Thinking style is a primary factor in communicating, information processing, judgement, problem solving and interaction with others. An individual’s thinking preference has far reaching influence over leadership, decision making, relationship building, negotiating and influencing.
Understanding our own thinking style preference and that of people and teams that we work with is important because it allows us take advantage of the strengths we each bring to team environments.
Research by the 1981 Nobel Prize for Medicine winner, Roger Sperry and other researchers notably Ned Hermann and Kobus Neethling, who built on that work, identified that the brain has four thinking styles. The thinking styles are labelled by the quadrant of the brain that controls the thinking style. That is, left cerebral quadrant, right cerebral quadrant, left limbic quadrant and right limbic quadrant.
Left cerebral quadrant thinking style is characterised by a liking for working with facts, dealing with facts in a precise and exact way, looking at problems in a logical and rational way, interested in technical aspects and seeing performance as important.
Right cerebral quadrant thinking style is characterised by seeing the whole picture and not detail, liking change and trying new things, enjoying being busy with several things at the one time, having imagination, liking to find a connection between the present and the future and having a gut feeling for new ideas.
Left limbic quadrant thinking style is characterised by liking facts to be organised and orderly, liking to work with detail, preferring safety and security to risk-taking, liking facts in a sequential and chronological order and preferring a stable and reliable work environment.
Right limbic quadrant thinking style is characterised by experiencing facts in an emotional way, liking interaction with people, feeling empathy towards others and solving problems through an emotional, not logical process. When communicating, these people make much use of very picturesque language and body language and facial expressions.
All people are dominant in one or more styles. Sixty percent of the population are dominant in any two styles, thirty percent in any three styles, seven percent in one style and three percent are whole brained, that is, equally at home with all four styles. There is no best thinking style profile. The challenge comes when people with dominant and opposite thinking styles have to interact.
People with a left cerebral quadrant thinking style preference may appear to others as being arrogant with a critical style and an uncaring personality. Those with a right cerebral quadrant thinking style may appear to be a dreamer with a messy workplace, poor timekeeping and starter but not a finisher of projects. A brain dominated by a left limbic quadrant thinking style can appear to be inflexible, bureaucratic, risk averse and unable to see the big picture. A right limbic quadrant thinking style preference may make an individual appear emotional, overly concerned with others feelings and to slow things by wanting to get too many people involved.
Communication is better defined as what is received, not what is transmitted. People filter communication based on their experience, their emotional state and their thinking style. Therefore thinking styles directly impact the quality of communication. Thinking styles also impact directly the value that people place upon one another’s worth in an organisation.
Tailoring what we say and how we say it to fit the thinking style of recipients automatically improves the quality of the communication and the value placed by the recipient on receiving future communications from us. For example, if your CEO has a right cerebral dominant thinking style (big picture, holistic, intuitive), do not put proposals to them with lots of detail. Use the classic one pager supported by visuals in the form of a slide pack.
In a project team do not put a person with a right limbic dominant thinking style (interpersonal, feeling based) in charge of a technical, tight deadline and tight budget project! However, perhaps a project manager with lower limbic (sequential, organised, detailed) and upper cerebral (logical, analytical, fact based) dominant thinking style combined with a right cerebral (holistic, intuitive, integrating) and right limbic (interpersonal, feeling based) communications manager might mean the project is run well and effectively communicated.
Understanding people’s thinking styles can be determined using web-based tools and interpretation provided by distributors of both Hermann’s and Neethling’s work and it is relatively cheap. However, we can’t always ask someone we are building a relationship with to take a test! In this case, spend some time asking questions and observing. Do they have their CDs in alphabetical order (left limbic)? Is their desk a perpetual mess (right cerebral)? Are they empathetic to the point of being annoying (right limbic)? Are they only interested in facts (left cerebral)?
So, next time you have a communication problem with your team or an individual, ask yourself who is in their right mind, left mind?…