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I often notice for myself, as well as for certain other people, that depending on personality and some other subtle factors, there are types of people who (usually unintentionally) start over-explaining things during any conversation, be it a real life talk, or an online chat.

(Note: I desire to keep the scope of the question for both, to provide some general "guide" for the matter, though I admit that online superfluousness and its counterpart in real life are worthy for questions on their own.)

Over-explaining can be the source of several mild to serious issues in interpersonal communications:

  • becoming too detailed may lead you expose information you normally wouldn't want to and/or shouldn't (usually details on your private life);

  • overlong responses without focusing on the point may lead to the others becoming bored, and it distracts communication partners from contacting you for other matters in the future;

  • it exhausts the answerer, too, without any gain in return.

As far as I am concerned, I try limiting myself in this aspect, but sadly I'm often unable to overcome this disadvantage. For example, when I ask something from someone, I often feel compelled to explain, why I ask it, in order to avoid the impression that I have bad intentions.

What are the contributing factors that set the "proper" depth of explaining a question or a statement, and what can one do to overcome it?

8

You may make it a two-way dialog.

If the person you are talking to is in listen mode, you may find yourself wondering if they care about what you are saying. They may be listening because they are intrigued and want to listen to more. Or they may be silently thinking about something else because you are talking about something they are not interested in.

One way to avoid giving too much information is to find a way to get the other person to engage in the conversation as well. You might ask a simple question like "Has that ever happened to you?" or something similar.

If you get an encouraging response, with an accompanying smile or body expression that shows they are engaged in your ideas, then that should be a good sign to go ahead and finish what you are saying.

But, you might get a simple Yes/No answer, a shrug, and perhaps a blank stare. That would be your cue to stop. Additionally, they may simply use this opportunity to change the subject, and if so, it may be a good idea to follow it onto another topic.

They key point is to get some form of feedback as to whether you should go on.

As a side note, if you find that you are repeating yourself, that is probably a sign that this thread of conversation should end.

  • As a followup question, I would ask, once you think the conversation should end, how do you do it. Should I ask this in a new question? – 10 Replies Jul 17 '17 at 15:30
  • @10Replies I am not an expert, but a few thoughts popped into my mind regarding your interesting thought. I would suggest you go ahead a make it another question. My thoughts would be too long for a comment, and I would think that others would have good points to make as well. – John Jul 17 '17 at 23:54
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+50

What are the contributing factors that set the "proper" depth of explaining a question or a statement, and what can one do to overcome it?

Generally, expectations.

If you are talking to your coworkers and feeling the need to explain why you are doing your job, that's probably too much. If you're explaining how they should be doing their job, in a way that they should already If you are talking to your friends and retelling a story they don't love to pieces, that's probably too much. If you are telling your husband you love him for the ten thousandth time, well, damn, that's exactly what you should be doing... but it does save time and increase sincerity for you to take that thought every so often and show him in actions instead.

As a general rule, you go into more depth and intimacy with those who are closer; and skim a lot more for those further out.

You go into more depth and detail when it's a new and/or important topic; and skim a lot more when you're covering something you know they know well.

Specifically, social cues.

Your wife or your friends will be far more patient with you than strangers, who will just cut you off with a remark or a glare. Your post suggests you don't want to bother them? Well, just pay attention to if they look bored or impatient. Give them chances for a call-and-response in your explanation with filler bits like "y'know?" "you see what's going to happen?" or "like that time you..." Shared experience and recollection is the mortar of social interaction, and your relationships are stronger when you show that you've been paying attention. (To the level appropriate to your relationship, of course...)

Pay attention to what they pay attention to. If they have to cut you short because of something else, pay attention to whether they bring it up again on their own, forget about it, or avoid letting it come up again. If the bad responses start to happen too often and the relationship should be closer than that, bring it up in a curious and helpful but not wounded way.

As a general rule, you go into more depth and repetition when they're obviously loving your interaction; and skim a lot more for those who couldn't be arsed.

You go more slowly and pay more attention to reactions w/sensitive topics or criticism; you get more leeway from people with a long history with you, but that intimacy should also mean you care more about their reactions and have been learning how to best handle them as you've been together.

Always try to be see things from their POV and be helpful with their aims without condescending or forgetting they should have their own strengths, duties, and interest in making your life easier as well.

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