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4 Reasons You May Over-Explain, and 7 Ways to Conquer the Habit

Woman getting bored in coffee shop as her friend dominates the conversation with over-explaining
Getty Images / Jose Luis Agudo Gonzalez

Think back: who dominated your last one-on-one conversation? Was it your conversation partner… or was it you? Did you struggle to make yourself feel understood? Did your partner appear bored, uncomfortable, or try to change the subject? Dominating a conversation doesn’t always mean you’re too focused on “Me, Myself, and I.” Rambling and excessive explaining could be signs of a confidence problem. If your conversations often lapse into unnecessary detail, you may have issues with over-explaining. Today, Sarah Bailey shares four reasons we may over-explain and seven tips to conquer the habit. Use these strategies to strike the right balance between "enough detail" and "TMI."

Hi, my name’s Sarah and I suffer from rejection sensitivity and over-explaining. I honestly can't tell you when it all started, as it's been going on for as long as I remember.

I have vivid memories of lying in my childhood bedroom, looking around at the things in it, and my brain telling me, "Just look at these things. They only give them to you to make it more of a shock when they finally get rid of you."

You might be wondering why a child would think such things.

Well, I was adopted as a baby. While many believe an adopted baby remembers nothing and feels no trauma, that isn't true. While a baby can't describe what they’re going through or feeling, repressed emotions can become mental health issues if not dealt with in time.

In my case, some of the trauma from my adoption carried over to adulthood. This trauma and fear of rejection have shaped a few communication habits I have today – including a need to over-explain.

Of course, I'm not saying my mental health issues are entirely linked to my adoption. I likely had a genetic predisposition that was triggered by the adoption trauma.

However, trauma isn't the only reason we may fear rejection and over-explain things.

Why do we over-explain?

Let's be honest - quitting the need to over-explain won't happen overnight. That said, understanding why we over-explain may help us deal with issues linked to it. We can also become more mindful about our communication styles.

Often, over-explaining has the opposite effect of its intention. Instead of clarifying a point, it can make a point too complex to take in.

So, as well as being a possible trauma response from a wounded inner child, what else can make someone over-explain?

1. Insecurity

Do you need more confidence in your knowledge and abilities? When people lack confidence, some use over-explaining to compensate for their self-perceived inadequacies.

2. Fear of being misunderstood

People like being understood as it's a sign they "fit in" and can hold the attention of others. Conversely, have you ever had someone fly off the handle because they've misunderstood your point?

Fear of being misunderstood is more common than you think. It can lead to over-explaining to ensure a person sees you the way you want to see yourself.

3. Rejection sensitivity

Fear of rejection ties in with insecurity and fear of being misunderstood. We all want our peers to accept us, even if we have nothing in common. Over-explaining can be an attempt to gain a listener's approval - whether you “need” that approval or not!

4. Perfectionism

Perfectionism may be another form of rejection sensitivity.

Holding yourself to an impossible standard can make you fearful of mistakes. A perfectionist may feel humiliated if someone seeks clarification on a missed or unclear point in the conversation. So, to avoid shame, a perfectionist may over-explain to the last detail, no matter how trivial the topic is.

7 ways to conquer an over-explaining habit

I admit I didn't realize I over-explained myself quite as much as I did until my partner, Ash, started pointing it out.

I'll be honest; it can be hard when someone says you're talking too much. I still struggle with it now, even though I know it’s for the best. After all, the first step in dealing with over-explaining is becoming aware that you do it.

Here are seven steps I follow in dealing with over-explaining.

1. Learn your “over-explaining triggers”

Have you ever stopped to consider how you communicate?

Learning more about your communication style may help you stop over-explaining before it happens.

Next time you're in a conversation, take mental notes based on these questions:

  • Am I over-explaining my point?
  • What triggered my need to over-explain?
  • Is over-explaining helping me, or do I still feel uncomfortable?
  • Is my over-explaining helping my conversation partner?
  • Have I come across this trigger before?

Noticing when you seem to speak for longer can help you identify patterns in your communication style. 

And if, like me, you have someone who'll (kindly) tell you when you're over-explaining, that can help. Practice makes perfect!

2. Think before you speak

Over-explaining may happen because you started speaking before you fully formed your point. If you have time to think before reacting, you can plan what to say and how to get it across.

Feel free to make notes for long, complex, or earnest conversations. Notes will allow you to follow specific points and keep on topic.

3. Read your audience

It can be worth practicing active listening, whether you’re talking to one person or a roomful. Look out for cues from your conversation partner. Are they engaged, nodding in agreement, or making affirming sounds? Then take that as "they understand" and move to your next point.

4. Seek feedback

Not from everybody! But this links back to trusting a loved one to tell you when you're over-explaining. Ask them to go further and offer feedback (if convenient for them, too).

Sometimes, honest input can help you work out other areas for improvement in your communication style.

5. Embrace silence or gaps in conversational flow

I'll never be able to deal with this one. I hate silence so much that I once had a teacher put on a radio during an exam. As a child, I remember going from room to room in the house and turning on every radio and TV set.

Silence and I don't mix. However, quiet periods can be necessary for your conversation partner's comfort and reflection. It's okay to be silent and let your point rest.

6. Practice!

Give yourself a word count. For some people, writing an explanation of a complex point in less than 100 words can also help with vocal communication. It's like brain training!

7. Speak to a professional

If you feel comfortable with it, the helping hand of a professional could help with overcoming issues and moving forward.

While we can work toward facing our trauma, an "outside party" can help put things in perspective and provide unbiased advice. Therapy is nothing to be embarrassed about or a sign you’ve “lost control.” Many people seek therapy for all sorts of reasons – even if the going’s generally good!

The takeaway

Over-explaining can hinder effective communication and stem from various underlying reasons. Many of us fear rejection, feel insecure, live with trauma, or have a natural propensity to over-explain.

By becoming aware of our communication habits, implementing strategies, and seeking advice, we can address these issues and become better speakers.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-1018 JUNE 2023

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