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Chapter Seven

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, when she
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 impulsive. Erica
was furious and lost all respect for her boss, whom she saw as indecisive and
irresponsible.

Take the test quiz for this Chapter

You've probably experienced something like this with a friend or spouse, if not
a coworker. Not surprisingly, miscommunication between Interactive Thinkers and
Quiet Thinkers is common and often costly. In this case, Grant, the CFO, was an
Interactive Thinker. Erica, the controller, was a Quiet Thinker. That wouldn't
be a problem in itself except that neither was aware of the existence or
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 only after
learning how Quiet Thinking and I
nteractive Thinking affect behavior that they
were able to reconcile.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Do Your Ideas Grow?

While everyone gets ideas, what each person does when that flashbulb first goes
off in her head can be very different. It's the processing stage--what happens
between the first flash of inspiration and the final, polished idea--that marks
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 they operate
very differently.

A Quiet Thinker, like Erica, will formulate and process an idea entirely inside
her head (quietly); no one else will even hear about it at this stage.

People whose coworkers have traits opposite from their own are likely to
experience misunderstanding, frustration, and anger. These reactions can be
taken to the extreme, and Interactive Thinking and Quiet Thinking traits are
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 to understand
that he was just thinking about a possibility. And why Erica--assuming that when
someone presented an idea, it should be executed--thought Grant wanted her to
go ahead.

An Interactive Thinker, like Grant, tends to formulate and process ideas through
discussion with others (or more rarely, through exchanges of letters, memos, or
E-mail).

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 perspective,
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 taken seriously
yet.

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 even say
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 who are
Interactive Thinkers themselves), realize they need more information to know
what stage of development the idea is in. Is it still in the processing stage,
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
phase, during which the idea grows. The Interactive Thinker will analyze the
idea, weigh it in the context of his traits and experience, test for
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 he was
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.

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."


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
mean.

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 talking about
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 a report.
If Grant had continued to like the idea as he screened it, formulated it, and
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, things never
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 action phase.
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 developed, and
she's totally committed to it, that she will mention it to others. And that
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 it but
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 have realized
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 had been
formulating and was by no means ready for any action, despite his words.

How Quiet Thinkers Perceive Interactive Thinkers

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 interesting.
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 worried about
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 ages. Erica's
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 forgetful,
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 anything to
others. Quiet Thinkers often perceive Interactive Thinkers as not following
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 with them.
People can see where Interactive Thinkers are coming from and which direction
they are going if they are around for the discussion.

How Interactive Thinkers Perceive Quiet Thinkers

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. Rob didn't
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 very dangerous
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 the Quiet
Thinker says something, she wants to act immediately. The Interactive Thinker
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. Coworkers or
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 Minds Don't

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 ideas. The
Interactive Thinkers talk away, while the Quiet Thinkers sit there saying
little. The Interactive Thinkers believe the Quiet Thinkers aren't involved and
participating. What the Interactive Thinkers don't see is that the Quiet
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
hour.

Meanwhile, the Quiet Thinker will decide, "Why bother participating? They don't
pay any attention anyway. All they do is talk. Nobody can make a decision.
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, the
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 or External
Direction, what type of factors they take into consideration, etc.).

Some people love meetings; others hate them. The Quiet Thinking and Interactive
Thinking traits explain a lot about why. Meetings, reporting situations, and
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 to
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 "now!"

An Owner's Guide to the Quiet Thinking Trait

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, "Is this
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 Interactive Thinker
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 report now,
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 and grow
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, the
Interactive Thinker's creativity is thwarted, and the company loses potentially
valuable ideas.

An Owner's Guide to the Interactive Thinking Trait

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 say immediately,
"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, "I'm not
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 can be
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?

 

 Interactive Thinking

Quiet Thinking
 Develops ideas through: Interaction with Others Entirely in her head
Communicates: unfinished ideas finished ideas
Mentions an idea and means: maybe, possibly do it now!
Needs: nonjudgmental forum ideas taken seriously
Is perceived by opposite type as: all smoke, no fire; indecisive, changeable not a team player, not participating, not communicating well, Impulsive
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 timetables clear.

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.

In Short

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 whether
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 simple
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 Interactive.
It's always a good idea to clarify whether someone expects immediate action, but
with these folks--who sometimes mean one thing and sometimes another that's
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 appropriate; what's
important is to make sure others know what you mean and what you're expecting
(or not expecting) from them.

 

 

Illustrations by Dave Nelson

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