Thought Leadership

A one-way conversation

By Colin Walls

I work from my home office – when I am not on an airplane going someplace – and the house is often empty. So I spend quite a lot of time alone. As I am an introvert by nature, that is mostly OK. I usually try to leave the house at some point, in order to interact with other members the Human race, and we have an active, evening social life, so the solitude is just part of the picture.

A side-effect of being alone is that I talk to myself …

Since I was a child, I have regarded a “self conversation” as quite normal – well, normal for me anyway. I have always thought that it helped with organizing my thoughts and preparing for situations when I would need to interact with other people. I have learned that not everyone has the same high regard for the practice. Sometimes, when I have raise the topic, people give me odd looks. That gets worse if I mention that I use different voices sometimes. ? At least I do not have arguments with myself!

Some years ago, I developed a useful problem solving technique, which I wrote about here. Essentially, the idea is that you can often solve a problem simply by explaining it to someone else. I had assumed that this worked because the vocalization changed how the brain operates. However, this week I read an article that sheds new light on this idea.

It seems that vocalizing ideas helps you to understand them more fully, because the process slows you down. You can then consider the information at a more leisurely pace. That all makes sense to me. It also explains why making notes can help to internalize information. The article also suggests that talking to yourself is just as good, as the vocalization process is much the same as talking to someone else. Again, that makes sense to me, as I have noticed that my [usually awful] proof reading skills improve drastically when I read text aloud.

Although I do make video blogs, I do not really like seeing myself. However, maybe I should start podcasting and enjoy listening to myself gaining greater insights …


4 thoughts about “A one-way conversation
  • I do support this self-conversation practice (at least anonymously over the internet 🙂 ). My mom always joked about it and now she is supported by my wife in this activity. For me this phenomenon intensifies when I have to stop working on the problem (e.g. due to end of workday or just a need to do daily chores). In result, during first activity that does’t really occupy whole mind (mowing lawn, making the dishes) I start to murmur while problem overcomes my will. Mostly I do not rather talk exactly to myself. I absendmindedly start talking to some imaginary person (actually an “avatar” of real person who is a good listener and with whom I like talking). There are some people around me who were already “discredited” by having similar habit. Any unharmful way to solve problem should not be forbidden and if it makes some fun for someone, then it’s even better 🙂

  • First of all Colin – thanks for your writing.

    I myself being a software engineer practice writing down as a form of getting deeper into a problem. However, I have noticed that when I work as a part of a well-played teams – I can keep a context of a problem in my head just by being around and participating in the discussions on the subject in question. At these times I write wery little. Just to capture milestones for retrospectives. So, it might be the fact that you are working alone (and don’t have a decent listener/opponent) that makes you comming up with a substitution. I need to say, that until recently I have always been a member of a team. Now I started consulting and might eventualy prefer your approach. I am extravert, though. We will see how it goes.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at