Have you ever witnessed, or been part of, a conversation that starts to turn into a conflict because both parties feel the other just doesn’t “get it”? They’re approaching whatever topic they’re discussing from different perspectives, seeking different outcomes, and/or phrasing things in a way that makes sense to them but for some reason sets the other on edge.
If you talk with one of them after this conversation, you might hear things like, “I just can’t understand why they’re so irrational!” or “Why can’t they just tell me what they actually think?” Then if you talk with the other person you could hear, “I don’t see why they insist on stirring-up conflict” or “How dare they put me on the spot like that!”
This sort of situation often develops when Thinking and Feeling personality types clash. It’s especially noticeable among the INFJ, ISFJ, ENFJ, and ESFJ types and INTJ, ISTJ, ENTJ, and ESTJ types, since these types direct their decision-making processes outward. In other words, they interact with the outer world using their judging functions of Extroverted Feeling and Extroverted Thinking. If you’re not familiar with function theory, click here to read “The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs® Functions Ever.”
One of my favorite applications for personality type theory is using it to better understand people who don’t see the world the same way as us. As I explained in a post a couple weeks ago, both Thinking and Feeling are considered rational functions. These two ways of decision-making use very different foundations for their rationalizations, however. And if you’re not aware of how that all works, then it can lead to quite a bit of frustration when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t share your type’s preferences.
1) Understand How Thinking and Feeling Work
The first step to learning how to resolve conflicts between TJ and FJ types is to understand how and why they process things differently. Lenore Thomas says that “the Judging functions prompt us to note how things usually happen and to organize our behaviors accordingly.” Thinking and Feeling are both called rational functions because “Rational behavior is always based on predictability — things we know to be true because they happen regularly in the same way” (Personality Types, p.39).
Whether you use Thinking or Feeling doesn’t determine how much emotion you feel. It just describes the criteria you take into account when making decisions and organizing your behavior. That, in turn, affects how much you use your emotions in those situations.
Thinking types take into account impersonal rules, laws, and principles. They prefer to use logic when defining terms and problems or ranking their choices. They also tend to look at general trends. In contrast, Feeling types tend to focus more on specific, personal criteria. They prefer to use shared beliefs, values, and moral sensibilities when weighing their options They also identify with others and check-in with their social groups.
2) Recognize That These Types Value Different Things
When a conflict arises between TJ and FJ types, it’s important to realize that they each have different values that they’re bringing to the conversation. For Thinking types, right and wrong is impersonal and based on accurate, logical rationalizations and facts. Feeling types, however, view issues of right and wrong through the lens of relationships.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose a TJ and an FJ type are both talking with a third person about their thoughts on a certain political issue. The TJ type voices their opinion based on criteria that they see as logical and impersonal. They’ve worked hard to separate their judgement on this matter from personal considerations or their relationship to other people. The third person then voices a different opinion, and both look to the FJ for their stance on the topic.
For the FJ type, what they think about the topic takes a back-seat to how their answer might affect their relationships with the other two individuals. FJ types will often downplay their own opinions for the sake of maintaining social harmony, especially if they think the degree of relationship deserves such consideration. This behavior often strikes TJ types as irrational and even dishonest, but it makes perfect sense to FJs. It would be irrational from an FJ perspective to risk damaging their relationship with other people by openly disagreeing with one or both of them.
3) Take The Time To Listen
Anytime we’re having a discussion with another person we need to listen to what they’re really saying, not what we think they’re saying. Even if you’re pretty sure you know where they’re coming from, it’s often a good idea to practice reflexive listening and make sure that we’re understanding them properly. This is even more important when we’re talking with someone who has a different personality — and therefore different ways of processing information and/or making decisions — than we do.
All too often, we hear something that the other person didn’t intend because we’re filtering it through the frame with which we see the world. Going back to our example political discussion in the last section, it would be easy for the TJ type to assume that the FJ type is afraid to voice their opinion. They might even think the FJ doesn’t process things deeply enough to even have an opinion. Similarly, the FJ type could easily decide that the TJ type enjoys starting arguments and has no regard for social conventions and boundaries.
In reality, the TJ and FJ types in this situation have simply missed what the other person actually cares about. Because they have different priorities, they both assume the other doesn’t care at all. If they walk away at this point there’s a good chance they’d each have a damaged opinion of the other. But if they were to keep talking and really listen to each other, they could start moving toward understanding.
4) Make A Deliberate Effort To Speak The Other’s Language
As you really start to listen to people with other personality types and study how the different types’ minds work, you can also start to figure out what the other person needs in a conversation. Now we can make an effort to frame our conversations in a way that is comfortable for the other person.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop using your personality’s favorite ways of approaching the world. But it does mean recognizing and allowing for the fact that you’re each approaching things differently. For example, the TJ type from our example could have told their FJ friend something like, “I don’t want to start an argument; I really just want to hear your honest opinion.” And if there was another person around, the TJ might wait until they and the FJ type were alone so the FJ felt more comfortable sharing their thoughts without worrying about what the other person listening in might think.
On the other side of this predicament, the FJ type would need to understand that not every disagreement equals a “confrontation” from other types’ points of view. In fact, the temporary discomfort of taking a risk and sharing your perspective might actually strengthen the relationship. Creating harmony in this situation involves understanding what the TJ type is actually asking for — an exchange of ideas, not necessarily an argument.
5) Learn To Value The Other’s Perspectives
Of course, all these tips assume that misunderstandings between TJ and FJ types are unintentional and that both sides want to have a good conversation. The tips aren’t going to work was well in situations where one or both parties refuses to see things from someone else’s perspective or where they’re looking to pick a fight.
One of the most important things for all of us to recognize is that there’s value in other people’s perspectives. If you refuse to admit that someone who thinks in a different way than you has the potential to contribute something valuable, then resolving conflict is going to be difficult. “Conflict resolution” is not a code-phrase for “make other people think the way I do.”
FJ types and TJ types (all types, really, but that’s who we’re focused on today) have valuable perspectives to offer the world. By using Myers-Briggs® theory to help us understand how the different personality types work, we can also learn to value what each brings to a discussion.
What problems have you noticed trying to resolve conflicts with people whose Thinking/Feeling preference is different than yours? Do you have any tips to share with the rest of us?
Featured image credit: un-perfekt via Pixabay