Do you often find yourself justifying the decisions you make to others?
Do you spend too much of your valuable time and energy anticipating the arguments that are going to come from just living your life?
Over-explaining – that is, justifying why you choose to do what you do – is a constant drain on your mental resources. That doesn’t include deep conversations where there is an actual reason to be diving into the reasons behind things. No, we’re talking about situations more like…
Candace decides to buy a new car. She goes out, shops around, and picks one she likes. However, she knows that when she informs her mother, there will be a load of questions. Why did you need a new car? Don’t you think that was a little expensive? Why did you get that car? Why didn’t you get this other car? Why didn’t you talk to me first, and I could have helped you?
Or maybe it’s something a bit more personal.
Mark decides his relationship is over and breaks up with his girlfriend. The rumor mill operates at full capacity, with a nosy friend trying to get into his business. Why did you guys break up? Weren’t you happy? What was going on? Do you really think that’s a good idea? Maybe you should have thought on it longer?
But sometimes, it’s not even the other person who is prompting the conversation. For example, how many times have you found yourself giving an uncertain answer to a direct question?
The Boss: Hey, I need you to come to work on Saturday.
Annette: Oh, I don’t know if I can do that. I have to be with my kids that day, and I just have so much going on. Let me check my calendar.
Annette knows the answer is no. She knows she doesn’t want to work on Saturday. It’s her day off, and she has things to do. Still, she tries to soften the answer and navigate around the truth that she actually wants to say.
Why is over-explaining a bad thing?
At first glance, it may seem like over-explaining is not all that big of a deal. It may seem like the diplomatic thing to do. It may even feel like the person needs to justify themselves because they deal with someone they view as an authority figure. Or, in the case of talking to the boss at work, someone who actually does have a great deal of authority over your job and ability to pay your rent.
But over-explaining can hurt you in a few different ways.
First, it gives other people the impression that you are indecisive or wishy-washy. Suppose you answer ‘maybe’ to every direct question, even though you both know it’s a yes or no answer. In that case, people are going to assume that your boundaries are weak. A person with healthy boundaries would just say yes or no because they protect their space and time. A person who constantly answers maybe is giving the impression that the ‘no’ might be flexible if they just push harder.
Second, over-explaining can cause a big breakdown in understanding and communication. The person you’re talking to may have asked you a simple question, but now it’s bogged down with a bunch of other information that just isn’t necessary. That may confuse your communication which can snowball into other issues since the original issue wasn’t properly resolved.
Third, you are backing yourself into a small corner where you cannot properly stretch your wings and be who you are. Why do you need external approval to do what’s right for you and your life? That’s right, you don’t. Yeah, you may make the wrong decision from time to time, but that’s life. Better to make that wrong decision for yourself than have someone else make that wrong decision for you.
You can waste your time justifying your actions and explaining yourself to other people, but they don’t have to live with the consequences of your choices. You do.
But how do you stop explaining yourself when you just don’t need to?
1. Embrace the discomfort of silence.
Are you familiar with the phrase “a pregnant pause?” This is a pause that a conversationalist purposefully employs to get the other person to keep talking. It’s a common tactic of salesmen, police, and other people who need to get the other person talking.
The way this works is that the person will ask you a question, you’ll answer, and then they will just stay silent. They may look you in the eyes while silent. They are trying to purposefully make you anxious and uncomfortable, so you will contribute more information or start talking again.
Embrace the discomfort of silence. If you answer the question and they’re just sitting there looking at you, look back at them and give them a big smile! And just wait for them to continue on with the conversation or questions.
Awkward silences can feel uncomfortable. And some people will use that awkward silence as leverage against you. Don’t let them. Say your piece, close your mouth, and wait for a response.
2. Accept full responsibility for your choices.
Some people who constantly justify themselves are simply lacking confidence. They feel like they need to explain and justify their choices so that the other person can give them approval, making it feel like they made the right choice.
There’s a little secret about right and wrong choices. You’re going to make wrong choices. You’re human. That’s just part of life. What’s worse is to make no choices at all, to let your silence decide for you, or to let someone else makes the choices for your life.
