Most people that I interact with on a daily/regular basis seem to need to over explain and qualify every statement.

An example would be:

I'm heading out shortly and your car is blocking the drive.

So far so good, but they will then continue and state:

You'll need to move it out onto the road. If you don't I can't get my car out.

Other examples include:

  • Telling me I need to click "send" after writing an email.
  • Telling me that the kettle will need water in it before I can boil it.
  • The printer needs switching on first before trying to print.

None of these things are said in passing either. My colleague genuinely asked me "You know the printer needs switching on first before you try to print that?"

How do I kindly explain to these people that I get it, I honestly have thought of whatever they are about to say, but in a way that doesn't deter them for contributing useful observations in the future?

  • @Raditz_35 These are co-workers, friends, family. For an example I asked my colleagues in my office the other day if they wanted anything from the local shop. I was going to head out on my lunch. One said "Don't be daft you cant make it there in half an hour, even if you ran. You'll need to drive there!". I quizzed her on the point and she simply said "But you'll have to drive there!!". I could understand her answer if I had a broken leg or similar but thankfully not, or if she was concerned about the cost of fuel. She just looked at me as is I was missing a glaringly obvious point. – Moz Oct 10 at 13:05
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    @noon I`m a guy. I should say that most of these comments come from women. While I do agree that gender does have an impact and that there are some stereotypes that are well entrenched, I don't agree that it should. – Moz Oct 12 at 9:56
  • Moz, how old are you? I would expect that if you are abone 65 years old, some people are just assuming that you are a bit senile. – Mandrill Oct 14 at 3:48
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    Some more context would make this more relevant. Are you a fresh out of school intern? Have you tripped over simple things like this before? What region are you in? Is there a language or culture barrier of some kind? Do you come from a substantially different region/background/ethnicity/something than the other people? I can't tell if your people are being overly friendly as a norm, or if they are being condescending because you've developed a reputation for not knowing anything, or something else is afoot. – YetAnotherRandomUser Oct 14 at 14:09

12 Answers 12

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Most answers here discuss the first example but not so much the other examples:

Telling me I need to click "send" after writing an email.
Telling me that the kettle will need water in it before I can boil it.
The printer needs switching on first before trying to print.

Which rather seem to indicate an assumed lack of knowledge on your part which, it seems, isn't really there. People seem to think you don't know these things, but you actually do. The straight-forward way would be to politely point out that you already knew that. Something like

Thanks. I already knew that you have to click "send" after writing an email.

Thanks. No need to tell me that a kettle needs water in it before it can boil. I've done it before.

Thanks. But I already know that the printer needs switching on first before trying to print.

In particular, if a colleague genuinely asked you "You know the printer needs switching on first before you try to print that?", in case you really knew that I would simply answer with:

Yes, I know that.

And, in case you didn't or had forgotten about it:

Thanks. I didn't know that. [or] Thanks. I had forgotten about that.

You should pay special attention on not coming off as arrogant. But it's still very important to let others know what you know and what not. The key is friendliness. You could for example add:

Thanks. It's very kind of you, but that wasn't the problem, I know that ...

Depending on the specific situation, you might want to give some more details to make sure that people understand that you got it. Stating that you knew that already is kind of a rebuff but with a polite and possible light-hearted tone it will signal that next time people can expect that you already got it. If this is not enough, you could gradually become a bit more impatient.

While in the cases of people contributing really useful observations in the future, I would explicitly express my gratitude ("Thanks a lot, I didn't know that. That was really helpful."). That way they learn the true boundaries of your knowledge and that will help you very much in the future.

If you know the people well enough you can even use irony and even a slight sarcasm in a light-hearted way like:

Really? Kettles do not produce boiling water out of thin air? [Smile]

It's important to make sure, that the conversations stays friendly, e.g. by smiling. It usually does the trick for me close to 100% of the time.

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    "I don't do that for the first time." Needs some grammar fixes. I'm not sure what you were intending to say. Maybe, "This isn't the first time I've done it," although the tone of that is a little confrontational. "I've done it before," is slightly less confrontational, but not by much. – jpmc26 Oct 11 at 22:18
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    The last example is more sarcasm than irony. – msb Oct 11 at 23:39
  • @msb If you smile and say it in a light-hearted way I think it can be more irony than sarcasm. However, I added that it's also sarcasm. – Trilarion Oct 15 at 7:36
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    Both works. I just have been seeing a trend where people use "sarcasm" more for when you're making a comment on purpose, and "irony" for things that happen. But anyway, both are correct at the end of the day. :-) – msb Oct 15 at 7:45

The example you gave reminds me of a similar conversation we've had about phrasing constructive comments on this site ;)

"I`m heading out shortly and your car is blocking the drive"

This is a statement of fact. OK, so what?

