I had a teddy bear moment today. I was trying to debug something at work, got stuck, asked one of my coworkers to help me, explained the problem to him, and said “Oh, I see what’s going on” without them saying anything. I guess I should bring a teddy bear into work so that I can explain problems to it before bothering my coworkers.
This incident is a reminder of my last post about conversation, where I realized I “only figure stuff out by talking about it” with other people rather than pondering it alone. It seems very similar to the classic extrovert/introvert divide, in that extroverts recharge with other people and introverts need alone time, and they have a very difficult time dealing with each other, as the article Caring for Your Introvert explains. Like the personality types, the different thinking types have fundamentally clashing assumptions which makes for wacky hijinks.
To make the rest of this post coherent, I will refer to people who think by talking as “talkers” and to people who think by themselves as “ponderers”.
One of the ways in which the thinking types clash is in how they approach conversations. For instance, because I am a “talker”, I often throw out completely unformed thoughts just to see what happens. I see ideas in conversation as being malleable; they’re batted around, and new ideas are constructed in a cooperative effort. My post about patterns and truth indicates my disdain towards absolute Truth when compared to the joy of following ideas where they lead.
“Ponderers” hate this because they treat conversation as a way to exchange information about what one already thinks, not as an opportunity to refine one’s thoughts. This doesn’t mean they are closed-minded; they will take in new input, but they will process it later on their own. To say something in public without having supporting evidence is anathema to them.
You can see why conversations between the two thinking types might cause problems (exaggerated for effect and from the perspective of a “talker”):
Talker: “Hey, so what about Idea A?”
Ponderer: “I don’t think that’s a good idea because of Reasons X, Y and Z”
Talker: “Oh, good point. Well, what if we modify the idea and try idea B instead?”
Ponderer: “Wait, that doesn’t match what you said before.”
Talker: “Yeah, I’ve moved on and I’m trying something new”
Ponderer: “You’re being inconsistent! What do you really think?”
Talker: “Well, I thought idea A, but that doesn’t hold up, so maybe idea B.”
Ponderer: “How am I supposed to talk to you when you can’t make up your mind?”
The two sides have differing assumptions about the purpose of conversation. “Ponderers” see conversation as akin to siege warfare, where they bring their ideas and their supporting evidence to bear, and try to discredit the other’s ideas. When they finish the conversation, they examine the damage done by the other side, figure out how to rebuild their ideas, and prepare for the next battle. Meanwhile, “talkers” like me are bouncing ideas around during the conversation, changing as we go, but have difficulty developing new ideas on our own.
So we both get frustrated at the next conversation. They come back to the conversation re-armed with reformulated ideas with new supporting evidence, and wonder why I’m wasting their time when I haven’t changed my ideas since we last talked. Then during the conversation, I start evolving my ideas, which frustrates them even more because they can’t bring their artillery to bear on the rapidly moving target. I get frustrated because they stick to their fortifications and refuse to change their ideas based on what we’re talking about together.
I’m projecting how “ponderers” think, but I can definitely see why I would drive them nuts with my constantly shifting thoughts. And I certainly have felt my own frustration at not being able to get people to go with my flow during brainstorming conversations. Just being aware of the differences may help me identify more constructive ways to make this interaction work in the future.
It’s also helpful to remind myself that when I get stuck, it’s probably not productive for me to continue bashing my head into the metaphoric wall. The best way for me to identify a new approach is to talk it through with somebody else. As the teddy bear story shows, it doesn’t have to be somebody that understands it and may work better if it isn’t – by breaking the problem down to try to explain it, I may figure out a new way of seeing the problem that provides a possible solution.
Do these archetypes of thinking make sense? How do you think?