Cathryn's Articles for Stepmom Issues and Relationships

What's Your Processing Style? Clarity Brings Compassion.
Internal processing styles: How do you process your thoughts and feelings?

By Cathryn Bond Doyle.


When we’re in a relationship with someone, there are going to be times when we have to work together to solve a problem, respond to a new situation and/or tackle a project. As we interact, we notice right away if we’re bumping up against, or falling into sync with, his or her mental and emotional processing style. You know, it’s that feeling that you can either really identify with them because they think the way you do OR they drive you nuts because they handle things in a different way. This ease or friction is often due to differences in “processing styles.” Once you understand the dynamics, reviewed in this article, there can be an immediate relief of relationship tension. When you understand how you and your mate, colleague or friend process thoughts and feelings, you can agree they are all valid and valuable (versus right or wrong) and work together in support of, not at odds with, each other’s natural style of “processing.”

What do I mean when I say, “processing”?

This word is used to describe the way you react instinctively to new thoughts and feelings. It’s about the internal method you use to untangle your thoughts and feelings and the natural speed at which new thoughts and feelings whir through, and ultimately become part of you. Conflicts and frustrations can arise when people are unaware that processing styles even exists. Without this knowledge people can judge the frustratingly different approaches as “bad or wrong.” The purpose of this article is to explain these different tendencies so you can become aware of your style and become more understanding and respectful of anyone with a different style. All the options have their strengths and ideally you’ll learn when and how to use the best qualities of all choices.

A QUIZ-What’s your style?

Please answer the questions below and circle or make a note of the option that feels like ”The Real You.” Which choices best describe you?

1. When faced with a new idea, is your first instinct to:

jump into action right away? or pause to think it through before acting?

2. When something is troubling or challenging you, do you:

talk about it with others? or think it through privately?

3.When you have a lot of information to take in, do you:

seem to absorb it easily & adapt to change very quickly? or pace yourself and carefully consider the impact of each item before taking it in?

These three key questions and their differing responses have been identified through my on-going efforts to untangle and better understand relationships. With this new insight you can better understand yourself and each other with a blame-free attitude of mutual respect.

To make this easier to understand (and a bit more fun), I have used key words from the questions to describe each preference. Let’s take the questions one at a time:

1. Jumper or Pauser ?

When faced with a new idea, is your first instinct to jump into action right away or pause to think it through before acting? People usually react consistently in one way or the other. If you’re a “Jumper,” you’ll feel the urge to do something…anything, in reaction to a new challenge or situation. You probably also have confidence in your ability to handle whatever comes up without needing to prepare for all the possibilities.

The idea of making two or three different attempts to get something accomplished doesn’t bother you at all. You probably enjoy being active. You get a lot done in one day even if it means you have to try a few different strategies, you will not give up until it’s completed. People look at you as a real achieving, problem-solving, action oriented person.

If you're a “Pauser,” your first reaction to any new incoming information is to Stop, Back-up and reflect. You probably believe that the smart way to proceed is to first do nothing until you have thought about all the possible options, looked at the potential benefits and obstacles of each and have a realistic contingency plan if any of the options fail. This makes complete sense to you and you have created amazing success with this strategy. People look at you as wise and probably often seek your advice.

When both people have the same reflex reaction, you can imagine that the Jumpers are potentially both exhausted, eager to swap stories and completely supportive of what they have each encountered during their day of action. A couple of Pausers are probably both late for dinner because they had to work late and make a decision at the last minute. Thankfully, it went beautifully and they congratulate each other for a job well done.

Here’s the tricky part. When a Jumper and a Pauser are in a relationship and they’re not aware of the fact that there are actually a couple of ways to react to an idea, it can be confounding and upsetting when they have to work together. The Jumper may get annoyed at the Pauser for not acting right away. Generally Jumpers think the Pausers do too much unnecessary work before “doing” anything.

For a Jumper, this lack of action can create hair-pulling-out frustration. It doesn’t make sense to the Jumper; taking all that extra time to plan for things that will more than likely never happen. That viewpoint can turn into judgment and anger that has negative impact on a Pauser and the relationship. However, occasionally the Jumper does see the value in a Pauser’s approach and may even admit that a little more planning could save time and energy.

