Thinking and Talking

One of the things I adore about Joe is that he always asks my opinion on every decision to be made. That may sound like a small thing, but for someone who is used to going with the flow, and thus living with whatever group decision gets made, this is actually a huge thing. My problem, and the reason I often don’t speak up sooner, is that I don’t usually have a strong opinion about something until it’s too late. I’m awful at making split-second decisions; give me a day or two and I can be extremely articulate about why something does or does not appeal to me. For that reason this practice of asking my opinion in the moment is both refreshing and challenging in a good way, but it also taxes my mental faculties greatly.

Just such a situation came up repeatedly during our last trip to Las Vegas, when multiple decisions had to be made about where we should eat, what show we should watch, whether or not we should get off this stalled Monorail to see what the problem is (the answer to that one is no; it will just take off the minute you’re out the door). And so my beloved would turn to me for the fiftieth time that day and ask me to express an opinion about the matter before us. Keep in mind that Vegas aims to suspend tourists in a hungry, thirsty, footsore fog, brought about by the ridiculous amount of walking you must do to simply get from the front door of a casino to the restroom they’ve cleverly hidden behind a bank of slot machines. This is not the optimal state for anyone to be making rational decisions in (which explains the popularity of slot machines and the all-you-can-eat buffet), and it was no easier for me.

But this time, when the options were laid out before me, I really tried to focus my attention in order to come up with the right answer. Suddenly my concentration was broken by a complaint from Joe: “Could you have a more blank look on your face?” Apparently, my complete lack of outer expression was taken to mean that I was ignoring the question, when in fact the wheels were turning in my head, just not noticeably. In addition, my failure to respond verbally was found to be annoying; couldn’t I make some sign that I was pondering the question, a thoughtful “hmmm….” or “let me think about that.”

That made me laugh. I had thought I was applying the most efficient solution to the problem—to actually think about it—and to have to stop that process in order to reassure someone that I was thinking seemed nonsensical. I realized that, as some people cannot chew gum and walk at the same time, I cannot talk and think deeply at the same time.

I know there are folks who thrive on that dual action (a supposedly common trait in extroverts), and while of course I can formulate thoughts while talking, I cannot give the utmost attention to something while still talking about it. It reminds me of the TV show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” in which the host, Regis Philbin, was always encouraging struggling contestants to think through their answers out loud. It was supposed to be seen as an encouraging gesture, but I believe it was more to address the fact that watching someone sit and think is incredibly boring. And I guess it also served to hurry the game along; if it were me in that chair, I’d probably wait it out a day or two, just long enough to come up with the million dollar answer.

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7 Responses to “Thinking and Talking”

  1. Keith Parsons said:

    Though I’ve always thought of my self as an introvert… I can’t relate to many of your blog comments. The ability to make decisions quickly is an acquired skill – not just an innate ability – but something you can train yourself to get better at. Years ago, while in an intense MBA program, where you were pitted against other students, I learned the ability to think quickly on your feet was a much desired thing… so I started a training program to actively make that process easier.

    You don’t need to remain in the zone where you feel ‘pressured’ to make quick decisions, you can work on getting better at the quick decision… thus removing the stress of the decision-making moment. Or, like I’ve seen so many other people do, just remain in the that pressure zone and then feel sorry for yourself.

  2. spectatrix said:

    Keith:

    Thanks so much for your comment. I knew when I started this site that I couldn’t possibly speak for every introvert out there, but hoped that some of what I had to say would resonate with most. I know there can be great differences between introverts; for example, my husband and I are both introverts, but we express it in very different ways. He enjoys public speaking, I usually don’t. I crave time spent with friends, he is happy to mostly spend time alone.

    That being said, according to the information out there about introverts (such as Marti Olson Laney’s book, The Introvert Advantage), needing to think before talking or making a decision is a common trait among introverts. I applaud you for taking steps to overcome this behavior in order to perform better in the activities you’ve chosen, but I don’t really feel the need to change this aspect of myself. This slow decision-making process has actually helped me to make good decisions in the past, ones that I am proud of, and I wouldn’t want to try to replace that. Also, I think that the habit of thinking before speaking is a good one, and not something I’d like to train myself out of.

    Yes, there is pressure in these situations, but there is a third way to handle it (which I think the post speaks to): to become aware of my own patterns and to accept that I will handle it differently than most, but in a way that works for me.

  3. Joe Kissell said:

    Just a thought here, which may or may not resonate…my grandfather was born left-handed. But when he began learning to write in school, the teacher insisted that he use his right hand, and would whack his knuckles with a ruler if he used the “wrong” hand. So he learned to write with his right hand, and was “right handed” from then on. Today, we’d say that teacher was wrong for trying to make students fit into a preconceived mold like that. It’s OK to be left-handed or right-handed.

    Traits common to introverts may be another verse of the same song. Introverts can absolutely learn to behave in ways contrary to their nature, but I’m not so sure that’s always a good thing. What I’d love to see more of is extroverts having the realization that it’s OK for introverts to be who and how they are, rather than expecting them to be like “everybody else.”

  4. DMW said:

    Regarding your statement: “but I don’t really feel the need to change this aspect of myself. This slow decision-making process has actually helped me to make good decisions in the past, ones that I am proud of, and I wouldn’t want to try to replace that. Also, I think that the habit of thinking before speaking is a good one, and not something I’d like to train myself out of. Yes, there is pressure in these situations, but there is a third way to handle it (which I think the post speaks to): to become aware of my own patterns and to accept that I will handle it differently than most, but in a way that works for me.”

    Thank you for articulating something so well that I have tried to communicate to various people in my life. I end up sounding like I’m anti-change, when I’m really not. Change and maturity will happen in my life, but not necessarily where others think it has to happen. Also I think it won’t happen by trying to “eliminate” core parts of me. The best changes in my life happen in the context of me being the me that I am, not in my trying to be like somebody else.

  5. Being Happy and Not Smiling « Eclexia: said:

    […] reminded me of another post I had read on Spectatrix, about the difficulty introverts sometimes having thinking and talking at the same time. And then you want us to add smiling on top of it?!?! Sorry, but that’s too many things for […]

  6. Bear said:

    Can an individual think with the same depth while talking as while they are silent?

    Those of us who think cognitively (conceptually opposed to verbally) must necessarily pause between thought and speech. The act of speaking requires some brain’s (for lack of a better description) RAM.

    I am concerned to what extreme rampant cell phone usage has delivered our culture. Have we exchanged improved communication for individual responsibility, both in development of our thoughts and in decision making?

  7. spectatrix said:

    Bear,

    That’s an interesting observation. I really resonate with that need to switch gears from concepts to words, and almost go through an act of translation between the two. Thanks for your insights.