"You`ll need to move it out onto the road, If you dont I cant get my car out."

Aha - they want you to do something about it!

It may seem super obvious to you why they said the first part, but it's not always so. Even (especially?) in relationships, you see the following happen: Person A makes a statement, expecting Person B to understand and fulfill the implied request. Person B doesn't realize this and doesn't do the request. Person A gets upset that they didn't do it. Person B gets upset because "I'm not a mind reader!".

Many of us (myself included) have had this experience, so we've found it beneficial to be very clear in our communication. If I want my partner to do the laundry, I don't say "hmm, the laundry basket is getting pretty full", because he's just as likely to say "yep, sure is" and move on, and when I get home from work I'm disappointed that the basket is still full of dirty clothes. Instead, I say "Hey, could you do the laundry today?", making an explicit request (so then he responds yes or no, and there's no surprises when I get home).

Another possible reason, like when your colleague mentioned turning on the printer, is that they have experienced those problems before or seen others tripped up by that, and are trying to save you the trouble. If my coworkers mention a problem that I've dealt with before, I often ask them some basic questions to get to the root of the problem - sometimes even though they're quite experienced and competent, we all overlook things sometimes. As a programmer I do this more often than I like admit - so when a coworker says "you're sure you're compiling the right code, right?", I know they're asking because we've all done that before!

So that all is to say, it doesn't sound like people are necessarily saying this out of disdain for you or because they think you're stupid, it's that they're trying to be helpful and clear in their communication. Even if they might not be, it's best to assume good faith in your interactions with others until proven otherwise.

How do I kindly explain to these people that I get it, I honestly have thought of whatever they are about to say, but in a way that doesn't deter them for contributing useful observations in the future?

Simple responses like "yep!" or "thanks!" are a good way to acknowledge politely. If you were already about to do whatever they suggested, "Yep, already tried that" or "Yep, on it!" conveys that, without getting into details. I do this with my mother in law, who is a bit "Type A" and just likes to give advice. She means well, and I don't want to risk conflict, so my priority is to be appreciative of that over asserting my expertise. (Although gentle humor, if you can pull it off, can work well, e.g. "no worries, I haven't burnt down the house yet!")

Another option is to explain what you have done or thought of, either before or after the comment. Over time they'll learn the extents of your knowledge and realize they don't need to remind you of the basics (if they pay attention, that is.. unfortunately that bit is mostly up to them!). I've had to deal with that starting new jobs before, where it took some time to "prove myself" before the new coworkers figured out what I was experienced with (or not).

In addition, make sure you're modeling the behavior you want to see. For instance, I often preface my basic-level suggestions to coworkers with "This may seem obvious, but have you tried...?". Although it's not direct, they may pick up on these mannerisms and reflect them back to you. It also makes it easier, if this becomes a long-term problem with some people, to discuss your frustration if you're not doing similar things yourself.

In all of this, keep a friendly attitude! If they are hurt by your response, they will be less likely to volunteer information in the future, for fear of another bad response. This goes along with assuming good faith. Thank them for their willingness to help you out, even if it's the most obvious thing in the world to you and you already knew it, so they are encouraged to continue contributing in the future.

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    "...sometimes even though they're quite experienced and competent, we all overlook things sometimes." Cue the classic, "Have you tried turning it off and on?" – jpmc26 Oct 11 at 22:21

One possibility you might like to consider is that they feel the need to add further explanation because your body language doesn't tell them that you have already understood.

If they say

I'm heading out shortly and your car is blocking the drive

then what happens next will depend on how you react, or are perceived to react. If you explicitly respond "OK, I'll move it" they're likely to say "Thanks". If they add

You'll need to move it out onto the road. If you don't I can't get my car out.

this suggests to me that the signal you sent back after their first statement was that you hadn't got the message.

Without knowing you and seeing your body language I can't possibly tell if I'm on the right lines here: but give it a thought.

How do I kindly explain to these people that I get it, I honestly have thought of whatever they are about to say, but in a way that doesn't deter them for contributing useful observations in the future?

You don't because you can't.

The problem lies here:

Most people that I interact with on a daily/regular basis seem to need to over explain and qualify every statement.

You seem to be annoyed by what most people would consider normal behavior, this means that to change this behavior you need to change the entire world. Or rather, almost anyone that lives in it.