On the other hand, a Pauser may cringe as he watches the Jumper rush around, often suffering the effects of running into unanticipated roadblocks and seeming to waste tons of energy. However, he also scratches his head in wonder when frequently the very first thing the Jumper does, works out beautifully…and all without a written action plan! It’s hard for a Pauser to imagine. The Pauser may be tempted to judge the Jumper as over-reactive, illogical and unprepared when making decisions. That judgment doesn’t bring two people closer together.

At the end of the day, the Jumper and the Pauser have probably completed their tasks or made their decisions; they just took very different routes to get there.

Here’s the key, neither way is better than the other, they are just different…chocolate and vanilla, not right or wrong. Ideally you can learn to use both strategies as needed. Once you recognize your tendency, you can work together without judgment or frustration and simply say to yourself “Oh, I'm a (Jumper or Pauser) and they're a (Jumper or Pauser), now I understand why they act as they do.” Understanding the existence and value of both processes means each person can bring their unique strengths (not criticisms) to the relationship and to any situation they face together.

2. Talker or Thinker?

When something is troubling or challenging you, do you talk about it with others or think it through privately? This is pretty straightforward. You probably consider yourself a Talker or a Thinker. You either want to talk and talk and talk OR you need to be quiet, think, then talk. When you have two different styles, stop blaming each other as if one of you is right and the other wrong. Instead, suspend the view of right or wrong, respect each other’s process AND honor your own preference.

Talkers need to go find another Talker. Thinkers need some time alone. Arguing about it certainly doesn’t change things. When a Talker and Thinker relate to each other, this difference can be at the root of many arguments. Talkers may believe the Thinkers are withdrawing as a punishment, when in truth they really need to take some time alone with their thoughts. Thinkers can be driven nuts by having to participate in all this talking…Blah, blah, blah, when this is the actually the very best way for Talkers to resolve or discover how they think or feel about things.

Once you understand the “Talker/Thinker” concept and are no longer judging each other’s process, great teamwork, ideas and wisdom can result from your collaboration. When a situation arises that requires some processing, you can agree to suspend the conversation, do your own thing and get back together, at a specific time, in the future to share your point of view.

2012 note: To learn more about Introverts (the Pauser/thinkers) please read Marti Olsen Laney's terrific book, "The introvert Advantage." It explains so much and her follow-up books as wonderful as well.

3.Speeder or pacer?

When you have a lot of information to take in, do you seem to absorb it easily & adapt to easily to change or do you pace yourself and carefully consider the impact of each item before taking it in?

This choice is about an instinctive reaction. It’s about your cadence. This refers to the rhythm and speed of your mind and your strategy for taking in new ideas, changes, thoughts and feelings. Some people are Speeders, noted by their ability to assimilate and adjust to a lot on input quickly and easily. Their speedometer seems stuck on fast. Speeders can also adapt to change at an amazing rate. Then there are Pacers. Pacers have a built-in governor that keeps them from speeding and over-heating. They can maintain their cool and their reliable, steady pace no matter what pressure or chaos is going on around them. They may take their time to share or embrace new ideas but when they do, they are “rock solid.” It’s inspiring to watch their steadfastness at work.

When couples or co-workers differ in this aspect of processing, this can cause tension that leads to misunderstandings, negative assumptions and an unclear source of friction. Again, whether your cadence is fast or steady, neither style is right or wrong. They both have great benefits and everyone deserves the chance to bring their skills to each circumstance. It’s not productive to judge each other. It is powerful to recognize the strengths in each cadence. It’s also helpful to teach each other how to apply and appreciate these tactics in any given situation.

As with all my articles, it’s my intention to give you new awareness and deeper insights into behavior so you can make wiser, healthier and more conscious choices leading to less stress and more joy in your lives and relationships. The next time you feel frustrated or angry with someone while you’re in the process of trying to discuss, resolve or create something, take a moment to think about these three quiz questions and the answers that apply to each of you.

Remember… “Behavior has meaning.” Get curious. Look for ways to understand more about WHY they are doing whatever they are doing. Shift your attention from right or wrong to… “How can we work together more comfortably with the intention of honoring each other and respecting ourselves?” That’s a question worthy of some time and energy.

© Cathryn Bond Doyle 2002. All rights reserved.
Stepmoms on a Mission®
PO Box 7, Medford NJ 08055