Have you ever given an explanation that your listener wasn’t able to understand? Sometimes, it’s because of an intellectual gap, but that’s not always the case.

Quite often, the miscommunication is caused by the difference in how we absorb information. Understanding that difference will help you communicate better with the people around you: your spouse, your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your customers.

In Psychological Types, one of psychologist Carl Jung‘s most famous works, he differentiated between the two ways by which we take in information: sensation and intuition. He called these the “perceiving functions.” Following the MBTI interpretation of Jung’s work, each personality type has the tendency to use one of these more than the other. You’re either a sensor or an intuitive in one of MBTI’s 16 personality types.

In a nutshell, here’s the difference between the two functions:

Sensation

Sensation, according to Jung, is conscious perception. It’s perceiving things one by one, as they are, or at least what the person has sensed about them. The information that a sensor gets is quite simple and specific:

  • This road is winding.
  • I got dizzy driving along a winding road before.
  • It’s cold inside the car.
  • There’s a big house at the corner of the street.
  • I spent my holidays last year there.
  • There’s a woman sitting beside me.
  • I met her a month ago.

Simple, isn’t it? The process of sensation stops at exactly what is sensed; as a function, it doesn’t attribute any meaning to what the mind has received as sensation.

Intuition

Intuition, on the other hand, is unconscious perception. It’s perceiving a number of things at one time in terms of what they’re related to, how they came about, and what they could be. Intuition uses data gathered through the senses to generate ideas, see possibilities, make frameworks, and grasp meaning.

Intuitives “see through” things (and people)—they tend to think that reality is a lot more than what it seems to be. An intuitive’s mind is filled with predictions and associations:

  • This road will make me dizzy.
  • I’ve always had more fun spending vacationing at my parents than with my friends. Why is that?
  • I’m probably a sentimental person.
  • This girl I’m dating doesn’t seem as sentimental as I am.
  • Will she like spending the holidays with my folks?
  • I should check out ladies who like romcom in the dating site I’m at.

Intuition forms a complex web of data out of the individual sense data that it receives. As such, the thoughts of an intuitive are inherently non-linear, and often difficult to express.

How do we communicate to each type?

Sensors thrive on clarity.

If you’d like them to understand what you’re saying, be as specific and concrete as possible. Lay things down step by step, in a linear fashion, and using observable reality as your tool. If you can give them things to see, hear, smell, touch and taste to get the message across, do it. Do not explain; demonstrate. Be generous with your examples.

The difficulty lies in explaining abstract things to sensors. I once told my mom and my sister, both sensors, about a revolutionary business model I had in mind. After talking about my vision, how the model would work, and how it would help people, I got blank stares. Then they asked me to make a PowerPoint presentation about it. Since I didn’t need them to understand it anyway, I told them I’ll just build the business and they’ll see what I mean. But if I really needed them to, I’d make that PowerPoint, fill it with photos, and give as many examples as I could.

On the other hand, intuitives associate ideas with one another.

They love analogies, similes, charts, matrices and outlines. The intuitives I know enjoy mind map presentations more than sequential slide presentations. Present your points from varying points of view, not just one. Debate with them, make them think, encourage them to envision possibilities.

The difficulty with intuitives is that if your point doesn’t reach the level of a framework, you’ll be forgotten. Intuitives have weak memory for individual data because they hardly even absorb them. If the intuitive doesn’t associate it, he most likely won’t remember it. My mom saw this in me when I was a child: I retained a lot of what I learned in school, but when she asked me what kinds of food my best friend would bring for lunch, I was totally blank.

Do you think you’re sensor or an intuitive? How about your boss? Your colleagues? Your customers? Have you ever had difficulty communicating with the opposite type? Has this difference ever gotten you into trouble?

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