Quiet Thinking and Interactive Thinking
Do you really mean it?
ABC's chief financial officer, Grant, a genial
man, said to the controller,
Erica, "You know, I've been thinking. We're considering
acquiring a company in
Portugal, and we could really use a report on foreign-operations
revenues in the
last five years." Erica promptly buried herself in the project
for a full
week which meant she had no contact with Grant until a week later,
proudly announced to him, "Here's the report you wanted."
Grant's reaction? "Why did you do that?
I didn't want that report."
Erica was flabbergasted. "But you told
me to do it!" she protested. Grant was
certain he had not asked for anything; he was incredulous that
Erica would just
run off and create a report. He thought she was unbelievably
was furious and lost all respect for her boss, whom she saw as
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You've probably experienced something like
this with a friend or spouse, if not
a coworker. Not surprisingly, miscommunication between Interactive
Quiet Thinkers is common and often costly. In this case, Grant,
the CFO, was an
Interactive Thinker. Erica, the controller, was a Quiet Thinker.
be a problem in itself except that neither was aware of the existence
influence of these two traits. And since "normal is what
I am," each found the
other's behavior strange. Not to mention infuriating.
Two months after this incident, when Judi
first met them, Erica was still
seething. She had decided there was no way to please her boss,
and she didn't
even want to try anymore. And Grant? He'd concluded that Erica
was rash and
impulsive, and that he needed to watch her every move. It was
learning how Quiet Thinking and Interactive Thinking affect behavior that they
were able to reconcile.
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Do Your
While everyone gets ideas, what each person
does when that flashbulb first goes
A Quiet Thinker, like Erica,
will formulate and process an idea entirely inside
off in her head can be very different. It's the processing stage--what
between the first flash of inspiration and the final, polished
the difference between the Quiet Thinker and the Interactive
Thinker. Each will
develop the idea through feasibility testing, elaboration, refinements,
cost-benefit analysis, and so forth. The time involved may even
be the same. And
neither type of thinker is smarter or better than the other--but
her head (quietly); no one else will even hear about it at this
People whose coworkers have traits opposite
from their own are likely to
An Interactive Thinker, like
Grant, tends to formulate and process ideas through
experience misunderstanding, frustration, and anger. These reactions
taken to the extreme, and Interactive Thinking and Quiet Thinking
major factors in many job loss situations. "Normal is what
I am," so in most
cases, the person broaching an idea assumes that the coworker
hearing it will
understand exactly what he means. That's why Grant expected Erica
that he was just thinking about a possibility. And why Erica--assuming
someone presented an idea, it should be executed--thought Grant
wanted her to
discussion with others (or more rarely, through exchanges of
letters, memos, or
When an Interactive Thinker is processing
an idea, people generally know
about it from the beginning--way before the Interactive Thinker
is even sure
this is really something he wants to do.
Interactive Thinking: Later, Alligator!
When an Interactive Thinker gets the seed
of an idea, he usually throws it out
in its raw form: "A report on foreign revenues for the last
five years could be
useful in deciding on that possible acquisition." From his
mentioning the idea puts it into the developmental phase. What
goes unstated is
that this is merely the starting point; the idea should not be
The hitch, of course, is that listeners can't
always tell that; there's no
caution light that goes on to tell coworkers that this is an
idea in progress.
And to make things more confusing, sometimes Interactive Thinkers
things like "Let's" or "We need to." Some
Quiet Thinkers, like Erica, assume
every idea that's presented is a fully developed one. Others,
more familiar with
the approach of the Interactive Thinker (these are often people
Interactive Thinkers themselves), realize they need more information
what stage of development the idea is in. Is it still in the
so they should wait for it to be completed (or help with developing
it)? Or is
it a finished idea, ready to be acted on?
After mentioning the idea, the Interactive
Thinker starts the developmental
When Interactive Thinkers first
mention their ideas, what they really mean is,
phase, during which the idea grows. The Interactive Thinker will
idea, weigh it in the context of his traits and experience, test
feasibility, and so on. During this developmental phase he will
allow input from
other people in the process of conversation. The developmental
phase is, in
fact, an interactive process. Those close to the Interactive
Thinker will be
aware of the idea practically from its conception. Grant thought
brainstorming with Erica, that they might play with the idea
and see where it
went, then develop it further, change it, or simply drop it.
The one thing he never expected was that Erica would not just
play with the idea--she would act on it.
"Maybe, possibly, we might, we'll see about doing this if
the idea continues to
When Interactive Thinkers first mention their ideas, what they
really mean is,
"Maybe, possibly, we might, we'll see about doing this if
the idea continues to
develop nicely." They don't usually voice those caveats,
but that's what they
If an Interactive Thinker gets halfway down
the path with an idea and decides he
doesn't like it, he simply stops talking about it and starts
something else. By the next week Grant had batted the idea around
with a number
of people, and the process had completely changed his idea of
what was needed.
