What is internal processing and external processing?

by Mar 29, 2021Running effective meetings

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Internal processing is an interesting phrase which good managers/ facilitators and trainers understand. What does internal processing mean and how does it vary from external processing? What’s this got to do with being introverted (or extroverted)?

Thinking out loud

If you’re thinking out loud you are probably talking to help you think things through. That’s not good, or bad, it just is. Maybe you get to “the answer” more quickly like this, maybe it’s just a preference.

This is external processing, it is an extrovert trait.

What does internal processing mean?

If you are thinking things through quietly, perhaps wanting to understand the concept in more detail before offering an opinion you’re processing internally. If you are an internal processor and that’s how you prefer to work, it’s not good or bad, it just is.

Introverts tend to think about things before talking and want a full understanding of concepts before discussing them, giving opinion or offering an explanation. This effect is weaker with close friends and stronger with strangers or work colleagues.

No internal processing going on in this group discussion

Talk to think, or think to talk?

My favourite way of describing the difference between internal processing and external processing is simple, do you think to talk or talk to think? In longer words are you an internal or external processor?

Do you think to talk or talk to think?

An impact of internal v external processing.

An extrovert will tend to respond quickly, an introvert maybe with a slight gap. Many people (especially extroverts) don’t like gap in the conversation and take them as an opportunity to say something or answer the question that’s just been posed.

If somebody always answers their own questions, by jumping in when you’re thinking (internally processing), it’s easy to think they don’t want your answer and not to bother next time – leading to disengagement.

There are exceptions….

There are times when extroverts will want to think things through and there certainly times when I love to energetically talk things through with the conversation going in random directions as we all learn about the subject.

It’s a preference; there are some close friends where these randomly directed, learning conversations are incredibly energising. Although trying to converse with a group of people I don’t know well who are all working through their thoughts by talking (that’s often called a meeting), is very tiring.

What does this mean for running a meeting?

In any meeting you’re likely to have a mix of people that think in different ways. If you insist on everybody shouting out the answer, or run a meeting like a quick fire quiz game, the benefits of the meeting will be dramatically reduced.

A team discussion allows you to learn from a range of views and to select the best action, in light of those views. As the facilitator of that meeting your role is to ensure these benefits are achieved; doing this means encouraging internal processors to talk (perhaps before they’re fully ready) and giving them space to think (which is hard when everybody is shouting out “random” thoughts).

Creating quiet time, slowing the meeting by getting people to write first, using post it notes rather than shouting out are all good facilitation techniques that will help internal processors.

It’s also good to prepare for the meeting in advance, send out any notes and an agenda; allow people to think through the issues before attending. Allowing the internal processors to prepare will help your team. For more ideas read “5 tips to make your meetings better and include introverts” .

What’s your preference, internal or external processing?

Running Meetings that make things happen

by Jon Baker

As recently cited in the Economist

For more details click here

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