Loving What Is Different

My husband and I were enjoying a lovely dinner one evening and I was sharing some emotional event. He paused and said, “It must be hard to go through life with feelings.” I stopped, took a moment to process what he said and the significance of it, before we both burst into laughter.

Meyers-Briggs suggests there are personality types which shape how we experience the world and makes decisions. When I took the Myers-Briggs test, I learned I am an “INFP.”  The personality types are:

  • Extroverted (E) vs. Introverted (I)
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

I don’t know if humans can be categorized into neat boxes, but when I took the test, I learned something really interesting: 66% of all female lawyers are “Thinking” types compared to only 35% of women generally, while 81% of male lawyers are “Thinking” types.

Why does this matter? Because understanding our differences and recognizing that we do not experience the world in the same way is critical for fostering healthy interpersonal relationships.

In an ABA Journal article, Larry Richard, JD, PhD, describes Thinkers vs. Feelers.

Thinkers make decisions in a detached, objective and logical manner.They employ syllogistic thinking, and make a conscious effort not to let their personal preferences get in the way of making a “right” decision. Feelers, on the other hand, prefer to make decisions by using a more personal, subjective and values-based approach. Because of their objectivity, thinkers tend not to take conflict personally. Really strong thinkers actually look for ward to a good argument.Feelers, on the other hand, typically are uncomfortable with conflict, take conflict personally, and seek to promote harmony. Thinkers tend to be attracted to the law for its intellectual challenge, whereas feelers often enjoy the law because of the opportunities to help people.

Dr. Richard suggests this difference can lead to firm miscommunication where Feelers believe there is value in “gradual, individualized and personal approach” and Thinkers will view this as a waste of time and inefficiency. It can also lead to miscommunication with clients. Imagine that you’re a Thinking type speaking to a Feeling client. You may be perceived as being insensitive or uncaring.

Here’s another description of Thinkers vs. Feelers:

Thinking individuals focus on objectivity and rationality, prioritizing logic over emotions. They tend to hide their feelings and see efficiency as more important than cooperation.

Feeling individuals are sensitive and emotionally expressive. They are more empathic and less competitive than Thinking types, and focus on social harmony and cooperation.

My husband is a lawyer, and is not surprisingly a Thinking type. We learned early in our marriage to continually commit to understanding each other — rather than engaging in a typical lawyer’s role of judging right and wrong. It’s not a question of is Thinking type or Feeling type “better,” but rather, how can we use our strengths and recognize our weaknesses for the best outcome in every situation?

In the lawyer world, we place a heavy emphasis and bias towards Thinking types’ way of understanding and operating in the world. Feeling types are told we’re “wrong” for our views and rather than being encouraged to share our perspective, which encourages understanding our clients’ (who are, by the way, at least 50% Feeling types), the opposing side, the jury’s, and the judge’s emotional state, perspective, creative thinking, and problem solving, Feeling types are often met with hostility. Feeling types are perceived as “different” and therefore, this characteristic is undesirable by her peers and her law firm.

Yet, social psychologists have studied and found that it’s far more effective to convince people through their heart and their emotions rather than through intellect.

Last week, I wrote a post about diversity (or lack thereof). When we look at diversity of a law firm, we need to look beyond gender and race. We must also become more sensitive to these personality differences and learn to embrace it. It’s the doorway to understanding our clients, our fellow co-workers, and humanity better.

This past weekend, I spent time at a women’s retreat at Esalen. What struck me after spending an entire weekend with this group of amazing women is how the “masculine” has dominated so many industries and there’s a lack of balance between the “feminine” and the “masculine.” Just as Thinking and Feeling types experience and approach the world very differently, so do the masculine and feminine. Women, who often have more femininity than men, feel as though we have to abandon our feminine selves in exchange for achieving success in a highly masculine, male-dominated world. This is unfortunate because as an organization, you’re missing a body of voice and opinions that can lead the organization from good to great.

P.S.I’m offering a free Better Lawyering Through Mindfulness Webinar on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 11:00 AM PST/ 2:00 PM EST. I invite you to join me!