Can you take responsibility for yourself and your choices? Once you accept that your choices and the repercussions of those choices are always yours, it’s much easier to stop worrying about them. Instead, you’ll deal with the troubles of that choice later, if there are any.
Hell, there may not be. It may be that your choice was the right one all along. But, on the other hand, it may also be that your wrong choice will put you on the road to the thing that’s right for you. Life is like that sometimes.
3. Embrace honesty.
Sometimes it’s not about confidence at all. Some people feel the need to justify their actions to others because they aren’t acting in an honest and forthright way. Instead, they are doing several things behind the scenes. Their justification is less over-explaining and more that they are trying to make excuses for their bad choices.
Well, guess what? You don’t have to justify anything if you are striving to act honestly. There aren’t inconsistencies in your stories or actions that need to be explained away to be understood. People just learn who you are, and they know where your choices come from because they actually know you, not just the image you’re trying to portray.
Sometimes, explaining yourself can be as simple as, “No. I don’t want to.”
4. Dismiss the need to be accepted.
You’re not always going to make the right decisions. You’re not always going to make decisions that are acceptable to others. And sometimes, those others will include the people that you love and that love you. The truth of the matter is that you will end up disappointing or hurting the people you love sooner or later. Everyone does it. Humans are messy creatures who don’t always play well together.
And though compromise is important in making relationships work, there will be times when you absolutely must do the right thing for yourself. It could be incredibly important to you or a moral dilemma that goes against your character, but it’ll be something.
In that kind of scenario, you will likely discuss what happened, but there will come a line that you’ll not want to cross. You’ll explain yourself, they will say they are disappointed or angry, and you’ll just have to let them be disappointed or angry instead of soft-stepping around the issue.
“I did this thing because I felt it was the right thing to do. That’s all the explanation I need.”
And this is an opportunity for them to mature and for the relationship to deepen. You can still love someone while being angry or disappointed with a choice they made. That’s one of the cracks where mature love shines through.
5. Why do you want to know?
Do you feel pressured into explaining yourself? Well, just ask them, “Why do you want to know?”
This will accomplish one of two goals. Either they will provide a reasonable explanation for wanting to know why you did the thing you did, which helps grow and develop relationships. Or, it will shut the other person down as they try to find a way to justify to themselves why they are trying to pry into your business and choices.
Suppose they don’t have an actual reason. In that case, they will likely stumble over themselves trying to come up with their own justification for getting into your business.
6. Stop assuming that everyone needs justification.
A person who over-explains themselves may just be reading the social situation wrong. They may be under the mistaken impression that the person they are talking to actually wants an in-depth explanation. Many people do not. They just want an answer to do what they need to do and get on with their day.
Take the previous example of the boss asking Annette to work on Saturday, for example. A bad boss may be looking for a way to pressure her into working on her day off. On the other hand, a good boss may just have to find cover for that shift, and if Annette just said no, the boss could get on with it and look for someone else to cover.
Those kinds of questions aren’t always that deep. Many times they are just surface level. So stay at the surface until the situation prompts you to go deeper.
7. Stop adding disclaimers to your statements.
“I know this might be an unpopular opinion, but…”
“I don’t know how you feel about this, but…”
Don’t disclaim your sentences. All it does is make you sound insecure and unsure of yourself. It’s a shallow pre-justification that is trying to leave the door open to back out of if the other person doesn’t approve of your opinion or choice. You don’t need to do that. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it.
That’s their problem. Not yours. Other peoples’ emotions are not your responsibility. And similarly, your emotions are not other peoples’ responsibility. So feel what you feel and do what you do without trying to make it seem like something that it’s not.
“Oh, well, I didn’t really mean that.” Everyone knows or assumes that statement is BS.
8. Ask yourself, “Is this necessary?”
It’s a simple question that can be quite informative. Consider the situation, what you’re talking about, and whether or not you must explain or justify. Is it because you need to have this conversation? Or is it just an urge that stems from insecurity?
Feeding your insecurity will only make it worse and more uncomfortable. But suppose it’s a necessary conversation, and you want the other person to better understand where you’re coming from. In that case, it may be worthwhile to explain your reasoning.
Just make sure the other person is doing the same, so you have equal communication.
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- How To Speak More Clearly, Stop Mumbling, And Be Heard The First Time