Think to Talk or Talk to Think?

I have two colleagues with whom I participate in a “coaching trio” every Wednesday night. Our “Fab Three” of Certified Business Coaches serves several purposes, including these key three:

  1. I recieve excellent coaching each week from which I benefit personally and professionally. The more I am coached and coach others, I continue to be amazed at the breakthrough thinking, actions and results that can be achieved.
  2. I am able to observe and share my observations with two other experienced coaches in a highly constructive, safe and helpful format. Likewise, my coaching is observed with a critical ear as well. Through both observing and being observed I am able to learn and develop among friends.
  3. I am able to coach two more extremely “coachable” subjects each week. My coaching partners on Wednesday evenings know the value of bringing real issues to bear, which helps keep my coaching abilities sharp with all my clients.

It is this final value of our “Fab Three” relationship that has my special attention this week. When coaching Cindy, sometimes she will open our coaching session with a long, detailed description of her situation, providing both context and intricacies of the opportunity or challenge she is working on. I admit that sometimes I wonder if she just wants to “think out loud” or if she’ll allow me – or even needs me – to ask a helpful question. On the other hand, when coaching Cheryl, she is very succinct and to the point. I find myself asking many questions just to keep her talking.

Do you talk to think or think to talk? This was the subject and title of a recent article in Fast Company by Marcia L. Conner, an expert in informal learning. Conner writes:

“Just as some people move faster or slower, some react quicker while others speak up more slowly. If you talk to think, as you go along you talk about what you’re doing and learning. If you think to talk, you usually keep your thoughts under wraps until you have something specific to say, until you understand how to proceed, or possibly until the learning part of what you’re doing ends.”

Cindy is a “talk to thinker.” Cheryl is a “think to talker”. Each requires a different approach to coaching. Since they are friends, I can say they require a different kind of patience for a “talk to thinker” like me. With Cindy, I need to be patient in that I don’t interrupt her. When Cheryl is coaching Cindy, she doesn’t seem to have that challenge. In fact, Cheryl has a reputation for asking just the right questions and nothing more. With Cheryl as my subject, though, I need to pace myself much differently, giving more “pregnant” pauses, allowing Cheryl to continue her thinking in silence and perhaps even making a few notes. (Cindy and I typically take notes for each other – we can’t stop talking/thinking long enough to write anything down!)

Conner observes in her article that, unfortunately, most learning opportunities do little for either type of learner – whether it be a meeting, a casual conversation over lunch, a quick session in an office cubicle, or in a formal classroom. Talk to thinkers have too little time to speak. Think to talkers have too little time to reflect.

Do you talk to think, or do you think to talk? How does this affect the results you get in your relationships, in meetings, while working with a collaborator or team? How do you go about making decisions and solving problems?

Do other people ever comment about how you ask too many questions? Do you ever find yourself “talking over” others? Do you even wonder why other people in a group are saying so little that you “might as well” keep talking. If you are a talk-to-think learner you likely talk continuously while learning and sounding out ideas. You tend to say what’s on your mind or “think out loud”. “Because you rely on other people’s responses, you may prefer to work in a group or on a team. Even when you’re alone, you might catch yourself talking to yourself,” Conner writes.

Do you find it hard to think while in groups, especially when the pace of conversation is moving quickly? Do you best ideas – your best thoughts – seem to come long after a meeting or conversation has ended? Do you wonder why other people seem to talk so much? If you are a think-to-talk learner you wouldn’t conceive of saying something out loud until you had given it ample mental consideration, prefering quiet time to formulate a response. Conner explains further, “You may prefer to work alone or in a pair and you might want to take your time when facing a challenge. I suspect you’ve learned you make better decisions when you reflect on all the aspects of the problem.”

Conner lays out several helpful development tips for both learning/thinking styles in Do You Talk to Think or Think to Talk, and I encourage you to read her aricle yourself. Understanding your own style and the styles of those around you will help you learn more. You might also consider taking an Innermetrix Personal Talent Profile, a unique assessment that measures how you think and make decisions. Write me a note to learn more.

Finally, this whole subject reminds me of the irony I have experienced while working with international teams. All too often, there is at least one white American male who tends to dominate a conversation or problem-solving/decision-making session among internationals, particularly groups including people from Asian countries. I have raised this issue in facilitated debriefs before and on two occassions was surprised by the American’s response, which went something like this: “Well if they had something to say they would say it.”

Ah, but they wouldn’t, would they, if they are “think to talk” learners!

About pdncoach

A Go-Giver business coach working with leaders whose success depends on the performance and productivity of others. I coach individual leaders and their teams... in small to mid-size businesses, ministries and non-profits... to accelerate their results and achieve dreams by getting past the difficult, strategic challenges of their current realities.
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