Keeping Time in The Dance of the Relationship: It All Depends on How you Look at It

Keeping Time in The Dance of the Relationship: It All Depends on How you Look at It

The Extraversion/Introversion orientation isn’t the only way we differ in our approach to life.  We also differ in how we notice, attend to, acquire, collect and recall information. As in the story of the blind men and the elephant, where each declared the elephant to be completely like the part they could feel, you might say that what you ”see” depends on how you look at it.

Again, there have been many ways of describing these differences. Learning style theorists speak of Abstract versus Concrete learning, with the Abstract style seeing possibilities and the Concrete style dealing with the facts at hand. They also distinguish between Sequential and Random ways of acquiring and processing information, with the Sequential style describing a more linear acquisition and analysis of information and the Random style referring to a more diffuse or divergent one. These different approaches to information gathering and processing combine to make four basic learning styles: Abstract-Sequential, Concrete-Sequential, Concrete-Random and Abstract-Random.

In the Jungian typology assessed by the Meyer’s-Briggs Inventory, the different ways of acquiring information have been labeled Sensing versus Intuitive, with the Sensing style being more concrete and sequential and the Intuitive style more abstract and random. In general, Sensors see the details while Intuitives see the big picture. Both are important, but each of us can feel that our way of knowing takes in what is MOST important.

One of the ways we can readily see the effects of these different styles is in our approach to time.

If you ask someone with a Sensing style to write down the words that come to mind when they think about time, they are likely to respond with a list that includes such words as: “day, hour, minute, second, calendar, clock, watch, schedule, year, appointment, deadline.” Sensing types look at calendars and clocks, note the date and time, arrive punctually, and leave in a timely manner.

But if you ask someone with an Intuitive style to say what comes to mind when they think of time, you might get such responses as: “some, not enough, infinite, limited, fleeting, intangible, interminable, hurried, marching, lingering, and disappearing.” Or as my older daughter Shaun has responded: “One, two, skip a few…ninety-nine, a hundred.” Intuitives don’t necessarily know what time it is and can have trouble keeping to schedules.

And in relationship, as in dance, differences in timing can lead to stepping on toes.

As an Intuitive type, I have a somewhat ambivalent and even skewed relationship with time. I have had watches given to me as gifts, and have even worn one a time or two. I usually underestimate the time it takes to accomplish future events, and enthusiastically pack activities into my schedule. But as the date grows closer, I can have serious second thoughts, and want to bail.

Terry, as a Sensing type, is keenly aware of time. He puts on his watch first thing in the morning, and refers to it continuously throughout the day. He is punctual, reliable, efficient, and would prefer not to over-schedule activities. He tries to be patient with my sometimes laissez-faire approach to time, but can find it a bit trying.

Sensors and Intuitives can also differ in the degree of attention we give to other details, including money and clutter. Terry pays attention to how much money we have and how much we spend, and readily admits he has “random accounting disorder.” I like to feel financially secure, but don’t want to look at the details too closely. We both like a tidy house, but I’m more concerned about the overall aesthetics of my living space than the crumbs on the floor. Guess what Terry notices?

These ways of knowing can be much like different languages. Sometimes what is “obvious” to one may be completely overlooked by the other, and vice-versa. The trick is to find a way to recognize and to respect the differences, even though there may be no direct translation.

As in tango, it’s not whether you “dance” perfectly, but whether you keep the connection.

Chris Copeland

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