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What is Your Dominant Thinking Style?

By Julie King |

As a business owner, having the ability to understand and relate to people is critically important.

A lot of attention has been paid to the different personalities and motivational styles people have, from Myers-Briggs to the "colours" theory that maps people onto very simple personality quadrants where green means you're intellectual, blue artistic and emotional, gold organized and orange outgoing.

Yet, while these tests address how people generally approach life, they do not address the idea that we have different thinking styles.

What are thinking styles?

Thinking styles are based on the idea that we use our intelligence differently. Elena Grigorenko and Robert Sternberg explain that a thinking styles is not a personality trait or indicator of your intelligence quotient (IQ), but an interaction of both of these elements.

Anthony Gregorc has worked on a theory of thinking styles since 1969 to provide a coherent framework for how the mind works.

Gregorc's model is based on the idea that there are different ways our minds can acquire and process information. He divides this into two main streams and four thinking styles:

  1. Perception: This is how we perceive information.

a. Concrete: Using the five senses, perception is rooted in the real world of things that can be tangibly experienced.
b. Abstract: Going beyond the five senses, perception reaches to more intangible things that are not seen, like ideas, concepts and relationships.

  1. Ordering: How we process information.

a. Sequential: People with a sequential ordering style like to organize information in a linear, sequential way.
b. Random: People with a random ordering style organize information into chunks that don't necessarily have a particular order.

When the brain processes information it will use one perceptual and one ordering approach. For example, while doing the laundry we will use a concrete sequential approach, while during a brainstorming process we will likely use a concrete random or abstract random approach.

Why does this matter in business?

While we all will use different combinations based on the task being done, many people either prefer or strongly prefer one or two thinking styles.

Since the thinking styles are literally a reflection of how a person processes information, understanding the impact this has on that person's thought process can help us communicate with them more effectively. This can greatly improve internal communications, customer development and customer relations.

Let's take a look at the four main thinking styles and what they can tell us about a person.

What thinking style are you?

Before reading further, you can test your own style using an online test. This only takes a few minutes: Test your own thinking style.

Each thinking style is described in more detail below.

Once you have done the quiz, consider: Where were you dominant and where were you weak? Or were you even across the board?

The baseline of the test results is 30 out of a total possible score of 60 points for each of the four styles. If you scored 30 or higher, then you are dominant in that thinking style. If you are below 30, then you are less likely to process information using that style.

Above 40 or below 20 show a strong preference for or dislike of that way or processing information. If you are high in a particular style, you will be strongly inclined to think this way. If you are low, you will need to be aware that you are weak in this area.

Don't be surprised if you score over 30 for two thinking styles that may actually be divergent. If you find yourself in this situation, you may discover that you have the ability to intentionally switch your approach if you find yourself encountering a challenge associated with a dominant style you are using at the time.

Understanding the four thinking styles

Understanding the "Sequentials"

The sequentials thrive on order and can be upset when interacting with people who take an abstract approach.

Concrete Sequential:

A person with this dominant thinking style likes predictability and dislikes working with teams or abstract ideas. They thrive in a structured environment and work well with clear directions where they are given time to learn a skill through practice and then repeat what they have learned.

They can be exceptional task-masters if the work outline is clear and they are comfortable with repetitious work. They dislike open-ended questions, a lack of structure, disorganized people and discussions that seem to have no point.  People with a concrete sequential dominant thinking style tend to have a black and white outlook on life.

Abstract Sequential:

Many scientists fall into this category, which combines the ability to think abstractly with a strong tendency to then process and organize information. Someone with this thinking style likes to have his or her view heard and has been described as needing to be the "biggest ego in the room."

People with an abstract sequential dominant thinking style like to work alone and thrive in stimulating environments that allows them to explore a subject in detail, without a lot of tedious or repetitive work. However, tact and the acceptance of others' ideas can be difficult for people with this thinking style dominance and they may also miss or not care about social cues, which can lead them to monopolize conversations and disrespect people with diverging views from their own.

Understanding the "Randoms"

The randoms thrive on loose connections that bind ideas together, whether they are concrete or abstract.

Abstract Random:

People with this thinking style dominance thrive on teamwork and can often perceive the unseen, like relationships. They are highly attuned to the subtext of conversations and find the health of relationships to be as important as the outcome.
People with this thinking style dominance dislike working in environments that do not nurture relationships – they dislike dictatorial leaders, narrow boundaries, unfriendly people and competition. They also like to work on things at a high-level and can be frustrated when asked to focus on one thing at a time or to look at or share exact details. One notable quality of this style is that people who are abstract random strongly dislike even constructive criticism, which they may take as being a personal judgement against them.

Concrete Random: 

Hands-on risk takers, people who are concrete random dominant are intuitive problem-solvers who like to experiment, learn from the process and then repeat the process. With a natural ability to see the big picture, they can be highly competitive and like to work through problems on their own.
Like abstract random dominant thinkers they dislike boundaries and can be frustrated by formal structures, routines and especially repetition. They also do not like to show how they got to an answer, a process they find to be tedious. People with this thinking style can be easily frustrated by repetition.

Further Reading & Resources:

Thinking Styles
Learning Styles and Index of Learning Styles

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