The 4 MBTI Function Pairs


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One of the key aspects of psychological type is the combination of the Sensing or Intuition preference with the Thinking or Feeling preference. The possible combinations - ST, SF, NF, and NT, which form the four columns of the type table, are called function pairs because they say so much about how we function in life.

Since these preference pairs form the middle two letters of each person’s four-letter type code and define how we prefer to gather information and make decisions—our core mental priorities—they are sometimes referred to as “the heart of type.”

Determining Your Own “Heart of Type”

To get started, here’s a short self-assessment to help you select the function pair that is most like you. Which one of the following statements most accurately describes you?

  • “I am someone who is decisive, quick to take action, values facts and logic, and pays attention to details.”
  • “I am someone who is service-minded, seeks to help people in very practical ways, and is unselfish, kind, and understanding.”
  • “I am someone who is guided by my passions and beliefs, has a sixth sense about people, and works to ensure harmony in the workplace.”
  • “I am someone who is an agent of change, a person with a vision who values logical argument, competence, and independence.”

Now that you’ve made your selection, review these descriptions of the function pairs that correspond with each statement:

Statement 1
Sensing/Thinking (ST)
Statement 2
Sensing/Feeling (SF)
Statement 3
Intuition/Feeling (NF)
Statement 4
Intuition/Thinking (NT)
STs like facts, are practical and analytical, and like using technical and administrative skills for finding tangible solutions to immediate problems.SFs like using facts to provide the right practical and immediate help for people, and to create happy and harmonious environments.NFs are interested in ideas, possibilities, and theories. They like using their insight to understand and develop people, both individuals and more widely.NTs are interested in possibilities and ideas. They like using their analytical skills to solve complex problems and develop theoretical frameworks.

 Did the function pair you selected seem like a good fit? Don’t worry if you’re still not sure ... let’s dig a little deeper into this concept.

What Do the Function Pairs Look Like?

All four perspectives add value to a team or veterinary practice. When one or more perspectives are missing or underrepresented, client service, quality of care, practice profitability, and other important outcomes can be negatively impacted.

The table below provides a quick overview of what each of the four perspectives contributes to team performance.

 STSFNFNT
Motto:“Let’s be accurate and responsible.”“Let’s be practical and service-oriented.”“Let’s be insightful and inspiring.”“Let’s be theoretical and entrepreneurial.”
Like work that is:Efficient and data-orientedSocial and service-orientedCreative and growth-orientedEffective and competition-oriented
Contribute by:Developing policies and proceduresDelivering internal and external customer serviceDescribing ideals worth striving forDesigning theoretical concepts
Look for:Stability, accountability, and controlAffiliation, personal interaction, and supportPersonal meaning, self-expression, and growthRationality, opportunity, and long-range visions
Have as a goal:EfficiencyHelping othersEmpowermentMastery
Ask questions such as:“How will it be done and how much does it cost?”“Who will it affect? Who will do it and how?”“How will it be communicated and who will it impact?”“What is the latest and most relevant theory or strategy?”
Experience conflict when:Work is not done correctlyPeople disagreeValues are ignored or crossedPrinciples are incorrect or faulty
Want teams to focus on:The bottom lineOffering supportGiving encouragementSystems

Think about where some of your friends and coworkers fit on this table. How are they similar or different from you?

These function pairings—ST, SF, NF, and NT—are quite useful in looking at communication patterns, group decision making, and practice culture. Let’s return and take a look at our team at River City Veterinary Hospital (RCVH).

ISTJ
Dr. Hirsh
ISFJ
Isabel
Mary
Barbara
Judy
INFJINTJ
ISTP
Charles
ISFP
Donna
Sherry
INFP
Linda
INTP
Dr. Jung
ESTPESFP
Katharine
ENFP
Dr. Kise
ENTP
Paul
ESTJ
Jean
ESFJ
Naomi
Allen
ENFJ
Janet
ENTJ
ST = 3SF = 9NF = 3NT = 2

By adding up the number of team members populating each column of the type table, it’s obvious that the most prevalent function pair represented within the RCVH team is SF. The other pairs—ST, NF, and NT—are under-represented by comparison. Let’s see how this distribution affects team dynamics in the following areas.

Communication and the Function Pairs

To communicate effectively with others, it’s important to connect with them in a way that satisfies their preferences for gathering information and making decisions. For the majority of team members at RCVH including Isabel and Katharine - the licensed technicians we met in the last module—that means emphasizing SF.

