The two middle traits of the Myers-Briggs typology (Sensing/Intuitive and Perceiving/Feeling) are the keys to satisfaction at work, whether you’re a lawyer or a carpenter. When your preferences in both those areas are in synch with the type of work you’re doing, you will feel more fulfilled and in harmony. Sounds kind of important to me.
If you match in one area but not in the other, you’re going to feel out of step with many of your colleagues, and may even find that many of the tasks in your work seem more difficult for you than your peers. If both traits differ from the norm in your profession, there’s a much higher chance you’ve been feeling alienated, incompetent and truly miserable in your work.
With that in mind, let’s tackle understanding a little more about the first trait preference, Sensing/iNtuitive.
Sensing types gather data from the physical world—they are the “just the facts” people in this world. They are literal and concrete thinkers, focused on what is, not what could be. Practicality rules the roost for them. They don’t enjoy thinking about what could, theoretically, go wrong in a situation; instead they would much rather deal with a bad situation when it occurs, because then, it has become the concrete problem they like handling.
If you’re a Sensing lawyer, you will find some areas of law much more attractive. Dr. Larry Richard notes that “within a tax practice, for example, you might not be surprised to find 70% or 80% of the lawyers prefer Sensing.” In contrast, I’d hazard a guess that there aren’t a high proportion of Sensing civil rights lawyers.
Intuitives, on the other hand, look inside themselves for answers. Richard found in his ABA Journal article that a whopping 57% of lawyers fall into the N side of the spectrum, with little difference between men and women.
I have to confess the high percentage of Intuitive lawyers surprised me—my experience with many lawyers is that they are very good at tuning out what I think of as intuition. But that’s because I was confusing “looking inside yourself” with “consulting your inner voice,”—and that isn’t what the Intuitive preference is about.
Instead, Myers-Briggs Intuitiveness is about abstract thinking, i.e., conceptualizing, being inside your head. As one article on the Personality Pathways website puts it, Intuition in the Meyers-Briggs world relates to:
understanding, exploring, creating patterns, noticing relationships, and imagining new possibilities. It is a sixth sense that involves an unconscious awareness of facts, events, happenings, and the whole of experience to produce insights about complex relationships, concepts, future possibilities, and trends.
Here’s a great description of the difference between Sensing and Intuitives, from Richard’s article: “Ask a sensor to describe the spring season and you’ll hear, ‘Spring. Starts on March 21st. More rainfall. Warmer temperatures. Green grass. Baseball season.’ Ask an intuitive the same thing, and you’ll hear, ‘Oh, spring is the time of rebirth, of renewal. It’s a greening of the spirit.’ ”
Richard notes that there is a higher concentration of Intuitives as you go up the educational ladder. That relates a lot to Sensing types’ dislike of academic learning. So it actually does make perfect sense that a majority of lawyers would be Intuitive.
Obviously lawyers that prefer Sensing are still capable of conceptualizing, seeing trends (slippery slope arguments), and seeing future possibilities. Intuitive lawyers are capable, sometimes even masterful, at dealing with just the facts before them. If you’re close to the middle on the Sensing/Intuitive scale, it’s going to be easier for you to be a chameleon in this area. I suspect that most Sensor lawyers who enjoy law fall fairly close to the middle of the scale.
If you’re a Sensing type, look for work that needs lots of attention to detail, and good recall of facts—even seemingly unimportant facts. Work that requires a very pragmatic approach, coupled with hands-on experience, is something you’ll enjoy. Situations in which you can work from the specific facts to the big picture will give you satisfaction and work well with your preferences.
Intuitives—do the reverse. OK, more helpfully, look for opportunities rich with brainstorming work. You’ll want work that is theoretical, with metaphor, images and symbols. Situations in which you can use insight and make mental leaps feed you, so find those. You like playing with ideas, so make sure your work includes that. You most likely enjoy writing, so that’s also something to keep an eye out for.
Next time? You guessed it, whether you’re a Sensing or Intuitive type: the Thinking/Feeling preference.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who is pretty sure it was the “N” part of her personality type that got her through law school and 8 years of law practice. She coaches attorneys on how to find work that matches all the parts of their unique and wonderful personalities. Contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org for a discounted sample coaching session to explore your perfect work fit.