RATIONAL versus RELATIONAL THINKING

Summary of JPS CycleSummary:  I am always receptive and on the look-out for other views and applications of how cognitive (head thinking) relates to and works with human interaction (heart thinking). So when I met someone at a social function a few days ago I was fascinated to hear what she had to say about Nancy Kline and her book Time to Think[a]. There is no doubt, and repeated research confirms that, if the relational environment is threatening or unsettling in any way, our ability to think clearly becomes less effective. The JPS cycle (inserted) recognizes this in its use of thinking and interactive tools, which encourage us to tune into others and be sensitive to their readiness. It is about being Rational and it is ALSO about being Relational. If we, as leaders, want to get the best answers, the best results and the best out of people in the workplace, neglecting either the relational or the rational will end in poor and unsustainable results. This is not an opinion or assumption. It’s a reality of the human community trying to live and work together. How do we bring about this Relational-Rational partnership?

 

Rational thinking

There is a Myers Briggs Type[b] Indicator (MBTI) profile which is strong I (introvert) strong N (intuitive and subjective), strong T (favours rational thinking) and strong J (structured planning and organizing). The MBTI profiles refer to them as

INTJs who are individualists who seek new angles or novel ways of looking at things. They enjoy coming to new understandings. They are insightful and mentally quick; however, this mental quickness may not always be outwardly apparent to others since they keep a great deal to themselves. They are very determined people who trust their vision of the possibilities, regardless of what others think. They may even be considered the most independent of all of the sixteen personality types.

People with this kind of relational-rational profile are well-organized to tackle novel situations (the N and J types on MBTI), but are very different from people who need to hear others’ views and perspectives. They can be great inventors and initiators and, given sufficient authority and power, will make things happen and press on to get the desired results. But they also have a liability in that, when they have to work with others, they are less likely to seek their relevant ideas and information. Relying strongly on their own insights and intuition, they may not give sufficient attention to the intuitions, insights and innovations of others who may bring better intuition, insights and innovations. Yet their persistence is admirable and to be valued in the context of an organization, provided they and others recognize the strengths they bring and they, themselves, are willing to make deliberate allowances for their natural preferences. At a workshop recently, someone whose job it is to work with others professionally, produced a profile with a low score on Feelings (awareness of the needs and feelings of others) and a strong score on Thinking (favouring rationality). He admitted that he had to consciously work on tuning into the feelings of others and hold back his natural desire to favour facts, evidence and logical thinking which he knew could alienate others. But it’s not easy to do this if one’s strong preference is otherwise. As mentioned in my previous JPS update, creative and rational thinking types, might do well at experimental research and analysis of information to reach objective conclusions. Yet they, too, may not give sufficient space for creative ideas and innovation from others.

 

Relational thinking

At the start we may wonder what “relational” has got to do with “thinking”. Thinking seems to be about being rational and logical or being creative and innovative with one’s thoughts. What do relationships have to do with “thinking”?. If we limit what happens in our brains to conscious and deliberate processing of information, the answer to this question would be that relationships with others have little to do with the way we think. The facts take us to the opposite conclusion. What happens in our brains when they produce “thoughts” which we consciously express in writing or verbally is more influenced by emotions, feelings and perceptions about relationships than our conscious and rational “thinking”. Neuroscience evidence from fMRI[c] measurements confirms this. We are more emotion and relationship driven than we realize. We think that when we produce a well-thought-through rational conclusion from facts and evidence, we are being purely rational beings. The truth is that we aren’t. So we need to learn to manage this whirlpool of relationships and emotions going on in our brains, even though we can’t call all of it to conscious attention.

What does the Myers Briggs tell us? The MBTI profile of strong E (extrovert) and strong F (attention to feelings, needs and emotions) tends to go in the opposite direction to that of the rational and well-organized thinkers. For example, a strong E (extrovert and motivated by contact with others) and strong F (influenced by feelings and needs in others), intuitive N (favouring ideas and innovation) and also a strong J (keen to plan and organize things) will have the following profile:

ENFJs are lively and enthusiastic facilitators who apply warmth and vision to helping people and meeting their needs. They are aware of people’s aspirations and develop plans of action to make those aspirations into reality. They like organisation and closure. They are at their best facilitating situations that require interpersonal sensitivity. ENFJs are tolerant and appreciative of others, seeking involvement with them in life’s tasks. They are able communicators who are liberal in showing appreciation for others.

The problem with this kind of profile for thinking and relating to others, plotted on the inserted graph for myself, is that I will need to deliberately manage my intuitions and check the facts and information before jumping in with solutions. If I am over-organized I may put off others with too much structure and negate some of the benefits of being sensitive to feelings and needs in others. This kind of shift in our conscious behaviour requires a conscious effort and practice. Joint problem solving offers this kind of flexibility and adaptability. Only profiles at complete extremes, particularly if associated with psychological maladjustment, would find it difficult to adapt their leadership.

 

The relational-rational partnership

The idea of a relational-rational partnership is not new. When I wrote my first book in 1991[d], I was strongly influenced by Rensis Likert[e] and Blake and Mouton[f], who joined a large company of researchers and writers to influence leadership focus away from a task or performance to a people focus. Then, the pendulum swung the other way, and we got back into strong focus on restructuring the organization so that everyone is doing the right job with the right people in the right way and for the right reasons (Reengineering the Organization[g]). It seems that we have to be constantly reminded that there is no permanent, one-way and perfect combination of rational and relational thinking to cater for every situation. A crisis requires the expert to tell others what to do even if they don’t like it.  To be “told” by a specialist that you have to have an operation immediately, even though you may feel and think you are absolutely fine at the time, requires “do it with no debate”. Or to be told by the fire control expert to get out the building so that he can put out the fire also requires “do it with no debate”. It would not be appropriate to enter into an in-depth participative discussion in these situations.  The trouble is that, either our personalities or years of a narrow bureaucratic or authoritarian environment can inoculate us against tuning into relationships and creativity. Alternatively, our personalities or years of an anything-goes environment can inoculate us against the need for disciplined and rational thinking.

There are no simple answers to this dilemma. We attempt, in our JPS projects, to encourage leaders and managers to be flexible by “reading” and “defining” the Situation right at the start in context, then finding time to think both rationally and relationally with the right Tools, with awareness of the Others and their Readiness to be involved, then Plan to involve them before Implementation. JPS development does not offer a formula but a process and discipline which can be learned and practised so that the JPS cycle becomes a habit and helps leaders to discern how much to push the “right way” and how much to allow the “right way” to emerge from discussion with appropriate others when managing change in an organization.

 

HJM

2nd April, 2018

 

[a] Nancy Kline, Time to Think, Fisher King Publishing, 2010

[b] MBTI is a well-established instrument to help people understand their preferences for thinking and relating to others.

[c] fMRI imaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging) shows that all rational and conscious thinking is strongly influenced by what is going on in our brains below conscious awareness.

[d] Hugo Misselhorn, Developing Management Skills, The Tongaat-Hulett Group, 1991

[e] Rensis Likert, New Patterns of Management, McGraw Hill, 1961

[f] Blake and Mouton, The Managerial Grid Gulf Publishing, 1965

[g] Hamer M, Champy J, Reengineering the Organization, Nicholas  Brearley Publishing, 1994

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