“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you, if your realised how seldom they do.”

~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Author – Dr. Neeta Pant

Senior HR Professional, Clinical Psychologist,

Executive Life Coach, Soft Skills Trainer, POSH & POCSO Trainer, Graphologist, Hypnotherapist

Have you ever been into a situation where you wanted to refuse but found yourself accepting.  Have you ever gushed out an awkward explanation and then felt neither you were articulate nor were persuasive enough.  In fact, you felt silly afterwards.  You knew that you *overdid* your speech but *under-delivered* your message. 

This is called as over-explaining.  It is a nervous habit which comes from FEAR : Fear of sounding harsh, Fear of taking a strong position which can be misread, Fear of sounding dumb, Fear of people thinking you aren’t making sense.  We can also be motivated by guilt or self-doubt sometimes.

Over-explaining weakens our words and dilutes our message!  Then why do we feel the need to over-explain, most of the times? The reasons are  –

  1. To Avoid Being Judged –  As humans, our need is to be accepted and understood where we’re coming from.  We want to avoid making any bold statement for fear of being misunderstood and hence offer up information that only gets in the way of the point we are trying to make.
  2. To Protect Other People’s Feelings – Ironically, People’s feelings are often way less affected by our decisions than we think.  Everyone is busy leading their own lives and choices instead of worrying about ours.  Same-time, it can be scary to be bold or blunt because there is a potential risk of hurting someone’s feelings. 
  3. To Avoid Conflict –  It’s much easier to make vague statements, especially regarding a hot topic rather than getting heads-on into a potential conflict. Conflicts are uncomfortable, hence, we over-explain to avoid it sometimes.
  4. Trying To Control Other’s Response –  When we fear that our responses may not be liked by others, its natural to pile on explanations.  We naturally assume if we can give a compelling enough reason for our choice, we can ensure the other person sees it from our perspective.
  5. Trying To Ease Our Guilt –  Responses which others may not like can prompt feelings of guilt in us.  Guilt makes us turn into explanations and excuses to convince the other person and to assure us as well that we have a good enough reason behind making that choice.  We are also conditioned to believe that other’s wants, needs and feeling are more important than ours and we are tempted to over-explain in order to appear as being kind, generous, agreeable and accommodating.
  6. Insecurities –  Ambiguities about our decision makes us lookup to others for reassurance.  We over-explain in the hope that the other person will understand and come around to our point of view.  It’s not really about the other person changing their mind as much as it is about needing external approval for our own choices.

WHY IS OVER-EXPLANING A PROBLEM?

  1.  It Devalues What We Are Saying –  When our thoughts get clouded with over explanation, it devalues the point being made and highlights the speaker seem unsure of his/her own ideas.  It can stall growth not only at work but in our relationships too in long run.
  2. It Can Give People Wrong Impression –  Too much explanation can derail us from the track of our original point.  One might not understand our train of  thoughts and intentions in this case.
  3. Makes us feel less confident in ourselves –  Stumbling over our words because there is a perceived need to explain ourselves robs us off of our confidence.  When we eliminate over explaining, our self confidence increases and so is confidence of others in our ideas and suggestions.

How frustrating all this can be!  Can we do something about it?  Can we change this habit of ours?  The good news is, we can!  With a little bit of consciousness, effort and practice, we can overcome this too!

STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME OVER-EXPLAINING

  1. Know The Triggers –  Carefully notice the next time we feel compelled to provide unnecessary explanations.  The most common reasons could be –
  2. Lack of self-confidence
  3. Feeling intimidated
  4. Passionate conversations
  5. Feeling vulnerable
  • Formulate 2-3 sentences to add value to the conversation  –  These sentence must be short and concise to be effective summing up the gist of what we are supposed to say.  Formulate them in our heads before we respond!
  • Ask a question –  If we think that others in the conversation may need more details, it’s time to stop and ask them directly if they would like extra information around the topic.  Everyone does not want or need to know how have we arrived at the decision.
  • Develop More Self-Awareness – To become self-aware, we need to notice our thoughts and tendencies which often leads to much simpler, clear, assertive and concise communication rather than explaining away a detailed autopilot.
  • Be Comfortable With Silence –  A beat of silence after we have made our own statement but also before we start talking does the trick.  Taking a pause to think about our response before it comes our makes us feel more confident.  Respond and then wait for a response rather than indulging into further explanations.
  • Place Value In Thoughts & Decisions –  There should not be any need to defend ourselves.  Our opinion too is just as valid as others.  Ensure that we are not devaluing our own voice feeding the need to over-explain.
  • Accept Full Responsibility Of Our Choices –  Once we accept that our choices and the repercussions of those choices are always ours, it’s much easier to not explain and justify them to others.  Others approval would not be needed then.
  • Embrace Honesty –  Sometimes we feel the need to over-explain because we are not acting in an honest and forthright way.  Justification then is a cover up for our dishonest or inconsistent actions.  Striving to act honestly will automatically eliminate over-explaining.
  • Stop Assuming That Everyone Needs Justification –  We may be under the impression that people around us wants an in-depth explanation.  They may not, all people need is a clear Yes or a NO.  Most of the time it’s we who read the social situation wrong. 
  • Be Patient & Rewarding – Be patient with yourself and do celebrate the moment when you are able to say NO without diving into the painstaking details.  Allow yourself to feel whatever feelings surface when you say ‘no’.  Learn to sit with the discomfort of disappointing others – you can’t please everyone.  Learn to prioritise yourself!
  • Cut the ‘Buts’ and ‘Because’ – A very simple and straightforward way to stop ourselves from explaining away is by paying attention to how often these two words get used by us and then further stop using them.
  • Stop Adding Disclaimers –  “I don’t know how you would read this but…..”  We must not disclaim our sentences.  It makes us sound insecure and unsure of ourselves.  It’s like leaving the door open to back out of it if the other person does not approve of our choices.  We need not do that.  If they don’t like it, it’s their problem, not ours.  We are responsible for our emotions, so feel the feeling and act  without shouldering the responsibility of others.
  • Is it Necessary?  – A simple but powerful question.  Is it necessary to justify our actions? Is the explanation necessary or its stemming out of insecurity? The first step here is to asses when and why we over-explain.  Take time to evaluate what is making us uncomfortable about the given situation.  Opportunity to evaluate why we feel the need to over-explain, will help us boost confidence and makes over-explaining un-necessary.

Ironically, the times we feel the urge to go into intrinsic details are the exact times a concise response would be most valuable.  Over explaining creates the exact opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.  Remember – “No” is a complete sentence in itself.

Breaking the over-explaining habit is a huge boon to our professional and personal life.  Think about it this way: the most reliable and trustworthy asset you’ll ever have is YOU. And every time you assert your limits, without making excuses or trying to please others, without getting caught in the loop of over-explaining, you strengthen that crucial bond with yourself. 

The beauty here is –  Saying NO with confidence gets easier with time. The icing on the cake is –  People will notice, appreciate, understand and respect us better!

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others.

Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval.

Because one accepts oneself, the world accepts him or her.

~Lao Tzu

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