Are you an internal processor or an external thinker?
You’re in a meeting to solve a big issue in your organisation. Are you joining the cacophony of conversation and talking your ideas out loud? Or are you quietly processing everything that’s being said and coming up with an ‘obvious’ solution that take the best from the conversations around you and your personal experience? (Sometimes a day or ten later!)
External thinkers explore ideas by verbalising the volume of words pouring through their mind. Their words are exploratory, rather than a firm point of view. Talking out loud enables them to become aware of what they think. Conversation provides clarity for an external thinker – be prepared to hear them out without cutting short their thinking process.
Internal processors process their ideas inside their head and will rarely say anything until they’ve considered all aspects and come to a conclusion that is succinct and efficient. Silence provides clarity – be prepared for long periods of silence punctuated with pithy observations.
Internal processors may seem slow and unimaginative because they don’t commit immediately and may not change their mind easily once committed. On the other hand, external processors may seem a little ditzy and unstable to their more thoughtful counterparts, being willing to bounce between ideas and opposing possibilities until they find something that works.
There is no right or wrong here. What is useful is having a sense of which type of processor you and your colleagues are, and allowing for those differences.
If you’re working with an internal processor:
- Give them all information in advance and allow them enough time to think it all through.
- Know that it can take them a little time to get back in the zone if you interrupt them with your latest idea every few minutes.
- Know that you’ll receive a logical response with fine distinctions that will identify any flaws in the system.
If you’re working with an external thinker:
- Indulge them by engaging with their ideas at least some of the time or their enthusiasm and contribution may decrease.
- Know that their responses will be in the context of the external world.
- Enjoy their capacity to implement and accomplish targets quickly.
If you are an internal processor working with an external thinker:
- Trust that a great plan can come from that flurry of ideas.
- Know you don’t have to point out all the weaknesses in the ideas of the external thinker up front.
- Take yourself off for quiet time when you need to!
If you are an external thinker working with an internal processor:
- Don’t tell them every single idea that flows through your mind.
- Add a disclaimer that you’re just tossing ideas around, so that they don’t feel the need to respond to everything you say.
- Be patient and trust their ability to create internally and commit to their choice.
Neither style is better or worse than the other. If you make allowance for the style of the people you work with, you’ll find more harmony in your collaborative work.