Decisive Differences

Decisive Differences

Another way we can differ is in how we decide.

In a book by that name written in 2009, Jonah Lehrer suggested that ALL our decisions involve the emotional part of our brain, and that without it we may struggle to make even the most simple of decisions. Indeed, those with damage to the orbital frontal cortex, which is found behind the eyes, and intimately connected to the limbic system or “emotional brain,” can have trouble deciding whether to open a door or sit down in a chair.

Despite Mr. Lehrer’s own struggles with deciding about where he got some of his facts, which subsequently lead to his book being pulled from the marketplace, he was making an important point: deciding requires the participation of the feeling parts of the brain. Or put another way, choosing implies a value judgment.

That said, Jung’s theory of psychological types suggests that some of us give less weight to those value judgments in making decisions, and can appear to be more “objective” or “impersonal” in the conclusions we reach. Such “thinking” types might be more interested in “how” or “why” things work than with “the meaning of life,” and can be less hampered by the need to make sure everyone is happy or even to consider their needs.

These traits are particularly advantageous in the realms of science and engineering, where the pursuit of a goal or an innovative breakthrough might be hampered by emotional or social considerations or concerns. They’re also valuable in business, when there are quick decisions to be made or difficult policies to be enforced.

This is not to say that engineers, theoretical scientists, and organizational leaders don’t feel. Rather, they may see their feelings as superfluous to the task at hand, or simply be less aware of their emotions and/or be less comfortable in expressing them.

In this country, approximately 60% of men have a “Thinking” style, while 60% of women have a “Feeling” style. This means that 40% of each gender prefers the opposite style, and that it would be erroneous to label either preference as more “masculine” or “feminine,” though sometimes we can feel as though we “ought” to prefer the style that is endorsed by the majority of our gender. And this attempt to “fit in” can even lead to attempts to deny or hide our particular decision-making style.

In couples, differences in thinking style can lead to disagreements and misunderstandings, as what seems “obvious” to one partner might not be to the other. My deceased husband Dave was a software engineer, and I still can hear him say, “Can’t you not do that Feeling thing?” He felt I “worried too much,” while I would wonder how he could be so blissfully unaware of the concerns of others. This would sometimes lead to differences in how we parented or how we dealt with our extended families or friends.

Terry and I both have a Feeling style, which has made it much easier to communicate with each other about what we’re thinking and feeling, as well as to reach decisions about what we want to do. It has also been something that Terry has sometimes struggled with owning, fearing that he’s “too” emotional. Personally, I LOVE that he can openly express how he feels, and that he encourages me to do the same.

In the end, neither thinking style is “better” or “worse,” and as with handedness, we have an easier time of it when we do what comes more naturally, while taking into account that there’s always more than one way to decide.

Chris Copeland

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