“Just Tell Me What to Do!”

M-types, does this sound familiar? You’ve just spent an hour in deep discussion with your s-type processing a situation did not go as you would have liked. You’ve clarified your intentions for similar scenarios and spelled out the logic behind how you’d like things to be handled in the future. You finally feel like you’ve explained things clearly, when your s-type looks at you in bewilderment and says, “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!”

Your heart falls…and your blood pressure rises. Didn’t I just do that? Were they even listening?!

Polarity in M/s doesn’t just mean who’s leading and who’s following. It can mean navigating differences in what you might call mental orientation or thought process.

Here’s an analogy. In Western philosophy, Plato is remembered for his theory of Forms, which he imagined as the abstract universal principles behind reality. Plato argued that we can only understand the world by contemplating these principles, which exist prior to any real-life examples of them. We recognize a chair because we have an inherent understanding of “chair-ness,” which this specific chair embodies. This perspective is called Idealism. Plato’s student Aristotle, on the other hand, taught that we could best understand reality by examining concrete, real-life examples and then building a theory that explains them. We recognize a chair because we’ve seen many chairs and from those examples, we have developed criteria for what constitutes a chair as opposed to a table or a stool. This is Empiricism, which forms the basis of modern science.

Plato’s Idealism is a top-down or whole-to-parts model, based on deductive reasoning. Aristotle’s is a parts-to-whole approach that uses inductive reasoning. Both views can be rigorously logical, but they reflect fundamentally different approaches to problem-solving.

The M-type who explains their intentions by imparting principles is following in the tradition of Plato. “Here is the general idea; it’s up to you to figure out the application.” The s-type who wants a clear directive is more in line with Aristotle: “But every situation is different! The principle doesn’t always apply.” That s-type needs clear protocols.

Again, neither view is inherently more logical than the other. The s-type who needs protocols is not being “emotional” or less intellectual; they are just exhibiting a different philosophical approach to dealing with the problem. They are busy building a model of reality by examining multiple instances of related situations (gathering and analyzing data) and drawing conclusions from them (forming a hypothesis). In other words, they are applying the scientific method to the situation. Interestingly, the result will be similar to the top-down, Idealist approach: The s-type will, over time, learn how to respond to unexpected situations by accurately predicting what the M-type would want and then doing it.

My advice to Platonic M-types is to respect the intellectual needs of Aristotelian s-types by giving them clear directives early and often. Then, if you must spell out your reasoning, go ahead, but make your explanation as succinct as possible. Understand that, while you are laying out your ideal at length, their brain is coming up with the many real-life scenarios in which the application is anything but obvious. Remember that your s-type wants to do the right thing and please you. Set them up to win by making directives clear and specific. In ambiguous situations, give them a way to verify their hypothesis with you before taking action (e.g., give them leave to text you for clarification).

You can also make a game of it. Look for situations in which your s-type tends to get stymied by options and ask them, in a low-stakes way, what they imagine your preference might be. If they are right, wonderful. If not, don’t just explain your reasoning; ask for theirs. It will give you insight into their thought process and help you understand how best to communicate your intentions to them in the future.