Hard-wiring 102: Wait, I wasn’t listening. I was processing.

Ellen Patnaude, Patnaude Coaching

I have two teenagers. They could not be more different from each other if they tried. This is most obvious when it comes to how they process information and crystalize their thinking about it.

My first-born is a talker. Now let me preface all of this by clarifying something really important—


But this child? He is clearly an external processor. He makes decisions as he speaks, convinces himself of things as he explains them, repeats himself by saying the same thing three different ways, and requires immediate response from those around him. Well, if you haven’t guessed by now, I’m the same way.

Enter my second-born. This poor child doesn’t get much room to speak. And when he does, it’s direct, succinct, and after some thought. When he was young, before I figured out this difference, I would engage with him just like I did with his older brother. Which means I was always expecting an immediate reply and an animated exchange. When all I got back was a glassy-eyed blank stare, I would grow frustrated. “Why aren’t you answering me?” (finger shaking) “Well? What do you think?” (exasperated hand throw) “Hellooo, anybody in there?” (waving arms to get his attention) Judge my parenting if you must.

Turns out he’s an INTERNAL processor. He does all that decision-making, crystallizing and arguing with himself INSIDE of his brain. What tends to come out of his mouth are his conclusions. If I try to push him for an immediate response, it doesn’t end well.

You can probably peg yourself on this one if you think about it (or talk about it, whatever works best!). And you can probably figure out where your closest associates land on this scale, too. My kids are at opposite ends of the spectrum on this so they make for great examples, but you can spot this in coworkers, clients and bosses as well.

Another tell-tale sign of an internal processor is the tendency to realize what should have been said or done in a given situation AFTER it’s over. A hallmark statement of this group is, “What I *should* have said is…” While we all have those moments occasionally, that happens much more regularly to internal processors.

As for us external processors? A key feature tends to be wanting/needing an immediate response. We are uncomfortable not knowing you got that email or message. I’ve heard clients describe a coworker who will send the email, then 10 minutes later, send a text, and then 10 minutes after that, show up at their desk. Just to make sure the message/question/information was received.

Which leads to the question… what can you do to accommodate another style? Here’s are two key suggestions.

  1. Pay attention to how the other person reacts to YOUR style. Are they the same way you are or different? Maybe it depends on the situation or topic. (Because, you know, we adjust.) Look for patterns or trends—what is consistent with how they seem to process?
  2. Adjust accordingly. That might look like this: “Would it help to have some time to think about this before you let me know?” Or “Hey, I got your email. I’m working on it. I should have something for you by the end of the day.”

So? Let us know what happens when YOU try it! Leave us a comment. Because, you know, I’m an external processor. Which means I’m over here waiting for your response… (did you get the email??) Stay safe out there, and be kind.


Ellen Patnaude

Ellen Patnaude

Ellen E. Patnaude has been coaching, training, and developing people to achieve higher levels of success in a professional capacity since 1997.

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