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The Differences Between Sensing and Intuition

Recently,  I wrote about the attitude/energy types of Introversion and Extraversion.  Now I’ll move on to what are known as the two perception functions of Sensing (S) and Intuition (N).  According to the 3rd edition of the MBTI manual:

“Perception means all the ways of becoming aware of things, people, events, or ideas.  It includes information gathering, the seeking of sensation or of inspiration, and the selection of a stimulus to attend to.”

In talking with others, I’ve discovered that the Sensing and Intuition functions tend to be the most difficult for people to understand.  Many people immediately understand the difference between Introversion and Extraversion, between Thinking and Feeling and, after a little research or explanation, even Judging and Perceiving become clear.  For some reason, though, the “S” and “N” functions take a lot of thought to fully comprehend how they play out in one’s personality.

Jung referred to Sensing and Intuition as the “irrational functions”.  By calling them irrational, Jung was saying that these functions are free-flowing, aren’t restrained by rationality.  This is not a bad thing.  These functions tend to operate best when they are allowed to behave in this manner.  For an example of irrational intuition, think brainstorming.  Brainstorming is a very valuable process that is best done under little restraint for optimal results.

What Does a Sensing Personality Look Like?

Sensing is defined as perception (information-gathering, for instance) that is gained through one’s senses.  Our senses can only tell us what’s going around us at the moment.  People who score as Sensing tend to be more aware of present realities, more practical and realistic, are good with details and have an excellent memory for details of past and present experiences.  On the other hand, sensors may find that they do not think far enough past the present to predict future possibilities.

Sensors want to know what is and not what will be.  They want to know the details of what is actually happening, not the possibilities of what could potentially occur.  When asked to free associate using the word “light bulb”, a person who employs the Sensing function might say, “glass, bright, or hot.”

What Does an Intuitive Personality Look Like?

Intuition is defined as the perception of all possibilities, meanings and relationships by way of insight.  Intuition relies on the unconscious in order to perceive new information.  Intuition goes
beyond the senses and what is immediately present.  People who employ the intuiting function tend to be more imaginative, find patterns in things seemingly unrelated on the surface, be able to think theoretically and abstractly and tend to be creative.  On the other hand, intuits may find that they miss actualities while focusing intently on possibilities.

Intuits want to know what is possible.  They want to know what could happen and then follow the patterns they find in order to see what may occur.  When asked to free associate using the word “light bulb”, a person who employs the Intuition function might say, “Thomas Edison, electricity, or idea.”

Maybe I’m Both Intuitive and Sensing!

At this point, you may be thinking, “I can see myself in both of these functions.”  I understand how difficult it is to decide the function with which you primarily work, and the rule of thumb is that if you score evenly on the MBTI between sensing and intuition, that you are a sensor.

Personally, I find myself having strong attributes of both Sensing and Intuition, but when I am not stressed or pressured; when I am allowed to function wholly as myself and not how I believe other people expect me to function (which increases my level of stress and dysfunction) I employ intuition as my primary function of perception.

This means that at my best I can be a little Pollyanna-esque, finding the best in every situation and feeling hope for the future.  At my worst, I’m a little too focused on “shoulds” and “musts” and a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.  This is not to say that all intuits are optimists and all sensors pessimists.  Other personality functions must be considered before making that conclusion.  I’m only saying that when I am true to myself . . . well, things tend to flow and life is good.

The World Needs Sensors and Intuits

No matter your type you should realize that your unique way of perceiving and gather information is valuable.  We need present-focused sensors to drive things forward with their action-oriented methods.  We need intuits to dream big and push the world forward toward progress.

When each type feels confident offering their sensing or intuitive gifts to their loved ones, their organizations and to the world we can all benefit.  When each type understands and respects the important contribution that the other type makes, we can work together in relationships, groups and, of course, the world at large.

Read all of the posts in the MBTI series.

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