fill in the gaps with practical considerations that you missed.
Also, if you are going to change a Standard Operating Procedure, then state the real world benefits of changing the current procedure and how it’s better than maintaining it. “I just want to try something different” probably won’t be seen as a compelling reason to change something.
If you have a preference for hands-on, detail processes, how do you work with a big picture person to incorporate their zest for anticipating future possibilities with your real-world goals?
- Be aware that the past and present factors that seem so obvious to you, don't always catch the eye of others.
- Communicate: ask whether they have considered factor X and factor Y, and tell them why and how a detail is important to achieving the larger goal.
- Engage: find your common goal and ask them what could be done over the next year, or two, or ten, to maximize success.
If they want to change a Standard Operating Procedure that you would prefer to keep, let them know the specific drawbacks of doing so. “This is how we’ve always done it” won’t be seen a compelling reason not to change something.
So, now you know that the data that we are aware of can be different without our realizing it. And you have some initial steps for helping people (or yourself) to gain awareness of the data they (you) may have missed. In the next article I'm going to focus on differences in the type of information we prefer to rely on to make the best decisions.