What if you were tasked to write with your non-dominant hand for a week? You could probably grasp a pen, but how long would it take you to sign a credit card receipt?
In his pioneering work “Psychological Types,” Swiss psychologist Dr. Carl Jung wrote that we all have different psychological preferences, or preferred modes of operation, with which we tend to be most comfortable. Although it’s a rough analogy, thinking about how strange it would feel to write with your non-dominant hand can be a good way to begin to think about the concept of our preferred psychological functions.
When used in the workplace, an understanding of our psychological functions can serve an important role in giving individuals, teams and organizations a unique competitive advantage. Darren Kaplan, CEO of data-driven decision consultancy company hiQ, writes, “When you understand human behavior, you improve your chances of making your business succeed.”
But how can your psychological functions impact the way your business functions? Let’s run through each of Jung’s three psychological functions (attitude, decision-making and perceiving) to see the scope of what’s at stake.
Introversion and Extraversion
Entrepreneur and speaker Alex Pirouz writes, “One of the most important steps you can take toward achieving your greatest potential in business is to learn to monitor your attitude and its impact on your work performance, relationships and everyone around you.” Jung defined “attitude” as the way we react to outer and inner experiences. He named these attitudes introversion and extraversion and used the terms to refer to our preferred way to orient ourselves to the world.
One of the reasons understanding your own attitudinal preferences is important in the workplace is their impact on your ability to navigate different environments and contexts. For instance, if a person with a high introverted preference is in an intensive off-site meeting and does not find ways to recharge their batteries intermittently, it’s likely they could become burned out from overstimulation. By the same token, if a person with a strong extraverted preference works on a remote team and doesn’t receive enough opportunities to collaborate with colleagues, they may start to feel disengaged and anxious for more interaction.
Thinking and Feeling
In a 2006 article for Harvard Business Review, Bain & Company partners Paul Rogers and Marcia Blenko wrote, “Every success, every mishap, every opportunity seized or missed is the result of a decision that someone made or failed to make.” Decision-making preferences can be difficult to recognize in ourselves and others. People with a preference for thinking through decisions usually prefer to process information in a logical and analytical way and consider what their decision will impact. People with a preference for feeling, on the other hand, make decisions based on personal values and prefer to consider who is going to be affected by the decision.
In the workplace, an awareness of how your manager makes decisions can be helpful in anticipating what’s ahead for your team. For example, a leader who makes decisions with a strong thinking preference could come off as distant or cold to their teams, when they are simply trying to base their decision on the facts. Similarly, a team could easily become frustrated with a leader who has a strong feeling preference if they don’t believe the leader has considered and analyzed all of the factors related to a given situation.
Sensation and Intuition
Jung described a third set of preferences, “sensation and intuition,” as how we perceive and interpret the world around us. He said that we view the world using a combination of sensation, to record the sensory details, and intuition, to see patterns, make connections and interpret meaning. Both modes of perception are at play in every part of our lives, especially when it comes to business. Author Sophy Burman told the Huffington Post, “Everybody is connected to their intuition, but some people don’t pay attention to it as intuition. I have yet to meet a successful businessman that didn’t say, ‘I don’t know why I did that, it was just a hunch.’”
Understanding how the perceiving function impacts your working habits can be especially helpful in working in team environments. For instance, a colleague with a strong sensing preference may often be focused on the “here and now” and may not look at how the project they’re working on today may impact the project they will take on tomorrow. On the flip side, a colleague with a strong intuitive preference may be looking far ahead into the future and have difficulty putting pen to paper and completing the project that is needed today. In this case, both people would have to flex their preferences to deal with both the actualities and the possibilities in order to finish a project.
While Jung’s work wasn’t intended to shape business psychology and the improvement of working life, it has the power to do so. Janet Crawford, CEO of Vascadence, says, “Business leaders who understand biological programming and can leverage it possess an enormous advantage.” By heightening our awareness of our psychological preferences, we can mitigate our natural tendency to become fixed in our current behaviors and meet the demands of our professional lives with greater ease, efficiency and effectiveness.