Other answers have already touched on why people might over explain and how to keep interactions to a minimum, so I will not go into that anymore. I just want to point out a simple fact that I think is overlooked a little here (and quite frankly in a lot of other answers on this site):

You can't (reasonably) change the behavior of humanity at large.

Think for a minute what it would entail in your case: You would either have to engage in a conversation about this with almost every new person you interact with, and since people are creatures of habit you would have to have this conversation over and over again (and quite possibly impose on people the very annoyance you want to end). Or, you would have to start some sort of campaign to stop this behavior and spend huge amounts of time and resources on it. Neither of these options is practical, and even if they where, they would probably not bring about the desired outcome.

So what's left is to simply accept that people will behave like people, which at times can be pretty annoying for sure, but sadly cannot be helped.

=======

Edit: @TinkeringBell asked me why it would be so very bad to engage other people about their behavior, in a comment that seems to have fallen victim to the comment kraken that roams this site. (I really don't understand why, it was a perfectly valid comment asking for clarification on my answer). So I'll add my response here, because I think it adds value:

I wouldn't call it 'very bad' at all, but more like a 'mission impossible'. Since this is about coping with annoyances, expecting (almost) every other person to change their behavior will most probably lead to frustration, while learning to be tolerant to other people's annoying behavior is actually an excellent opportunity for personal growth.

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    @Tinkeringbell See edit for link to other answer – Douwe Oct 12 at 8:06
  • @Tinkeringbell I wouldn't call it 'very bad' at all, but more like a 'mission impossible'. Since this is about coping with annoyances, expecting (almost) every other person to change their behavior will most probably lead to frustration, while learning to be tolerant to other people's annoying behavior is actually an excellent opportunity for personal growth. – Douwe Oct 12 at 8:20

Think about it like this: at the end of the day, they're just trying to help and in doing so they're only using their own breath and time. Not to mention there may come a time when you actually need this little extra bit of advice. I know I've genuinely forgotten to turn on the printer before.

So my advice for you is to respond neutrally. I'd simply do whatever it is they're advising and give them a quick "Thanks." or "Good call." or "Yea, I got it." as you start doing it. After all, if it was common sense then you're probably going to do it already, right?

This will acknowledge them and make them feel like they've helped and their advice has been received, while you continue doing the same thing you were already going to do. Everybody wins! And this way, if one day you truly do need their advice, you won't look bad for having gotten upset and turned it down before only to come back begging for it.

  • +1 for that. Particularly the last Paragraph. How do I help people understand what I do and don't need help with If they keep assuming their advice was helpful and that I needed it.? Without being disrespectful to them. – Moz Oct 10 at 13:54

Confessions of an Overexplainer...

Most people tell me I'm insecure, or need to have self-confidence. They couldn't be more wrong. In my case, it comes from parental abuse. Being wrong meant a drunken beating.

Years of therapy have shown me that I over-explain when I don't trust the other person understands completely, as I fear being wrong. I'm trying to say a little, and see if the person wants more clarification. It is very difficult to break these habits.

Another factor that may be contributing to those you interact with might be that they are genuinely enthusiastic about the subject. Again, in this case there is no intended malice or anything like that-they are trying to be helpful.

I'm just trying to show the other side from my own experience without knowing what is happening in the heads of those that annoy you.

One suggestion might be to simply ask your questions in a different way-a way that betrays your existing understanding.

Added per @noon:

The answer, or reflection, or perspective above is meant to help the OP find the way forward by not assuming the responses he/.she doesn't approve of might be coming from a good place, and to not assume they are meant to be annoying or unproductive.

In addition, you will see that while most approach the point of [mild] conflict from the viewpoint of the OP, I am trying to add color by shining light from the 'other' side. Wisdom from experience is best not spelled out in black and white, but rather presented in a respectful way that allows the OP to find their own unique truth, and way forward.

Nobody can honestly claim to know what this particular person must do. That is an impractical expectation. Rather than preach, I can only offer respectful insight.

