Changing Your Approach: Leading Different Processing Styles

— August 7, 2019

Changing Your Approach: Leading Different Processing Styles

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The best manager I ever had used to start our one-on-one meetings with this reminder, “Please let me know if I need to change my approach to help you be successful.”

It was her way of practicing one of her guiding philosophies as a leader that one must adapt their style to bring out the best in each team member. She also practiced its corollary; sharing her preferences with me so I was able to provide her updates and bring her information in a manner that would help her digest it as quickly as possible for her to give guidance or direction as needed.

This approach was both helpful and encouraging. I knew that we were a team and that we were working toward achieving the same goals. It also helped me understand my fellow team members and prompted me to change my approach with them. Her appreciation for and communication of our differences instantly improved our relationship and clarified team communication.

As you work with your team, here are some tips for personalizing your leadership style for better results.

Provide Space for Everyone to be at Their Best

One way you can incorporate this style of leadership into your practice is to understand your preferences for receiving and processing information and appreciate how each of your team members processes new information. Some of us like to talk everything through until we crystallize our thinking, while others wait to speak until they have a firm understanding.

When you succeed at communicating your preferences and appreciating the preferences of others, your team members will feel heard and understood – a critical means of increasing engagement, and you will boost productivity by ensuring everyone has the space to process information in a manner that increases their potential for success.

Understanding Your Thinking Style and Preferences

Some of us are External Processors, meaning we talk through new information and ideas to understand them. External Processors, in a sense, don’t fully form their opinions until they have expressed them out loud or in writing. Internal Processors are the direct opposite. This type prefers to hear new information and has space to quietly think through it before returning with their thoughts or asking clarifying questions.

As a leader, your thinking style may impact your direct reports in unexpected ways. If you prefer to talk through your ideas before making a decision, you may inadvertently send your people in 1,000 different directions. If you are an Internal Processor, your direct reports may get the sense that you don’t act on their ideas – especially if you don’t follow up once you have thought through the ideas. A lack of communication can result in resentment and an unwillingness to bring you new ideas in the future.

By being aware of how you prefer to process information, and by sharing that with your team, you provide a vital tool they can use in communicating with you and moving ideas forward.

Provide Information the Way Your Employees Need to Hear It

Asking an Internal Processor to jump into an impromptu brainstorming session, without providing any time for them to get their thoughts in order, is a surefire way to miss their best ideas. Not allowing an External Processor the space to talk through their thinking as they go will shut them down.

As the leader of your team, it is incumbent upon you to provide a space for your employees to shine so they can produce their best work. Pay attention to how they process their thoughts. Do they seem to think everything throughout loud before coming to a final decision? This is likely an External Processor. In contrast, does your team member take in your thoughts and feedback and then return to you later with their input? If so, you are probably dealing with an Internal Processor. Giving them the opportunity to process and understand new information in a way that feels natural to them encourages an open sharing of ideas and greater understanding.

Different Approaches to Achieve the Best Results

Adjust your expectations accordingly for each style. When you want an Internal Processor to understand a new idea, or provide you with their best thinking, give them some time to prepare. Provide information in a format they can refer back to, and let them know you have provided the space for them to think it through. Give them a deadline to report back to you with their thoughts. They will appreciate your understanding of their need to think things through.

For External Processors, create space for them to think out loud – without judgment. Know that their first thoughts on a subject will not be fully baked until they have space to talk things through. Ask questions to help them crystallize their thinking and be prepared to answer questions as they go. Ideally, engage in conversation with the intent on being open to new ideas. When it is your turn to provide information, be prepared to have a conversation with them as they think through the idea by answering questions as they come up.

Remember that great boss I mentioned earlier? She was an Internal Processor, and if you speak with anyone who knows me, they will emphatically agree that I need to talk through my ideas because I am an External Processor. Because she took the time to explain how she thinks, and always followed up on my thoughts or ideas, she proactively prevented frustration on both our parts.

Take the time to communicate your preferences and thinking style to your team, and let them know you appreciate their style – whether you share the same style or not. Consider structuring your meetings to get the best from each style of thinker. Not only will you get the top ideas from every individual, you will create an atmosphere of trust and understanding that will propel your team forward.

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