Do you, or someone you know have the tendency to over-explain? Have you found yourself in situations where you just kept on talking especially when you were uncomfortable?
You’ve probably guessed that this habit of excessively detailing, expounding, or expanding a point you are trying to make is tied to stress. In order to relieve a perceived threat, this stress-coping technique is an unconscious attempt to behave in socially acceptable ways. We do this when we are more focused on being amenable and accommodating to others' wants and wishes.
Over-explaining is common in social settings. Those most susceptible struggle with setting boundaries, have low self-esteem, are people pleasers, feel intimidated or vulnerable, or were often misunderstood in the past when talking. My own tendency to overshare information happens when I’m excited about something I’ve learned, and am trying to encourage others to experience it. My good intention doesn’t always translate well.
Over-explaining is quite literally using more words than is necessary. Instead of being pointed and direct, the person launches into long justifications for a decision. For instance, you aren’t going to accept a birthday party invitation. Instead of just saying, “I can’t make it,” you say “I won’t be able to come because I am trying to stay away from other people. I went out the other day and someone was coughing and now I’m not feeling well, but I don’t want to be rude. But I just can’t take the risk of being around other people. I know you are careful, but I don’t know about the other people who’ll be attending and I am not comfortable” and so on.
Anxiety or stress combined with the nervousness of being misunderstood, disliked or upsetting another, or the need to please, be reassured or approved of will cause us to speak more than we need to. We believe that doing so makes our message clearer. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Over-explaining is problematic, and it often has the opposite effect than intended. We may think that keeping our main point until the end will keep people interested. Actually it makes:
To break the habit of always spelling things out or chronicling reasons in detail, we have to first overcome the need for external validation. We do this by shifting attention inwards and noticing our own thought and feeling processes.
We gain control of external situations only by consciously managing our internal environment.
The more conscious we are of the emotions we are feeling, and the stories we are telling ourselves about stressful or new situations, the more empowered we’ll be to face them. If we know the stream of thoughts in our minds, we’ll be able to disrupt our habit of rambling explanations and reframe our internal narrative. We can then replace mindless long-winded explanations with simple, clear, and direct messages.
We must also take time to soothe our anxiety and worry about disappointing others. Play out a scenario in your mind where you were invalidated, or misunderstood. Sit with the discomfort and painful feelings. Then acknowledge that we’ll inevitably disappoint others even when we don’t intend to. This is life.
By managing how we communicate, we can rebuild our image. When I first started promoting my business, I would answer the question, “what do you do?” with an off-the-cuff detailed description. After I wrote down the main and supporting points of my message with the understanding that I only have a limited time to answer, thereafter I was able to succinctly and clearly explain what I do. Now it has become quite natural to answer with just a few words.
As over-explainers worry that they aren’t being clear or are being misunderstood, you can avoid talking off someone’s ear by getting into the habit of asking your listeners questions. “Do you need more information?” “Would you like me to continue?” “Was that clear?” This is a good way of receiving reassurance that you made your point.
Learn whether your natural habit is to speak or listen and what percentage of the time that occurs. Introverts may listen 70% and speak 30% of the time, and vice versa for extroverts. Change your habit from speaking for half an hour to listening for half an hour.
When you are speaking, watch the expressions of the people you are communicating with. If you see they understand your point, you don’t need to say more. You can then focus on letting them speak.
A very good approach is to think more about what your listeners need to hear and not about what you want to say.
Remember, in a conversation people can’t focus for long. Say your main point, explain a little, and then stop talking. In this way, you’ll hold their attention.
May you be heard and understood.