What’s the difference between sensing vs intuition again? I probably get texted this question twice a month. I think that one of the big reasons the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI) has had such staying power in the mainstream is because in general it’s a personality test that makes itself so easy to understand. We all know what introverts and extroverts are, can grasp the difference between people who act on their feelings and those who want to use reason to find their way. The last pair of characteristics, Judging and Perceiving, are a bit more opaque at first, but their working definitions that align roughly with “Type A” and “Type B” behavior is easy enough to explain.
The one pair of letters I find friends coming back to again and again, having a hard time remembering their meanings or repercussions, is the second set in the Myers-Briggs: Sensing vs Intuition. These words sound abstract and nebulous, but the concepts they stand for are important.
If you don’t know which type you are yet, take the free Myers-Briggs test here before you read through!
How To Spot An Intuitive Type
For my entire life, I’ve felt myself drawn to big-picture thinkers. I’ve always been one for details; I feel comfortable working inside of my skill set, I look to the past or to others’ experience to know what to do next, and I love nothing more than devoting my attention to making some small task perfect. I have a tendency to take life as it is, and find clever ways to operate within it. By contrast, several of my close friends devote time to thinking about how life could be better; they consider the systems that I accept as absolutes and like to tweak them. They’ll tell me not to sweat the details, to reflect more on things I wanted in the long term and think about how to get there.
My friends’ ability to take a step backward, step out of the constant now that I often find myself trapped in, to consider the big picture that sometimes seems invisible to me was a trait I thought of as a superpower. I have a much easier way of labeling these people now: almost all of them are Intuitive types, while I am a Sensing type.
Sensing vs Intuition At A Glance
When I first started reading about the differences between Sensing and Intuition, it seemed to me that one of them was obviously better than the other. Billed as the big picture, leader type, Intuitive personalities tend to focus more on the future than the past, prefer innovation over sticking to the book, and have a predilection for discussing abstract, philosophical concepts over everyday matters or personal details.
By contrast, Sensing types are more rooted in the present or the past, relying on strategies they know are tried and true to navigate life, and are irrefutably more interested in the small picture and details. I spent years envying my N counterparts, feeling like I was doomed to be forever trapped in a web of small details and comfort zones, sticking to my regular routines and traditions. Being a Sensing type felt like a limitation. Until I looked further.
Different Types, Different Strengths
While it is true that Sensing types have more of a tendency to get more bogged down in details and rules than is strictly helpful or necessary, I’ve begun to learn that being a Sensing type has its own superpowers. Intuitive types have a weakness for living in the clouds, generally more caught up in thinking about theories and philosophies to always notice what’s going on around them. Their love of abstract concepts, while a definite strength, sometimes leaves them less able to tune into interpersonal issues or small social cues happening in the moment.
On the other hand, as a Sensing type I usually feel extremely in tune with my present environment. I’m captivated by details, especially interpersonal ones, like a friend sharing a small story that will help me out when I’m Christmas shopping for them, or a passing remark on a food they love or hate, or a funny quirk I’ve never noticed before. Sensing types might not be as adept at abstracts and futures, things they can’t touch or see, but they live in a rich world full of details that help them navigate through life. The ability to pay attention to details that might elude an Intuitive type is a skillset in its own regard.
The world needs both kinds of people. Both Sensing and Intuitive types have strengths to bring into relationships, workplaces, and communities. Relationships thrive when there’s one person with their head in the clouds and another with their feet on the ground, one who wants to create a new meal out of an ingredient they just found out about and another who will always remember exactly how to make their mother’s famous chicken noodle soup. Businesses are strongest when there are people with a grand vision and ones who can make that vision a reality. I appreciate my friends’ fascination with big questions about morality and their thoughts on economic theory, and they like to read the stories I write based on a thousand tiny details that have lodged themselves inside my head. When we hold an understanding and a respect for people who see the world differently from us, we end up with a richer life altogether.