Are You ‘Internal’ or ‘External’? And What About Me?

Internal ExternalDo you look internally or externally to verify an answer?  And what about the other person – are they internal or external?   How can you tell, why should you care, what does it even matter?

You can spot the ‘internals’ – about 40% of the population – or those with largely internal leanings, with expressions like:

“How do I know?  I just DO.”

“Why should I believe it, just because you heard it or saw it written somewhere?”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

“I can handle it myself.”

These people are not necessarily know-it-alls (although all know-it-alls are internal, not all internals are know-it-alls) – they are just extremely sure that their internal compass won’t steer them wrong.  They have strong gut feelings and largely believe them.  If they turn out to be wrong more times than not, internals still remain strong believers in their own views.  They set their own standards and are rarely swayed.

Externals, or those that are largely external, another 40% of the general population,   get their authority from others.  They cite people, books, the internet – sources outside of themselves as their proof that something is valid.  They put care greatly about the opinions of others to help them determine their own opinion.  You will hear externals say:

“Do you think this looks good on me?”

“I can’t wait to hear what she said when you told her that I…”

“See, I told you so – it’s right here online that you’re wrong about…!”

“What will the neighbors think?”


Here’s a quiz:  are these people ‘internal’ or ‘external’? –

a)      “Take what you want, leave the rest”

b)      “Do it now!”

c)       “What are you waiting for?”


What about the appeal of these ads –are they appealing to an ‘internal’ or an ‘external’?

a)      Burger King: Have It Your Way

b)      BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine

c)       L’Oreal Paris: Because You’re Worth It

So how will this knowledge help you in your communication skills?  If you are trying to influence another to your point of view, trying to convince them of something (important), knowing where the authority comes from with them can really help bolster your argument.  To an internal, never say, “I think you should do blab blab”, or “In my opinion, you need to do blab blab”.  Instead say, “This might help you make up your mind”, or “Let me help you make up your mind” which may sound like the same thing as “In my opinion…” but the difference in the wording really does make a difference in how it lands with the listener – which depends on whether they are internal or external.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  One way to have persuasive communication is to pay attention to the direction of the person’s authority source and structuring your language accordingly – internal orientation or external.  The approach you use can make a persuasive difference – so how important is the communication?

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