by Ron Potter

The perceiving pair in Myers-Briggs (MBTI) helps identify how you perceive the world.   Each of us has a preference for either sensing or intuition.

The Positive and Negative of Sensing

This preference is for seeing and understanding as much detail as possible.  When making decisions, the sensing preference wants the facts.  What information is available to help make a decision?

The sensing function also seems to be focused on more of the near term than the future.  In the business world I’ve seen the sensing types have the attitude that if we don’t make the right decisions at the moment, there will be no future to worry about.

The positive side of sensing is that they will often pay much more attention to detail than the intuitive preference.  Like many married couples, my wife and I tend to be on the opposite ends of this scale.  She has more of a sensing preference while I have more of an intuitive preference.

This has saved our (my) bacon many times, sometimes in big ways like purchasing a new home.  I tend to think about the overall look and feel of the home and how that will help or hurt us when we’re ready to sell in the future.  I’m also thinking about future market conditions and how that will affect our purchase.  Meanwhile, she is going through the buy-sell agreement with a fine-toothed comb and is also paying attention to the details of the mortgage.  I may be ready to buy or reject based on my preference when she’ll point out something I didn’t catch that changes my decision foundation.

The negative side of sensing is they will always want more detail.  Having more detail is always a positive thing in their preference world.  However, this can often delay decisions.

The Positive and Negative of Intuition

The positive side of the intuitive preference is that it is almost always thinking about the future.  The intuitive preference will want to know why a decision is getting made, what will be the positive and negative outcomes of that decision, and will a sensing-based decision support our future goals?

Often the intuitive preference can discount the current data.  They might ask questions like “Will this decision help prepare us for the future?” or “Should we be hiring now when the skills we need at the moment don’t align with the skills we’ll need in the future?”

Best to Use Both

Obviously, the best decisions will be made (keep this in mind when we look at the statistics) when we balance sensing and intuition.  In my consulting work, I would often say to the teams, it never really matters which side of this scale (or any of the other scales) you fall on, the key issue is balance, balance, balance!

We talked in our last blog about a technique of pausing during a team meeting to have people write down key points.  That helped balance extravert and introvert preferences.  You can also use that time to ask team members to identify meaningful details and discuss their future implications.  This helps balance sensing and intuition.


It’s important to note that in the MBTI nomenclature, we use an N for the intuitive types rather than a I.  This was done to help distinguish between introverted and intuition.  Introverted = I; Intuitive = N.  You have a preference for E I and S N.

US Population: Sensing = 74%   iNtuitive = 26%

Leadership Teams: Sensing =41%   iNtuitive = 59%

Operations Teams: Sensing = 60%    iNtuitive = 40%

Notice that Leadership Teams are highly iNtuitive.  This helps a team to be prepared for the future but can become a problem if they ignore or discount current details that the sensing preference will provide.

Operations teams need to be much more sensing focused because they are dealing with the here and now.

Balance, Balance, Balance

I’ve told my consulting clients that I don’t care if they ever remember what their natural preference is in the MBTI.   What I do care about is that they learn to balance each of the four types.  It’s the balance that brings the power of better thinking and better decisions.

I’ve spoken of a few of the CEOs that I considered the best I ever worked with.  Their common trait is that they learned to balance the preferences.  It didn’t mean that their personal preference changed.

It did mean that they had learned to balance the preferences by becoming better at asking themselves questions that their natural preference wouldn’t have thought of and by appreciating the balance they had in their leadership teams.  They never let themselves or anyone else on the team ignore the questions that may come up based on opposite preferences.

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