Problem Solving Styles Determine Manager's Approach to Making Decisions

By Mosley, Donald C.; O'Brien, Fabius P. et al. | Industrial Management, September/October 1991 | Go to article overview

Problem Solving Styles Determine Manager's Approach to Making Decisions


Mosley, Donald C., O'Brien, Fabius P., Pietri, Paul H., Industrial Management


If one process in particular characterizes the manager's or entrepreneur's job it is that of making decisions or solving problems. And the higher the managerial position, the more complex and costly the decisions faced. When you face a decision, how do you go about gathering information? What kinds of data make a more meaningful impression upon you? Do you visualize the "big picture" when making decisions or are you more of a specific facts-and-figures person? To what extent do you rely on intuition or hunches, seeing possibilities without going through a systematic problem solving process? Are your decisions more influenced by human, subjective concerns, or are they highly objective and rational?

A concept gaining rapidly in popularity as a tool for developing managers in areas such as decision making and communication focuses on the elements of an individual's problem solving style. It is based on the work of a Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, whose study of the elements of personality is synthesized in his classic treatise, Psychological Types. His ideas have been refined by Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers, a mother-daughter team who developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to measure one's problem solving style. Research has shown that the MBTI is the most widely used such instrument in management development with over 1.5 million copies sold each year.

Recognizing your own style

To help you understand the MBTI approach, a short 20-item scale entitled "Identifying Your Problem Solving Style" is included on page 8 (20-item scale omitted). Before continuing to read this article, you should complete this scale. Be sure to score yourself using the scoring instructions at the end of the scale. This 20-item measure is not a perfect substitute for the strongly researched, more comprehensive MBTI; however, it should give you a rough idea of your own problem solving style and its implications. The following is an example of the four problem-solving styles:

Sensing vs. intuitIon: Two ways of perceiving data

An important element of problem solving is how you as a manager perceive information and gain insights from the mass of data that surrounds you. Basically, humans are equipped with two distinctly different ways of doing this---hrough the process of sensing through the five senses; and through intuition, the ability to know things without the use of rational thinking processes. The two contrasting sets of characteristics are shown in Table 1 (Table 1 omitted).

According to Myers and Briggs, people who rely primarily on sensing tend to be patient, practical, realistic and good with details and facts; those who rely on intuition tend to be impatient, idea and theory oriented, creative and big picture people. Sensing types account for about 75 percent of our population, intuitive types only about 25 percent. Although each of us uses both ways of perceiving at an early age, we develop a preference for one method over the other. Thus, as managers, we tend to use our favorite function and slight the function we enjoy less.

Thinking vs. feeling

Just as there are two ways of perceiving data, there are two basic ways that managers evaluate data to reach conclusions. One way is to think decisions through, whereby they use a logical, rational reasoning process in arriving at conclusions. Another way is to decide through feeling, whereby they use innate processes that rely upon human values and beliefs. Table 2 (Table 2 omitted) lists the common characteristics of both groups.

If you trust and prefer thinking, you are skillful in dealing with matters that require logic, objectivity and impartial examination of facts. On the other hand, if you trust and prefer feeling, you tend to be adept at relationships with others and in successfully applying skills in interpersonal and human relations. Roughly, about 60 percent of males are thinkers; about 60 percent of females rely more on feeling. …

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