How to Improve Communications between Big Picture Thinkers and Detail Focusers using Myers-Briggs® type

I am often asked by clients to assist with a working relationship which has stalled or worse one which has broken down completely.

Occasionally this stalling is as a result of different personalities simply not understanding each other.
A frequent cause is the Big Picture Thinker clashing with a Specific Detail Thinker. Each is a valuable contributor to an organisation and if either is stuck and inflexible in their thinking each becomes incapable of understanding or communicating with the other.

For example; Lisa is a highly competent PA to Geoff, a middle manager in a large organisation. Geoff thinks in pictures, theories and global concepts. He operates his office this way too. There are lots of coloured sticky notes on his whiteboard, beside the mind maps and coloured diagrams. Geoff is “across the big picture” and does not concern himself with the detail. He has competent technical staff that he trusts to do their jobs. He sees his role as being the supplier of vision and direction – he is good at this.

Recently he became so frustrated with Lisa that he asked the HR department to find him a new PA. Lisa was moved sideways without a lot of explanation and her workplace engagement dropped off.

The HR advisor asked me to intervene with Lisa.

After hearing her history I asked Lisa to do a Myers-Briggs® Personality Test for me, before we looked at moving forward and re-engaging her in her work.
Lisa’s pride in her work was obvious as was her frustration with Geoff and the situation she found herself in. Her complete conviction that she had done nothing wrong came across quite clearly.

Lisa is proud of her attention to detail and weaves a narrative of the number of times she has had to correct errors of fact by Geoff – including a number of times he made mistakes – in front of his team. She notes that without her guidance and constant correction of his mistakes he would heave made serious errors of judgement as a leader. Geoff was lucky to have her as his PA!

Her spreadsheet analysis and printouts of key departmental data were usually ignored by Geoff despite the fact that she put numerous hours of her own time into creating them for his benefit. Lisa is a classic Sensate. All her information is fact and sense based. If she can see it, hear it, touch it, smell it or taste it then it is real and has value.
Concepts and vision are not part of Lisa’s language and are foreign to her; Geoff on the other hand is a global Big Picture iNtuitive Thinker and relies on graphics theories and concepts. The details bore him.

They quite literally speak different languages.

Geoff needed to see the executive summary and graphs of departmental performance – he did not want to be inundated with spreadsheets of data. He also needed to be supported by his PA, not corrected in public.

As Lisa and I talked through her preferred data processing and thinking style; and her choice of language she began to understand how she had given Geoff the exact opposite of what he needed.

Whilst it is too late for Lisa to get her old job back she can take what she has learnt and start to notice the language used by her new boss.

  • Does he have detailed specific language?
  • Does he as for precise facts? Or
  • Does he use vague conceptual language?
  • Does he ask for summaries and “one-pagers” from his people?
  • Does he surround himself with people he can trust to handle the detail so that he can concentrate on the big picture?
  • Is he an intuitive thinker who needs her to adapt her style to meet his?

When we can identify the language and preferences of the person we want to communicate or build a relationship with then we have the opportunity to make it easier for them to understand what we are saying by speaking their language.

Sensates (detailed thinkers) can easily provide graphs and summaries backed up with spreadsheets if needed.
iNtuitives can adopt the language of dates; times, how’s and where’s with specifics accompanied by summaries if needed.

With the desire to build a relationship we can change the way we communicate. Usually the other person will recognise our efforts and meet us part way. If you are still unsure about your preferences, then doing a simple Myers-Briggs® Test can assist you.

Liz Cassidy, founder of Third Sigma International is a Brisbane based writer, Speaker, Mentor and Executive Coach. Third Sigma International is a Brisbane based Executive Coaching and Corporate Training business specialising in Communication Skills and Leadership Development. Myers-Briggs® Personality Tests are frequently used in workshops.

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