Understanding Your Thinking & Communication Style

A classic human bias is to assume everybody else thinks the way we do, but of course they do not. Understanding your thinking style and how you manage that when interacting with others is an essential, but often overlooked skill.

Every week I spend my days coaching design leaders and in these videos, I reflect upon that the common themes and questions that came up in the week. And this week I want to talk about two thinking and communication types.



[00:00:00] Andy Polaine: A classic human bias is to assume that everybody else thinks the way that we do, but of course they don’t. And understanding your thinking style and how you manage that when interacting with others is an essential, skill in leadership and also in life.

My name is Andy Polaine and every week I spend my days coaching design leaders. And in these videos, I reflect upon the common themes and questions that come up. And this week, I’d like to talk about two thinking and communication types.

Thinking Types

[00:00:27] Andy Polaine: Now the idea of thinking types and personality types comes from, C.G. Jung. He’s the one who came up with this idea of introvert and extrovert, thinking feeling, sensation and intuition. There’s a lot more in that, and it goes quite deep, but really I want to talk about two things that come up in coaching all the time.

Introverted Thinkers

One is introverts or introverted thinkers, I would say more. These are people who typically report when they are in a meeting and someone asks them question and going to be expecting facts and figures or some kind of response off the cuff. They really struggle with it. And it’s because what they want to do is they want to sit and process and think about the stuff before they do it. Typically what happens with those people— and a thing that shakes their confidence— is they get asked the question. They get anxious about the fact that they’re being asked that question and don’t immediately have the answer. And because that anxiety is rising in them, it kind of really freezes their brain and they have the sort of rabbit caught in the headlights moment. And therefore they can’t think. In some cases they literally just stop or they just get very flustered.

There is a kind of surprisingly simple solution to this, which is just to say, "That’s a good question. I’d like to look into that. I’ll have a think about it." And then "I’ll get it back to you" and give a specific time. So it might be, I’ll get back to you in about 10 minutes about that. Or I’ll get back to you in a couple of hours or by the end of the day, or maybe you need more time and it’s tomorrow. But actually just saying, " I need to have a think about that and I’d like to get back to you" is fine.

One of my earliest coachees had this very particular thing. And he was someone who is a smart guy, really great. Just had that thing where sometimes I just need, it could just be a couple of minutes, I just need to go away and think if someone comes up to my desk and says, what do you think about this? I just can’t immediately respond like that. I like to go and think about it. And I like to put my thoughts in order, and then come back with a considered response.

And this person who was doing a very large pitch for a large public service client in Australia. To a very senior public servant. And they had been pitching to this woman for about two hours and at the end of it, the client said, "Well, thank you very much for everything you’ve shown me today. I’d like to take the time to really look through it in detail and I’ll get back to you by the end of the week."

And for him, it was a really great role modeling moment because here was someone very, very senior who was saying, I’m going to take the time to think about this, rather than just coming off with an opinion off the cuff.

And so I asked him, "Well, how did you feel about that? How did you feel that she said she was going to take this time?"

And he said, "Well, it was great. Normally someone just has some immediate feedback and it feels like they haven’t really taken it in. Whereas I actually felt that it was valuable that she was going to take the time to look through all that stuff before that work into."

So quite often the fear that is going on about saying, "Well, I’d like have to think about that. And I’ll get back to you." Is feeling embarrassed that you don’t immediately have the answer, but actually what the other person experiences is, "Oh, this person is taking my question seriously and is taking the time to think about it."

Extroverted Thinkers

[00:03:29] Andy Polaine: Extroverted thinkers, and I’m someone like this, we really need to speak things out loud in order to think them through. So that’s actually kind of what’s going on with these videos too, but often I’m talking to my wife or talking to colleagues. I will try out ideas on people out loud to really understand what do I really think, about this? And while I do sit down and I write, often in the initial stages of trying to sort of turn something over in my mind, I very much need to have someone else that I can talk those things through with.

So we’re often very happy to talk off the cuff. Ask me a question and I’ve probably got an opinion about it and I’m quite happy to say it.

The downside of that is often we talk too much and we can get a little lost in side avenues. So sometimes there’ll be this process of, well, let me tell you about this thing and oh, there’s this really interesting thing and I’m going to tell you about this other really interesting thing. And before you know, it, you’ve kind of lost people in your conversation. Because you haven’t actually done the thinking upfront. You’re doing the thinking whilst you’re speaking.

Some people you’re talking to might worry that you’re being a bit vague or you’re changing your mind, or you seem unsure about stuff. Because again, you are talking it out. If you’re more senior, there’s also a danger— and this happened to a coachee recently— where the people who are junior to that person, reporting to that person, their team just went off and executed a thing that he had just come out with as a thought. And was really expecting to have some people come back at him and say what’s your feedback on this? Let’s pull this idea apart and make it better. And that didn’t happen. He just kind of voiced an idea about something and then two weeks later they had done it and it was really surprised by it.

Knowing your type and those you interact with

[00:05:05] Andy Polaine: And so one of the things you have to kind of be aware of is what kind of person are you and who are you interacting with? People who are very process oriented and want everything very, very clear you can often send them into a bit of a panic if you’re an extroverted thinker and you’re just kind of reeling off thoughts and they don’t seem very well formed.

However, just as the introverted thinker can signal, "hey, I want to go away and have a think about this" the extroverted thinker you can also say, " I’m just thinking this out loud at the moment. I don’t really have this fully formed, so don’t get into panic about this or don’t go off and execute this. I’d really want some feedback on this. What do you think?" That can really help take the pressure out of that way.

And conversely, if you’re someone who likes things more ordered and you are reporting to that, say a boss and quite often startup founders tend to be extrovert thinkers. They’re very good at selling their ideas to people. That’s how they got their funding.

Often, if you’re on the other end of someone like that, it can all seem a little bit vague and a hand wavey and actually you need to sort of pin them down a little bit or go back to them or present some feedback to them in the moment. And not get too panicked and reactionary to that person, because that can cause you an awful lot of stress, which doesn’t actually have to be there because that’s the person just kind of reading some stuff off of their head.


[00:06:22] Andy Polaine: I hope that’s useful for you. If you’d like to check out my coaching practice, it is at polaine.com/coaching. And I’ll put the link below. If you’ve got any of your own ideas or suggestions or your own experiences of this please post a comment below. As an extroverted thinker, I like these videos to be a conversation too.

Thanks very much and I’ll see you again soon.

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