  • Hey, welcome to IPS! Your suggestion is interesting in the case that OP does ask a question but what for the unsolicited advice? What would you suggest then and why? (please edit this into your question but feel free to comment with @Noon when it's done) – Noon Oct 10 at 17:59
  • On a side note, here is a link to How do write a good answer and here is one to the help center. – Noon Oct 10 at 18:02
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    This is an HNQ question, which means people often don't know your guidelines before voting up or down. So, thinking your answer is good because people upvoted it isn't something I recommend doing. Recently (less than a week ago), an answer with 255 upvotes was deleted, that doesn't happen often but deleting answer with more than 10 upvotes isn't something unusual here. – Noon Oct 11 at 4:55
  • One suggestion might be to simply ask your questions in a different way-a way that betrays your existing understanding. This feels like the core part of your answer, the part that actually addresses the question of the OP. Have people done this to you? How did they do it? Could you perhaps give an example of a before-and-after way of phrasing such a question, and point out the importance of the changes made in phrasing? – Tinkeringbell Oct 11 at 19:27

There may be something about your communication style (or pre-conceived notions people have of you) that leads people to think they need to clarify things that you find obvious. Lets try this:

Me: "You're blocking my car"

You: "OK"

Me: "I'm leaving at 2PM so you'll need to move it before then"

Oops, I just over-explained. Instead of OK, you say:

"Got it, I'll move my car before you need to leave at 2"

I now know you understood your action item (and deadline) and there's no need for me to clarify. Once you do that a few times I have confidence that if I say something with an implicit action item for you, you'll get it and we can lapse into a more concise communication style.

There are may also be other issues of social expectation at play here. Are you by chance from a different culture than the people you're talking about? People from the East Coast of the US tend to be more abrupt (what do you want?). People on the west coast more round-about (Is there any food or beverage I can get you?). People communicating across cultures tend to over-explain in order to get confirmation that they've been understood (and for the gender differences read the fabulous article "Men Explain things to me"). I know that when traveling in India my understanding of what was implicit was wildly inaccurate. I got to the point where I needed explicit confirmation before I was confident that we'd communicated. The people there could have prevented mutually frustrating repetition by telling me their understanding of the implications of our conversation.

Perhaps they are stating the obvious because you are giving atypical responses.

I'm heading out shortly and your car is blocking the drive.

The expected response is something like "Sorry, I'll go move it." If you are giving a flat response like "OK" then it's not clear to the other person that you understood and are going to move your car.

Other cases of over-explaining, like "don't forget to turn on the printer" are completely normal and should be acknowledged with "Thanks". People do this because at some point they did forget, so they think they helping you avoid frustration. For some people this is just a nervous habit. If you are frequently giving atypical responses to requests, it's possible that your behavior has made people anxious about interacting with you, which leads to more over-explaining in conversation with you.

I can relate: this can be super annoying.

So far the answers assume that everybody is on the up-and-up. However, this might be how the new kid gets treated: 'let's find out if they can take the heat, shall we?' The water heater example makes it sound likely that they aren't only being helpful.

If you get the vibe that they're really messing with you, a humorous response - or 'duh' - or something - is probably the way to go.


[trying to add 'expertise']

In the Netherlands, at sailing camps, the new kid - literally a kid of about 12 - will get the assignment to go find something non-existent. Like a waterproof strainer. The way you know it's a fool's errand, is because it's something that does not make sense.

This is more extreme than what the OP is asking. However, I do think that because it's clear how a water heater works, there is no reason to think this is absolutely serious. Similar to how the waterproof strainer just doesn't exist.

It seems to me that this is about culture. And finding out how to deal with it is about observation and hit and miss. But if something doesn't make sense, don't take it seriously seems a good rule of thumb to me.

I don't have practical experience in dealing with this in any other way than by simply looking offended and ignoring stupid comments. But that is just me.

  • Hi Katinka! Could you perhaps add some 'expertise' to your answer? Have you ever seen someone being treated this way, what kind of things were done or not done? Was it exactly the same as in OP's question? Could you give an example of such a humourous response, and perhaps explain a little more why that works? What are signs that people really are messing with OP, that they can look out for? Here's a short summary that links to other posts that may help you do so. – Tinkeringbell Oct 11 at 18:30

I like playing dumb when people treat me dumb.

Someone who annoys me by over-explaining might see me completely stop whatever it is I'm doing, give them my full, direct, intense attention, and ask them to continue the explanation or even start it over, filling in the blanks they left the first time. I'll ask for clarifications, what-ifs and hemms and haws, to be really good and sure that the person has thought of everything and is really giving me the best possible instructions. I praise their willingness and commitment to putting all that effort in for my benefit, and then thank them for just one or two more minutes to consider some additional hypothetical or uncertain questions I still have.

After one or two experiences like this, they tend to think a little more carefully about how much detail they really want to give me in the first place.

In short: I have been known to ask people not to over-explain things by asking them to over-explain things. I have been satisfied with the results.