He may even have forgotten that he ever mentioned needing such
If Grant had continued to like the idea as he screened it, formulated
brought it into final form, then at that point he would have
been committed to
proceeding on it. Then he would have been ready for the action
phase and would
have wanted Erica to get going on the five-year report. Of course,
got that far--but Grant assumed that Erica would know he was
just in the
brainstorming stage. Wrong!
Depending on the magnitude of the idea, and
depending on what other traits the Interactive Thinker has, the
developmental talking phase may take two hours, two months, or
even two years before the Interactive Thinker is ready for the
Interactive Thinkers' ideas are like a Polaroid photo that comes
out gray and indistinct at first, then turns into a clearer,
more brightly colored image as it's exposed to the air. Interactive
Thinkers' ideas, like the Polaroid photo, have to get out into
the air to become finished. That means an Interactive Thinker
has to talk about or at minimum, write about an idea to develop
it effectively. He may end up rejecting the idea at any point
during its development, or he may complete the processing, become
committed to the idea, and really want action on it. And by that
time, his Quiet Thinking subordinates may be thoroughly confused--not
to mention infuriated.
Quiet Thinking: The Implied "Now!"
Quiet Thinkers get unfinished ideas, too,
but they don't necessarily tell anyone
else about them. When a Quiet Thinker gets an idea, she will
screen it for feasibility, elaborate on it, refine it, and analyze
it just like the Interactive Thinker--except that the Quiet Thinker
will complete this process entirely in her own head.
If she gets halfway down the path and doesn't
like where the idea is going, she
will stop thinking about it and start thinking about something
else and no one
will ever know she was thinking about it in the first place.
If she likes the idea after thinking it through,
she will finish developing it,
still without telling anyone. No one else will have an inkling
of what the Quiet
Thinker has been considering, because all that brainstorming
has been taking
place inside one brain: hers. It is only when the idea is fully
she's totally committed to it, that she will mention it to others.
means that when the Quiet Thinker first voices the idea, she's
ready for the
implementation phase. She wants and expects action. Now. When
a Quiet Thinker
communicates an idea, it's finished and she's committed to it
quite unlike the
Interactive Thinker, who first voices the idea not to start implementing
to start developing it.
Quiet Thinkers say what they mean and mean
what they say. The unspoken word that
follows the verbalized idea is "now!" When they say,
"Let's do this," what they
mean is, "Let's do this immediately because this idea is
fully developed and
ready for action."
Erica was a Quiet Thinker and assumed that
"normal is what I am." She assumed
that if Grant said something he wanted immediate action--because
that's what she
would have wanted. Had she been around him all week, she would
that he was revising his idea all the time he was talking about
it (which he did
a lot) and changing his mind on the acquisition altogether. Grant
formulating and was by no means ready for any action, despite
How Quiet Thinkers Perceive Interactive
Quiet Thinkers expect others to be ready to
act when they voice ideas, and they
assume others expect the same of them. Now here's where it gets
Unfinished ideas can be brilliant or they can be stupid. The
Quiet Thinker is
disappointed if the Interactive Thinker doesn't carry out what
seems to be a
brilliant unfinished idea. However, the Quiet Thinker is equally
the opposite possibility: that the Interactive Thinker might
actually carry out
an idea that sounds crazy.
The Quiet Thinker's perception of Interactive
Thinkers is that they change their
minds a lot. They talk about an idea one day and totally drop
it for another the
next. Interactive Thinkers also are often perceived as unable
to make decisions.
After all, they may talk about the same idea for what seems like
perception of Grant was that he changed his mind often, never
knew what he
really wanted, and sent mixed messages. She also thought he was
irresponsible, and unpredictable.
The Interactive Thinker may talk for months
about getting a new job. The Quiet
Thinker probably would already have the new job before saying
others. Quiet Thinkers often perceive Interactive Thinkers as
through when "they said they were going to do it" (or
as Erica would have
explained, when "Grant said he wanted it"). Interactive
Thinkers are often seen
as being "all smoke and no fire."
However, Interactive Thinkers can also be
perceived as team players and good
collaborators, because people get to talk about and develop ideas
People can see where Interactive Thinkers are coming from and
they are going if they are around for the discussion.
How Interactive Thinkers Perceive Quiet
Kate, the CEO of Widgets Are Us, was an Interactive
Thinker who used to bounce
ideas off everybody in the process of working them out. When
she met with Judi,
Kate pointed out one of her vice presidents, Rob, and confided,
"That Rob is
sneaky. He goes and talks to everybody about what he wants to
do, then when he's
got things entirely worked out, he comes to me and I'm the last
to know." That
was Kate's perception. Judi explained, however, that Rob was
a Quiet Thinker. He
worked everything out by himself until he was satisfied. When
Rob brought an
idea to Kate, it was the first time he was mentioning it to anyone.
go around working it out with everybody, as Kate did. He worked
it out in his
head, and Kate was the first to know.
