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My Problem

When people give me large amounts of information, I will take plenty of time to process it before giving a response. The amount of time I take usually ranges from 30 seconds to a few minutes depending on the amount of information and whether or not it is about a subject that I am well versed in. Over the course of my life I have developed a reputation of having strong opinions and being very blunt in sharing them.

These two things combine to cause some issues for me at work. Often times, when someone is giving me feedback about my performance, they will tell me the feedback they have and then ask me if I understand it. When I don't give an immediate response (because I'm still trying to process the information), my coworkers often assume that I disagree with them and am going to push back against their feedback which leads them to become defensive.

It is worth noting that my needing extra processing time might be related to the fact that I am on the autism spectrum, which the co-workers with whom I have this issue are aware of.

What I've Tried

I have tried a couple of different things to indicate that I am just trying to process the information. The two main things have been putting my hand on my chin in a very obvious way to indicate that I'm thinking and verbalizing my intent with something along the lines of

Let me think about that for a minute

I have not seen any difference in my interactions when I've tried using either of these things.

My Question

How can I use body language to convey to other people that I am just taking time to process information rather than disagreeing with it?

  • 2
    Do they know that you need more time than "the average" to process things? And why are you only interested in non-verbal-communication? – Ælis Dec 7 '18 at 20:01
  • @Noon I would suspect that they don't know that I need more time than the average to process, though I'm not entirely sure. I'm interested in non-verbal-communication because it is one of the interpersonal skills that I am personally not as good with, so I'd like to strengthen my abilities with it. – Rainbacon Dec 7 '18 at 20:08
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    I'm having a little trouble imagining exactly the situation you are describing - as a possible frame challenge to your question, is it possible it would be appropriate for you to respond to their question of whether you understand with, "I think so, I'll let you know later if I have any questions" to give you time to process? This might be appropriate if this was all that needed to be discussed in the conversation, that is, if you did not need any time and simply said "yes I understand," would the conversation likely end there? – Bryan Krause Dec 7 '18 at 21:24
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    @BryanKrause The example of "do you understand" is a very generalized case to make the question easier for answerers to address. These sorts of interactions typically take place in a setting where the conversation is much more involved and a simple yes or no answer would not suffice. – Rainbacon Dec 7 '18 at 21:39
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When I need time to think, I usually raise my hand to do the "wait" signal (palm open), then I lower my eyes (indication that I'm not open to talking), slightly frowning my brows (indication that I'm thinking on a difficult topic) and, to accentuate this, I can also do small movements with my other hand like I'm counting something.

Do not look at the other while you are not ready to talk. Looking someone in the eyes is a sign a lot of people use to indicate that they want to talk to you and/or are listening to you. Since you do not want to talk to them, don't do it.

However, if they are trying to press you into answering, you can briefly look at them (or not) but don't forget to "accentuate" your "wait" hand signal (by accentuating, I mean making a dry gesture so that their attention is attracted toward your wait signal).

This is a technic that I use often and it works for me, however, I usually only need it in cases where some thinking can be expected.


I know you have asked about non-verbal communication here. However, I would strongly suggest you to also find ways to solve this situation with verbal communication. Especially when you need to think for a while.

For example, saying "Wait" when the other person is trying to press you into answering can only make your message stronger (but might came across as a bit rude because it makes people feel rejected while only using the non-verbal communication is a "softer" way to say the same thing).

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I will also encourage you to try to "buy time" to think in every way you can. A minute can be a very long time when someone is waiting for an answer and they might be more satisfied with you if they don't feel like they are doing nothing when waiting for your answer. A technic commonly used by people on the autistic spectrum is, for example, to reformulate what the other person just said. This will (hopefully) allow you to process things while not leaving a blanc in the conversation.

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Another possible solution is simply to ask for a short break. Saying something like:

Do you mind if we take a break? You said a lot of things and I need some time to order my thought.

This way, you have more time to process things without the other person pressing you for feedback. Plus, they might actually be happy for this opportunity to go to the bathroom/check their phone/etc...

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30 seconds or even longer is an extremely long time for someone waiting for a response. For comparison: if a computer program doesn't react for 8 seconds, most people assume it's frozen or crashed. But you are a human, you're not supposed to freeze or crash.

The people talking to you don't know what's going on in your head for so long. They don't know how to react to your lack of response and feel awkward.

If you can, you should give some feedback while you process all the information. Think of a download bar in a computer program: you don't get the response you want, but at the same time you know that there will be a response in the near future.

While processing the information given to you, you can repeat or summarize some bits of it to let the person know that you are thinking right now and that you understood what they told you. This doesn't have to be a two-way conversation, it's enough for you to list the thoughts you are processing right now.

If the other person starts talking and disrupting your thoughts, you can tell them

Please give me a moment to sort through everything you just told me. I want to make sure I haven't misunderstood or missed anything.

It might be a good idea to ask the person talking to you for a short break in the conversation to be able to process less information in less time. When there is an obvious change of topic, you can say something to create a little break to process the information before the conversation starts again with the next topic. Again, summarizing the facts while you process them works well. Otherwise, you need to ask for some time to think and then indicate that you are ready to continnue.

Can you give me a moment to think about (last topic)? or
I need a second to order my thoughts.

... thinking pose ...

Ok so you think that (very short summary). Now, you wanted to talk about (next topic) or
So, basically you said (very short summary). Now, we where at (next topic).

  • 1
    Since the OP is asking about non-verbal communication, do you have any suggestions regarding that aspect? – Ælis Dec 8 '18 at 10:09
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    @Noon I don't think you can bridge 30 seconds nonverbally without being awkward. That's why I proposed the second approach, to reduce the thinking time to an amount where being nonverbal is still acceptable. – Elmy Dec 8 '18 at 11:00
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Another "thinking" gesture that might buy you a little more time, and be more reassuring to others is slowly and repeatedly nodding your head while looking off to one side. While a normal nod indicates that you agree with something, a slow small nod indicates that you are still thinking about the subject, but don't have a question or concern at the moment. It's also useful when people are talking, to reassure them that you are listening carefully.

See the #6 "Let me think about that" nod on this page for an example.

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