What is internal processing and external processing?

by Jan 19, 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, how does it vary from external processing, and (of course) what’s this got to do with improving business performance of introverts (or extroverts)?

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 that’s how you prefer to work, it’s not good or bad, but you prefer to process information internally.

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.

What is external processing?

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 tends to be an extrovert trait.

No internal processing going on in this group discussion

Talk to think, or think to talk?

What does internal processing mean?  My favourite way of describing the difference between internal and external processing is simple, do you think to talk or talk to think?

Do you think to talk or talk to think?

But there are times….

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 I love randomly directed, learning conversations and find them 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 internal processing 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. Those who prefer internal processing may not answer, those whose preference is external processing will answer more quickly.

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 a meeting your role is to ensure these benefits are achieved. This may mean 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 seemingly 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. Another important tip is to prepare for the meeting in advance, send out any notes and an agenda; allow people to think through the issues before attending. This allows people to internally process issues before the meeting (or not, if they don’t want to) and will help your team. Go on and read “5 tips to make your meetings better and include introverts” .

What’s your preference, internal processing or or external processing?

You may also like to read:

Or listen to: 

An interview with Helene Jewell of the International Association of Facilitators on how to improve your meetings.

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