Since Kate was an Interactive Thinker, it
is likely that Judi was not the
first person with whom she had discussed her perception of Rob--a
one. Our perceptions of people are based on our assumption that
they're doing what
we would do. It had never occurred to Kate that Rob could develop
an idea to the
completion stage without discussing it with others. Kate would
have discussed it
with anyone who would listen. And of course, "normal is
what I am."
Apart from considering Quiet Thinkers sneaky,
Interactive Thinkers may also
perceive them as being impulsive and shooting from the hip. When
Thinker says something, she wants to act immediately. The Interactive
says, "Wait! Let's figure this out." After all, if
the Interactive Thinker had
brought it up, it would have been an idea in progress and not
a commitment to
action. The Quiet Thinker already has it all figured out and
says, "Let's just
go do it!"
Quiet Thinkers may also be perceived as not
being team players because they
don't tell others about their ideas during the development phase.
spouses may feel excluded and may conclude that Quiet Thinkers
are failing to
communicate well. This is especially true if the Quiet Thinker
has a strong
sense of what to do and how to do it and makes decisions easily.
In the Organization: When People Meet and
Put Quiet Thinkers and Interactive Thinkers
together in a meeting and you get
very interesting dynamics. Interactive Thinkers get together
to throw out ideas
(processing them out loud) and to brainstorm. Quiet Thinkers
like to do the
processing in their heads, so in a meeting they are taking in
Interactive Thinkers talk away, while the Quiet Thinkers sit
little. The Interactive Thinkers believe the Quiet Thinkers aren't
participating. What the Interactive Thinkers don't see is that
Thinkers are involved and participating mentally.
Halfway through a meeting, the Quiet Thinker
will have put it all together and
figured out the next steps. At that point, he'll say, "I
think we should do
this." What he won't say, but will think, is, "Enough
talk already. Let's just
go do it!" But the Interactive Thinkers will assume this
is one more idea to
begin processing with the rest, and they'll start talking about
it for another
Meanwhile, the Quiet Thinker will decide,
"Why bother participating? They don't
pay any attention anyway. All they do is talk. Nobody can make
Nobody gets anything done." Because nobody gets anything
done now, the Quiet
Thinker doesn't see meetings as productive. Quiet Thinkers are
very impatient to
get to the action. They like the kind of meeting in which a plan
of action is
drawn up and responsibilities are assigned.
The Interactive Thinkers will leave the same
meeting saying, "Didn't we come up
with some great ideas? We'll talk about it more, then meet back
here next week
and decide what we're going to do." They will consider the
session a productive
one. If you have only Interactive Thinkers in your organization,
developmental phase may go on and on because they love to bat
ideas around. The
nature and length of the developmental phase will be affected
by their other
traits (whether they are argumentative, have high Autonomy, Internal
Direction, what type of factors they take into consideration,
Some people love meetings; others hate them.
The Quiet Thinking and Interactive
Thinking traits explain a lot about why. Meetings, reporting
relationships are difficult when people with opposite traits
are involved. Since
"normal is what I am," then anyone who reacts differently
must not be normal. Or
so it would seem. Understanding the differences can lead to the
creation of an
environment that's more supportive and less critical.
What Quiet Thinkers Need
Quiet Thinkers need to be understood. They
may not respond immediately to ideas,
but they are taking them in. They need time to think before responding
others, since they do not voice ideas until they are fully committed
to them and
ready to act on them. In contrast, when they finally do speak,
they need people
to react quickly and seriously to their statements because they
are committed to
most of what they say. Remember, when a Quiet Thinker says she
is going to doing
something or when she says you should do something she means
An Owner's Guide to the Quiet Thinking
If you, a Quiet Thinker, live or work with
an Interactive Thinker, don't assume
that when he tells you something he wants immediate action. Ask,
something you are committed to and you want me to do now?"
Find out how far the
Interactive Thinker has gotten with developing the idea. Don't
take it for
granted that people talk the way you do. Especially when the
is the boss, as Grant was, Quiet Thinking employees scurry into
action, just as
Erica did. Clarify. If Erica had asked if Grant wanted the five-year
he would have said, "What? Of course not." But because
she assumed he meant, "I
want it now," she spent the next five days reporting on
those five years.
If you're a Quiet Thinking manager, you need
to let your subordinates know about
your Quiet Thinking trait. If your subordinates are Interactive
Thinkers and you
tell them to do something, they think that means, "We're
going to talk about it
for a while, then decide if we're going to do this." But
you, the Quiet Thinking
boss, mean, "I want it done now. Put everything else aside."
