I was recently facilitating a training session, when a participant brought up a concept about how people process information. She said that most people generally fall into one of two categories 1) Speak to Think or 2) Think to Speak. Hearing this concept verbalized something I knew to be true but had never put into words.
I am a ‘Speak to Think’ person. I figure out how I feel about something or work out a plan as I speak it out loud. Talking about something is how I find clarity and it’s how I organize my thoughts. Of course, there is a spectrum, and some people might be at the extreme while others might fall somewhere in the middle where they do a bit of both depending on the situation.
I brought this up to my leader, Brad, who immediately said ‘Yes that’s exactly what you do and how you work’. We started to think about our team and where everyone falls on this spectrum. We found it to be a helpful exercise. It was a way of determining how people on our team might best give their feedback on a certain project or idea. Some need time while others need to talk it out right away to begin to process and see how they feel about it.
Chances are if there is a major change or something big happening at work, my leader knows I am going to want to talk about it and hash it out ASAP. If I can’t start exploring it through discussion I’ll go a little nutty! My colleague Devan on the other hand, is likely going to listen and then say to our leader ‘Ok, thanks for this. Can I take some time to digest and get back to you?’. Neither of these approaches are right or wrong. They are just different.
In fact, Devan and I have been able to leverage the fact that she is ‘Think to Speak’ and I am ‘Speak to Think’ in our work. Through this understanding about each other we can balance one another out and help each other process. If we are dealing with a difficult situation or employee conversation for a client, I start to talk and explore verbally while she thinks through her next killer question to keep the process moving forward. I buy her some time with my ‘Speak to Think’, and her ‘Think to Speak’ allows me the ability to process out loud to organize my thoughts.
There can be challenges for both of these approaches. For the extreme ‘Speak to Think’ they may speak too quickly and be more likely to stick their foot in their mouth (I’ve been there!!) or miss the opportunity to listen and learn from the person they are communicating with. The ‘Think to Speak’ on the other hand, may take too long to think something through that by the time they are ready to comment in a group setting the conversation has already moved on.
This concept can be a great tool in how we interact with our teams and co-workers. By understanding our team members ‘Think to Speak’ or ‘Speak to Think’ we can learn to adapt and play to each other’s strengths.
Even more so, I continue to recognize how important it is for leaders to ‘know their people’ and adjust their approach based on the individual they are communicating with. If we want to be the most effective and impactful leaders and professionals we can be, considering whether someone is ‘speak to think’ or ‘think to speak’ is a worthwhile endeavour. How do I communicate with each individual based on their style? Have I placed people in roles that play to their strengths based on their natural style or approach to communication?
There are a number of other things we can include in getting to ‘know our people’ to ensure we continue to be intentional about our leadership approach. Great leaders lead individuals (not groups!) to build a strong and committed team dynamic.
So are you a ‘Think to Speak’ or a ‘Speak to Think’?
Jane Helbrecht is a Partner at Acuity HR Solutions. She leads the training and development function with a focus on Acuity’s Intentional People Leadership training program.