I’m in receipt of such interactions from time to time, and ensuring that the other person isn’t offended by my response isn’t necessarily my primary concern if they’re being particularly patronising or condescending. I typically find it comes from people who are somewhat ignorant in their own way, and aren’t necessarily sensitive to the capabilities and intellectual capacities of others; they’ve just found a way to make the world work for them and have decided it’s the way it must be done. That said, I am at fault for some of the interactions and I know why - I’ll get to that later

You said that most people treat you this way, and in the spirit of “we teach other people how to treat us” you’ve probably (without realising) engineered a situation where people think you need the overexplanation. If you’re now seeking to turn that around, perhaps start with the people who you know and get on with best - something as simple as asking “yes, I had made the mental connection that the kettle needed water in it before it could boil said water, and I find that people tend to state the obvious to me a lot. Is there something about our past interactions that led you to believe I needed that extra info?” a few times, maybe out of earshot or others so you’re not publicly calling them out on being a douche, may be all that’s required. If you’re getting these comments because the commenter is similarly continually amazed at how the world works, don’t be surprised if this approach doesn’t work out- there genuinely may be nothing you can do to stop them thinking you need the extra info because they needed it once too

If you feel that’s a bit confrontational you could do the “add additional information to demonstrate your smarts, but add a bit of fake ignorance that they’ve helped you get over” thing instead, where you demonstrate a level of understanding above theirs but plausibly claim that their advice was useful because you didn’t know

“Well that’s weird, because the print spooler in the computer is supposed to take a document into its queue even if the printer is off, and submit it to the printer when the printer comes online.. If that never works out for this printer, we should probably get IT to take a look at the setup”

This is true, adds some info they might not know, suggests a blame target that is neither of the humans in the interaction and proposes an alternative focus of attention.

If the root cause of the problem is the other person’s level of ignorance and inability to appreciate your grasp of the world, it’s unlikely this will work out either and the best approach to dealing with someone who treats others this way is to avoid them wherever possible

If the root cause of the problem is that you’ve managed to teach people around you to perceive you as lacking the mental agility to make connections on your own it should be entirely reversible, but you’ll need to teach them the exact opposite of what they already think about you, and that’s a bit more of an uphill struggle than coming from a position of no preconceptions.

As others have already commented, modifying the timing of your response may help. A few jobs back I had a colleague who was foreign, though fluent in English. One aspect of interacting with him that a lot of people found problematic was that he didn’t make responses at expected points in conversations. We’d say something and stop, expecting a response to indicate understanding, and it wouldn’t come. It was like speaking into a void, and people ended up over explaining to fill the silence, partly because they thought he wasn’t getting it, and partly because hey didn’t like silences. Acknowledgement would then come, leaving the impression that the overexplanation was required. If he’d jumped in earlier with a variation of whatever over-explanation was imminent, he’d have shut down the opportunity for the explainer to make it

I mentioned that I receive such things occasionally, and I know how it’s come about -I have a habit of thinking about many things, and I’m occasionally more interested in finishing my train of thought than being mentally yanked into the room to interact with a person telling me to put water in the kettle, so the initial interaction isn’t heeded. I know that no one likes to feel like they aren’t being listened to, and thus the fault is mine for not listening to them initially. I take the blame/punishment by accepting an overexplanation because it gives me time to work out what their original problem was (the bit I didn’t i didn’t listen to) but it makes me like the typical “absent minded professor” albeit with an aversion to saying “hmm.. what did you say?”

In summary, if you find most people treat you like this, it’s either that you hang out with a considerable quantity of patronising douches or it’s the case that something about you has taught them to do it. If you’re struggling to work out what isn’t is, ask them- they’re uniquely qualified to answer because only they truly know why they act like they do. If you don’t want to ask, it’ll be a lot of patience, introspection and trial and error, maybe also involving getting a new group of friends without the preconceptions (if you want faster results)

Sometimes, it's just less friction to let it go with a simple "Thank you". Sometimes a positive acknowledgement can avert the over-explanation.

I'm heading out shortly and your car is blocking the drive.

I might say "Let me know when you are ready to leave and I'll let you out" or "Give me a minute and I'll go move it", or some such, depending on the situation. In any event, I won't just say "Ok", but indicate that I understand the situation and am willing to accommodate the implied request.

You need to click "send"

The kettle will need water in it before you can boil it.

The printer needs switching on first before trying to print.

For each of these, I might just respond with "Got it, thanks."

It might be that a simple "Ok" to any of these will be interpreted as "so, what?" which then begs the over-explanation, or reinforces a pattern of over-explanation. Giving a short, positive acknowledgement that you clearly understand the situation might help give the over-explainer the confidence that they don't have to spell it out for you.

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