No wonder it's so hard to get people to do what you tell them--it
hasn't occurred to them that you really mean it!
What Interactive Thinkers Need
Interactive Thinkers throw around ideas as
though they're casting seeds. Some
land on rocks and fail to germinate. Others land in shallow soil
only a little, then die. Still others, landing in fertile soil,
mature and bloom. Interactive Thinkers need a nonjudgmental forum--the
fertile environment in which they can develop their ideas. Those
ideas may sound off the wall at first, because they are underdeveloped.
That Polaroid photo didn't look so great when it first came out
of the camera either. But if others reject the undeveloped ideas
out of hand, the problem won't continue for long--because when
the Interactive Thinkers repeatedly experience negative responses,
they'll quit talking about their ideas entirely. For Interactive
Thinkers, that means the ideas never get developed, or take much
longer to develop because they do not get out "into the
air." If the picture never came out of the Polaroid camera,
how could it develop? When preliminary ideas are dismissed immediately,
Interactive Thinker's creativity is thwarted, and the company
An Owner's Guide to the Interactive Thinking
If you, an Interactive Thinker, live or work
with Quiet Thinkers, recognize that
when they say something, they mean "now!" So if you
have objections you must
let them know quickly. You may have to say, "I know you
want to do this now, but
may I have some time to talk about it with you first?"
If Quiet Thinking Angela says, "We should
all pitch in and get Kay a
birthday present and cake," Interactive Thinking Aaron must
"I'm not sure. I need to talk about it a little bit."
If Quiet Thinking Angela says, "We should all pitch
in and get Kay a birthday
present and cake," Interactive Thinking Aaron must say immediately,
sure. I need to talk about it a little bit."
After discussion, they might realize that
no one else has received such treatment and therefore it would
not be appropriate. If Interactive Thinking Aaron says nothing,
the next day Angela will present him with a card to sign and
will tell Aaron that his donation is $10.
Let others know that you, as an Interactive
Thinker, think out loud and do not
expect action on everything you say. Tell them when you are not
committed to an
idea but would like just to run it by them.
If You Have Some of Both Traits
Some people do both Quiet and Interactive
Thinking. The good side of this
combination is that they're versatile. The bad side is that they
extremely confusing to the people they're around, who never know
if they mean it
or not. If they're in Quiet Thinking mode, they mean "do
it now"; if they're in
Interactive Thinking mode, they mean "possibly" or
"maybe we should do it."
Whats the Difference?
Develops ideas through:
Interaction with Others
Entirely in her head
Mentions an idea and means:
do it now!
ideas taken seriously
Is perceived by opposite type as:
all smoke, no fire; indecisive, changeable
not a team player, not participating, not communicating
Can deal with opposite type by:
letting Quiet Thinkers know any objections immediately
finding out Interactive Thinker's stage of idea
development. For subordinates who are Interactive Thinkers, make
If this describes you, it's important to let
people know which mode you are in at
any given time: "ready to act" or "thinking out
loud." Have pity on those you
manage or parent.
It sure helps to know if you are dealing with
a Quiet Thinker or an Interactive
Thinker, but since many people are both, it is essential to clarify
someone really means "now," or "I'm just thinking
about this." If you are aware
of these traits, you can save time, effort, and grief by asking
questions: "When do you want this done?" "Do you
intend to do this now?"
Get It in Writing
Quiet Thinkers aren't raising their hands
to speak all the time; the only time
you hear from them is when they are ready for action. Their handwriting
doesn't raise its hand, either. Think of the upper extensions
on the letters b, h, k, and l (but not d's and t's) as arms waving,
wanting to talk. The lower these arms, the stronger the Quiet
Thinking; the higher the extensions or loops, the stronger the
Interactive Thinking. The width of the loops is irrelevant; it's
purely height, relative to the other lowercase letters in the
writing, that counts.
Occasionally, we find people who write with
a mix of tall and short upper loops
or extenders. They are sometimes in Quiet Thinking mode, sometimes
It's always a good idea to clarify whether someone expects immediate
with these folks--who sometimes mean one thing and sometimes
especially important. Quiet Thinkers don't have much upper extension
on the loops of the lowercase b's, h's, k's, and l's.
Those with mixed traits also have mixed handwriting.
Sometimes the upper
extensions are on the high side, sometimes low or in between.
Interactive Thinkers make upper extensions that are very noticeable
and at least
two and a half times the height of their lowercase o's and a's.
By the same token, you can prevent a lot of
misunderstandings by telling others
which mode you are in. Tell your subordinates, "I have been
doing a lot of
thinking about this and would like to have it done now."
Or explain that "I have
an idea that I want to talk about, but I'm not committed to it.
I'm not ready to
have anything done with it yet." Either approach can be
important is to make sure others know what you mean and what
(or not expecting) from them.