We External Processors


Some of us are external processors: we don’t know what we think until we hear ourselves say it. We are very good at generating new ideas, engaging others, adding energy to a conversation, and breaking the ice at parties.

We also can ramble, repeat ourselves, and generally drive our more logical, think-before-you-speak colleagues around the bend. As we are busy listening to what we’ve just said to see if it makes any sense at all, they are wondering how we can be that enthusiastic about this topic and why we can’t stop after our second re-explanation.

If you are one of the external processors clan, here are four tips to help:

  1. Ask permission. While there is nothing wrong or right about thinking out loud, your think-then-speak colleagues can be put off. Asking ahead of time for their okay to think out loud helps you put forth your best work and shows them that differences in style aren’t such a big deal.
  2. Let there be silence. “We were about to have a full millisecond of silence. Luckily, I was able to fill the void with a tangential comment.” We external processors can fall into the trap of needing to fill the gaps in conversations. Get comfortable with the power of those gaps to process insights and surface wisdom.
  3. Ask questions. Direct your creative mind toward framing relevant questions. Questions encourage others to participate. And they give you time to think before speaking next.
  4. Match. You can reduce the miscommunication, misunderstanding, and conflict you might have with others by temporarily acting as they do. Match their pace of speech, tone of speech, and body language for even a few seconds at the start of a conversation. They will appreciate it.

And, if you are one of the think-before-speaking clan, we sometimes misunderstand you and end up feeling rejected. Give us a smile every once in a while. Thank you.


In your corner,


PS: I repeat myself for emphasis. I repeat myself for emphasis.


Today’s photo credit: Rainbirder via photopin cc

2 thoughts on “We External Processors

  1. Mike
    I didn’t realize that I am an external processor until some time into my career. My natural style (based on patterns that I developed as a child) is respectfully interupting each other and completing each other’s thoughts – particularly when I get excited or passionate about something.

    I’ve learned that there are some people who absolutely cannot intereact this way – even when I tone down my natural style. For 2 people I’ve worked with they have specifically made a comment to me which clearly indicated that they needed me to interact differently.

    For these specific people I have to force myself to
    1. leave empty air space for them to think
    2. ensure that they are able to communicate in a “block” of air time which allows them to finsh their sentences and communicate complete thoughts.

    I still find it difficult to practively identify these people. Even when I do, it is really hard to keep my mouth shut.

    1. Hi Debbie,

      Yes, it can be hard to notice when the other person has a different style. One trick is to sense the resistance internally. We will physically feel bad–or, at least, off–when the other person is somehow defending against our style and/or we are defending against theirs.

      You clearly understand the win-win value of flexing your style. As an external processor myself, I appreciate your specific tips for giving the other person space to think and speak. You may also benefit from giving them time away to think. External processors tend to solve and resolve in (a single) conversation. That is scary to internal processors. They would like time to themselves to go away and process before committing to a solution or resolution.

      Scary to external processors can be the uncertainty about how long it will take for the internal processor to process. At the end of the conversation, as you are offering the other time to consider, ask them by when they will be done and, optionally, what support or information they would need.


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