Did you know that there are different styles of processing information? I’m not talking about the manner in which we communicate our thoughts, rather the way we integrate new information and turn it into thoughts that we can share with others if we choose. So, what are these styles and how do you know which one you gravitate toward?
There are different ways to conceptualize this idea, but I like to think about it in terms of intrapersonal, and interpersonal processing.
Some people process best intrapersonally, or within themselves. How could I possibly know how to communicate my thoughts if I haven’t had time and space to put them together? If you find yourself wishing to be left alone to collect your thoughts, this is probably your preferred method of processing.
Some people process best interpersonally, or with others. If I haven’t talked it out, how could I possibly put my thoughts into words? If you find yourself wishing to talk it out with someone, this is likely your preferred processing method.
So, how does this impact the way we communicate with each other? How do you navigate communicating with someone who does not share your processing style? First, an awareness of how you best process information is helpful. If you are able to describe how you best process information with whom you are communicating, then you can work toward helping them understand. And if they understand, then they will be less likely to take things personally, and it can enhance your communication.
If one person processes better intrapersonally, they might feel trapped or smothered by someone who wants to process interpersonally with them. It might be confusing or even irritating to listen to someone talk through things. Why are they trying to share their thoughts with me when they don’t even know what they think? This feels like a waste of time.
Alternatively, if one person processes better interpersonally, they might feel rejected or not cared for by someone who wants to process intrapersonally. Why will they not share their thoughts with me? I feel left in the dark, confused, and maybe even unsafe.
For those who prefer to process intrapersonally, verbalizing that you do not mean to withhold, but that you need time and space to collect your thoughts before you share them, and that you do intend to share them may help settle your interpersonal processing partner’s mind.
For those who prefer to process interpersonally, verbalizing that you are currently processing and would like your partner to be a sounding board for your thoughts may help your intrapersonal processing partner’s mind at ease.
What it boils down to is, I suppose, that self-awareness and the ability to communicate your needs cannot be understated. One style of processing is not better than the other, and it is possible to have different styles in different contexts. I invite you to bring awareness to yourself and your wishes when it comes to integrating new information into your mind. Once you have gained this awareness, it will be possible to describe your needs in terms of processing with those you care about. Understanding that one person processes best differently that another can help mitigate these negative feelings, and bring compassion and understanding to the relationship.
Written by: April Moritz, LPC