Stop Explaining! A How-To Guide

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Have you found yourself talking on and on… and on when you’re uncomfortable?

If you’re guilty of detailing, rephrasing, reiterating, expanding, or expounding till your listener’s ears drop off, you probably know you’re overexplaining.

It’s not an uncommon behavior, but it can be a real bore for others, and I’m guessing that’s not your intended impact.

Today, I’ll explain (concisely) why it happens, and how it links to stress. I’ll show you how you stop detailing endlessly, give yourself a break, and improve your chances of getting that point across.

Overexplaining Syndrome: Its Link With Stress

Just like muscle tension, rumination, and sleepiness can all be signs that you’re overburdened, endlessly explaining is very much a symptom of stress.

It’s particularly common in social situations, and especially when we’re feeling intimidated, vulnerable, or otherwise uncomfortable.

We might bombard others with explanations because we’re subconsciously:

  • Attempting to win their approval
  • Trying to make them happy
  • Waiting for some reassuring signal from them, or even
  • Worried that we’ll be misunderstood – especially if miscommunications have happened before.

Offering more detail, we mistakenly believe, is a way to secure that validation. Because we’re anxious or stressed, we go a little overboard.

Doesn’t Clarity = Impact?

Clarifying with sufficient detail can be important for workplace alignment, or in any social setting. When we account for our actions or statements, we also invite others to understand our perspectives.

Unfortunately, overexplaining has the opposite impact. It can:

  • Irritate our listeners
  • Take the weight away from our message
  • Make us seem insecure
  • Stifle creativity
  • Detract from our credibility, or
  • Distract others, who are either crafting their exit strategies or lost along the way.

How Does It Link To Stress?

According to psychologist Dr. Walker, endlessly explaining is a stress coping mechanism rooted in the ‘fawn response.’ Fawning, a term he coined, is an unconscious attempt to act in ways that are exceptionally socially desirable.

By succumbing to others needs, interests, or wants, we’re inadvertently trying to escape some perceived threat by being overly accommodating.

“With so many good reasons on the table”, we might think, “how can they possibly object?”

Maybe you’re guilty of overexplaining, and perhaps you’ve even tried explaining that behavior, too. For a better solution, here are 3 tips for my Endlessly Explaining Coaching Card to help you fix the problem.

3 Ways To Stop Endlessly Explaining

At its core, overexplaining is often a sign that we’re seeking validation. It’s rather like a deep-seated, unconscious need to give others reasons (too many) to approve of us or take us seriously.

Otherwise put, it’s a sign that we may be excessively focused on our listener’s wishes, needs, and opinions.

To change that, we can simply change our focus – to ourselves. These 3 tips will help.

1. Develop More Self-Awareness

While we may not be able to control others thoughts or opinions of us, we can influence a good deal of our own behaviors and cognitions through self-awareness.

By taking more notice of your thoughts and tendencies, you can become more self aware, which often makes for much simpler, clear, assertive, and concise communication. With more self-awareness, you can practice more deliberate, clear communication rather than explaining away on autopilot.

One way to cultivate more self-awareness is by doing new things. For example:

  • Take yourself on a local adventure: Exploring a nearby neighborhood, eating in a new cafe, or catching a bus out of town can be great ways to break out of your regular routines. This ‘micro travel’ also makes “you” your focus and puts you in unfamiliar situations, strengthening your self-awareness.
  • Develop a fresh skill: A new activity, hobby, or challenge can stimulate different neural pathways as you think and respond to novel demands. As you adopt a ‘beginners mindset’ or learning mentality, you’ll open up new perspectives, build psychological flexibility, and become more aware of yourself. Why not swim if you often walk, or try your hand at sculpting?

2. Ban the “Buts” and “Becauses”

An overexplainer’s diatribe is often frequently riddled with “But’s” and “Because’s” – have you ever noticed?

A very straightforward way to stop yourself from explaining away tirelessly is by paying attention to how often you use these two B words. Then, just stop yourself.

Instead, consider how you might rephrase your message in one or two concise sentences. This trick works great in the moment and even after you’ve finished speaking. How will you keep it short and sweet next time?

3. Try Asking Instead

If you think you overexplain because you’re worried that you haven’t made yourself clear, asking for reassurance is just as effective.

Instead of assuming your listener needs more detail, why not check with them directly?

Try:

  • “Do you have any questions?”
  • “What have I missed?” or
  • “Would you like to know more about _?”

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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