Myers Briggs: A Dilemma in Problem Solving Approaches

Imagine you manage a restaurant.  It's been a busy night, so when a woman and her four children finish their meal but continue to sit there, you tell the staff to clear the table.  The family still sits there, until the youngest child, a cute toddler, starts to cry. The woman takes the baby out, admonishing the older children to behave and mind their manners.  After some time, you notice she hasn't returned, and one by one, the children have drifted out the door.  When the last ones move toward the exit, you follow and discover Mom hurrying to strap her children into a run-down car.  She tells you she's a single mom with a limited income.  She admits she ate in your restaurant, aware she couldn't pay.  What do you do?

Some of you look at the facts, analyze it carefully, and use a logical, objective approach to the decision.  Maybe if she told you first, you might have done something for the family, but she didn't. Letting her do this without any penalty is wrong.  You can't set a precedent.  You call the police and/or social services.

If that doesn't sound like you, then you might be the person who takes a more subjective approach to problem solving.  You step into the problem, try to understand it from the perspective of its impact on other people. You look at the children and the Mom. You agree her actions are wrong, but you try to help her.  You let her leave without paying.  You might offer her a job to help pay back what she owes.  You help her find programs meant to help in such cases.

In the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), this third dichotomy looks at your approach to problem solving.  The first response, a more analytical one, fits the Thinker's preference.  The second, more personal approach, fits the Feeler's preference.

Before you judge, Feelers think and Thinkers feel.  They examine problems differently. In many cases, they might come to the same decision, but they get there through different thought paths.

The Thinkers are analytical and logical in their approach.  They look at the situation from a distance, not becoming involved. Rules are meant to be followed.  Fairness means everyone is treated the same.  Often, this comes across in a more blunt, no-nonsense way of communicating.

The Feelers focus on creating an environment of harmony and empathy. They place themselves in the situation and look at it through the other person's eyes. Fairness means each person is unique and receives the treatment that fits them.  Often, this comes across as a friendly, but sometimes over-involved, approach to problem solving.

Each of these approaches has its good points and bad points.  In the situation posed above, there isn't a perfect answer no matter what you do.  As in my last two posts, Our Energy Source and Gathering Information, these differences can create conflict between people.  The Thinker might alienate people with their blunt, no frills approach to communicating.  The Feeler might be taken advantage of because of their empathetic approach.  The two work best when they work together to balance each other in a problem solving situation.

As in the other aspects of MBTI, we use both of the preferences, but there is one you gravitate toward without much thought.  It's your first inclination.

So, what would you do if you were the restaurant manager?

Mother and child image courtesy of DavidCastilloDominici\


Unknown said…
30 years ago, I would have called the police and social services. Today I would let her go, give her a little cash and tell her that if she came back to my restaurant, she'd have to pay before she ordered. If she's taking advantage of me, I can probably afford it this one time. If she's not, at least she knows where she stands with me. And, of course, I would tell her and her children that God loves them and so do I...
Carol, as Christians we find ourselves leaning towards compassion. Our MBTI type never changes but our environment can tweak it. Sounds like yours has.
Sherry Boykin said…
I'd give her a pass and tell her every Tuesday night was on me.
Sigilkitty said…
My big concern here is that by letting the mother off the hook, I would be hurting the waitstaff. Many restaurants require the server to foot the bill if a customer leaves and even if, in this example, such a policy were not in place, the server is still losing out on tips due to a customer that ate at a restaurant knowing they couldn't pay. Responding sympathetically to the mother might be perceived by the waitstaff as a lack of concern with how _they_ were impacted by this behavior and result in a loss of morale. This could in turn lead to losing my best servers. As a manager, my primary responsibility would be to the employees working under me.

Another important point here is the fact that she had her children with her. In this case, she's ostensibly teaching her children that it's okay to steal from a restaurant and shortchange your server if you don't have the money to go out to eat. Presumably, there are other resources she could have utilized if it were simply a matter of feeding her kids (food stamps, soup kitchens, church food collections for the poor, etc) and even if these were lacking, if she really believed she had to steal, she could always do it from a supermarket so that her kids wouldn't know. However, in this case, she's actually teaching her kids to engage in illegal behavior, which could have considerable repercussions for those kids a few years down the road.

Assuming it was up to my discretion I don't know if I'd call the cops, but I certainly wouldn't give her a job. I would definitely ban her from returning to the restaurant, though, and do everything in my power to convey the seriousness of the offense. I might also warn her that while I wasn't going to report her this time, if she tried to return, I'd call social services.
Valid points made by someone who approaches the situation as a Thinker. Remember this is just an exercise to help people reveal their type; it's not Ana actual event. When we explore this dynamic in the training workshop, Thinkers give me very similar reasons and Feelers give very different solutions. It's how we're wired.

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