SFs enjoy communication that is:SFs are turned off by:Keys for connecting with SFs:
  • Personalized
  • Sequential
  • Empathetic with their position
  • Practical and results-oriented
  • Complete with examples
  • Centered on building the relationship
  • Theoretical possibilities
  • Criticism of others
  • A “cookie-cutter” mentality
  • Logic without soul
  • Future projections
  • Be friendly
  • Allow for hands-on experience
  • Value their input

As you may recall, Dr. Jung sometimes gets frustrated by Isabel and Katharine’s apparent lack of interest in his long-range vision and their reticence to consider change. Knowing their preference for SF, Dr. Jung can immediately become more effective when introducing potential changes in the practice by spending less time talking about future projections and abstract possibilities (his forte) and providing detailed plans and information with lots of specific examples.

On the flip side, when team members want to communicate effectively with Dr. Jung, many of them will need to shift away from their normal style of communicating and “talk NT.”

NTs enjoy communication that is:NTs are turned off by:Keys for connecting with NTs:
  • Organized
  • Big picture-oriented, considers future implications
  • Straightforward
  • Complete with underlying theory, research
  • Full of options
  • Balanced with pros and cons
  • Being told all the answers
  • Hype
  • Administrative detail
  • Repetition
  • Short-term outlook
  • Be prepared to be challenged
  • Let them draw their own conclusions
  • Establish credibility quickly

Effectively connecting with Dr. Jung will require that team members do their homework so that they project competence and can logically defend their ideas when challenged. He will naturally be interested in technical developments and strategic improvements that have the potential to better the practice in the long run.

RCVH’s practice manager, Jean, has identified ESTJ as her best-fit type, not surprising for someone who has migrated to a management role. Dr. Hirsh, one of the co-owners of the practice prefers ISTJ (a common MBTI type for veterinarians). When talking with Jean and Dr. Hirsh, other team members will want to keep the following “ST” tips in mind.

STs enjoy communication that is:STs are turned off by:Keys for connecting with STs:
  • Short, crisp, businesslike
  • Impersonal
  • Factual and credible
  • Sequential
  • Nonbiased
  • Relevant
  • Vague statements
  • Errors of fact
  • “Surprises”
  • Untried methods
  • Brainstorming with no practical outcome
  • Be brief
  • Be sequential
  • Be responsible

A small number of RCVH team members, including their new associate veterinarian, Dr. Kise, prefer NF.

NFs enjoy communication that is:NFs are turned off by:Keys for connecting with NFs:
  • Full of new insights and perspectives
  • Enjoyable and fun
  • Big picture oriented
  • Associative, not sequential
  • Concerned with harmony
  • Fuel for brainstorming
  • Playing politics
  • Put-downs
  • Pushiness
  • Documentation, paperwork
  • Insensitivity
  • Be idealistic
  • Focus on enabling growth in others
  • Find the fun

Decision Making and the Function Pairs

Team decision making and problem solving involves collecting information and then making a decision - the two behaviors that form the heart of psychological type. Isabel Myers believed that the best way to make a decision or solve a problem is to use the four type functions deliberately and in a specific order: Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, and then Feeling. The diagram below illustrates this process.

Sensing (S)

  • Identify relevant facts
  • Act based on experience
  • Determine realistic constraints
  • Devise and implement incremental solutions
  • Question radical new approaches

Intuition (N)

  • Consider all possibilities
  • Brainstorm alternatives
  • Solve multiple problems at the same time
  • Consider the future
  • Identify trends and patterns

Thinking (T)

  • Analyze the underlying issue
  • Dissect the problem
  • Debate or argue to surface all opinions
  • Create or apply a model
  • Question fundamental assumptions

Feeling (F)

  • Involve all parties
  • Consider effects of decisions on others
  • Use values to evaluate options
  • Get buy-in from stakeholders
  • Work to get harmony on the team

In reality, when most teams deliberate, they tend to rely more on their two preferred type functions instead of using all four functions in order. For RCVH with their ISFJ team type, that translates into relying more on Sensing and Feeling (SF) since those behaviors come more easily to the team. Questions like “What already exists and works?” (Sensing) and “How will others react and respond to our decision?” (Feeling) come quite naturally.

As a whole, RCVH will have less interest, and spend less time on, behaviors associated with Intuition and Thinking. The team will be much less inclined to ask questions like “What could we do that would be completely different from what we’ve done before?” (Intuition) and “What are the purely logical consequences of the options we are considering?” (Thinking)

Team performance may suffer if all four functions aren’t considered in the decision making process. So to overcome this tendency to overlook certain less-preferred views, the team must pay particular attention to provide balance to the process and give equal voice to all four functions.

Improve Your Team Decision Making and Problem Solving

1. The next time your team faces a decision, try working through the steps in the order indicated in the diagram above.

2. Refer to the list of questions provided in Appendix 3 to stimulate the intentional consideration of each function.

3. Identify team members, or someone from outside the team, who can help your team address the functions that you tend to overlook.

Order the MBTI Assessment

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