This article has a checkered history. It came about because someone close to me told me that I have a tendency to over-explain things — and that it’s quite annoying.
This was hurtful when I heard it. Because I respected them of course — but also because it had the ring of truth. They’d later take it back, saying they were just frustrated with me and that they only felt that way because we were arguing about something else at the time.
But before that happened, I had the opportunity to do a lot of research on the topic. To do some soul-searching. And learn more.
What I learned is that over-explaining is most commonly a symptom of anxiety and can also indicate low self-esteem. Since I have vast experience with both of those, I wanted to dive in further. As I thought over my life, I could identify that I actually used to be a lot worse re: over-explaining. In the past decade or so, as I’ve worked on my other issues, I do it a lot less.
It’s a lot like apologizing constantly. Which is also an area of big improvement. I don’t do that anymore. I used a common technique of thanking people when I had the urge to apologize, which was very effective (wrote about that here).
Both over-explaining and apologizing can not only annoy people but also convey the message that we lack confidence. Even if it’s true, even if we do lack confidence (and I certainly do at times), sometimes that’s not the impression we want to convey.
How to Stop Over-Explaining
Okay, cool. That’s the why of stopping over-explaining. So how do we stop, if we want to?
Well, looking at the available research, I found the following suggestions:
If you must explain, give a short synopsis of the situation. Just a few sentences. Very short and concise sentences are best here, not long and meandering ones. A TL;DR.
If you feel like that’s not enough, ask the other person if they want more detail. Or ask if they have any questions or if there’s anything else they’d like to know.
Basically, give them time to digest what you’ve said and ask followup questions. If there’s something important you’ve left out, they can let you know.
That’s the most important thing, I’ve found — leaving room for the other person to temporarily misunderstand. Many times, this won’t happen. They’ll get what you mean. But in cases where they don’t quite follow, I’ve found that often people will let you know.
And the good thing about staying concise is that it increases the chances that they’ll actually listen to what you do say and absorb it.
It’s also good to keep in mind that while some things are big issues and situations in which you must ensure the other person fully understands you, not everything falls into this category. Sometimes it’s just not that important.
I know. I just involuntarily twitched as I wrote that. That’s the overexplainer’s curse. That feels like heresy. But it’s true.