A funny thing happened on the way to a party recently. It was a work party for my friend Dave’s venture capital firm. He was going with Mary, his longtime girlfriend who, just a few weeks earlier, he had asked to marry him.
As the couple was about to enter the party, Mary stopped, turned to her fiancé and asked, “Do you think what I’m wearing is okay?”
Dave gave her an appraising look and said, “You look great. But you probably could have worn different shoes.” (Insert collective gasp here.)
This is not the funny thing that happened. The funny thing that happened is what Mary said in response. She took a moment to recover from her disbelief and then said, “Are you having a “T” moment?”
Dave thought about it then nodded his head and said, “Yes, I’m sorry. You look wonderful.”
So, what’s a “T” moment? What are these magic words that can stop a bad conversation dead in its tracks?
The words come from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment. It’s a personality assessment that gives you four letters as a result, like ENFP or ISTJ. Mary was referring to that third letter, which turned out to be crucial in stopping a potential fight and helping Dave reassess his answer to her question.
Touchy-Feely or Logic and Reason?
In the Myers-Briggs model there are two main ways to make a decision—Thinking and Feeling.
Some people prefer to make decisions based on objective data. In the MBTI world, this preference is known as Thinking. Logic and external order are the parameters that rule the day.
Other people prefer to make decisions based on subjective data. This preference is known as Feeling. The harmony of the group and what one personally values are the parameters that rule the day of those in the Feeling group.
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that there’s a gender bias around this decision making process. Sixty-six percent of men prefer the Thinking process, while 66 percent of women prefer the Feeling process.
Let’s take the question of which restaurant to go to for a family reunion. Sixty-six percent of men are likely to ask themselves things like which restaurant is centrally located, which has enough room, or maybe even which has a back room. Sixty-six percent of women are likely to ask themselves things like which restaurant will most of the family enjoy, which will be affordable for everyone so no one feels awkward, and which one they’d like to go to.
The disparity works for choosing a restaurant, but oh, the havoc this difference brings to relationships. When Mary asked Dave how she looked, she was looking for a subjective answer. “I know you’re a bit nervous going to my office party as my new fiancé so I’ll do what I can to put you at ease. I’ll tell you, you look wonderful.” Her Feeling process wanted another person to offer some support.
Meanwhile, Dave’s Thinking process caused him to look at his fiancée and objectively declare she could have worn different shoes. Of course, at that point, right by the door, there was nothing Mary could have done about it. All Dave’s comment did was make Mary feel bad. But Dave wasn’t looking at it that way. He was just stating what he believed was the truth. And therein lies the common problem that causes communication crises between men and women.
The Balancing Act
To create a balanced relationship, both Thinking and Feeling must be given respect; one should not be more valuable than the other. Too often people believe that their preference is the right one while their partner’s is wrong. But in the healthiest relationships, the preferences work in concert.
Imagine if you were looking to buy a house. You’d probably look for things like a fair price, a good block, and good schools. It might also be important that the house feel like a home, somewhere you can be cozy, a place that will facilitate intimacy or has a room for your hobbies. One must be both objective and logical as well as subjective and personal.
For those 34 percent of women who prefer Thinking, logic, and preference, they must contend with being called a witch, or worse. And for those 34 percent of men who fall into the Feeling preference, they must contend with being called effeminate. But just because a woman brings an objective point of view or a man brings a subjective point of view doesn’t mean it’s of less value. It’s important that we recognize and honor the need for both in a relationship.
Once we do recognize the need for both views, life becomes far more pleasant. Like when Dave made his knuckleheaded comment about Mary’s shoes—instead of seething on the inside and holding it against him for days, or even weeks, she simply asked him, “Are you having a “T” moment?” Are you being objective and logical at a time when I need your support regardless of your objectivity?
Mary didn’t have to get upset. She had a language to call Dave out on his assumptions. Dave realized now was a time to make a decision based on how Mary would feel, not what he thought. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You look wonderful.” Crisis averted. For now, anyway.