Have you ever been accused of over communicating? Many of us tend to add in more details than necessary when we communicate. Hence the term “TMI,” an acronym for “too much information.” So let’s look at over communication in a bit more detail.
What is over communication:
Over communication occurs when we provide irrelevant information or get too deep in to details when we communicate. For example, if someone you barely know asks how you’re doing, an over communicated answer would be:
I was fine until I took my trash out this morning. I ran into Mrs. Ferguson, my nosy neighbor, who informed me that Mr. Smith let his dog use my lawn as a toilet. I then hit traffic during my ride in and stepped in a puddle on my way into the building.
“Fine, how are you?” or “Okay” are acceptable answers. If you must be truthful, “My day was off to a bit of a rough start but it’s getting better” is okay, but there’s no need to get into detail unless asked to. In the business world, we’re often treated to several sentences when a one word answer would suffice. If your boss asks if you’ve completed your TPS report and you reply with “yes. I finished it 20 minutes ago right after I did the other three things you asked” then you’re over communicating.
Why we over communicate:
Over communication typically occurs in work environments, but it does happen in our personal lives as well. Here are some reasons why we might over communicate:
- The person you’re communicating to has criticized you in the past for not communicating enough, lack of communication, etc… This is typical with bosses and spouses.
- You’re nervous or fear leaving out a key detail.
- You find something related to the information you’re providing that you feel is worth mentioning.
- You’re trying to sound intelligent or informed.
- You’re trying to show off your knowledge or expertise.
- You don’t fully understand the level of detail the other person is interested in.
- You’re trying to set the other person’s expectations a certain way before you provide them with the information (a.k.a. beating around the bush).
- Your mind is wandering and your mouth is following along.
Whatever the reason, you feel the need to say more than you really need to. You can get away it sometimes, but if you continue to do it, you can frustrate those you talk to.
What to do about over communicating:
Awareness is the biggest thing. Even catching yourself while or immediately after you over communicate is a huge step in the right direction. From there, think about your responses before you say them. Try to be precise and concise without sounding standoffish. Don’t take it too far and under communicate (think teenagers answering “nothing” to every question asked by their parents) but pay attention to how you communicate and only include relevant information.
Here are some simple tips to help cure over communication:
- Practice giving answers that are precise and to the point.
- Be descriptive only if it’s relevant to the other person’s wants or interests.
- Try stating the facts only. Avoid editorializing or sugar coating an answer.
- If the question requires a one word answer then answer with one word. If the person needs more information, then they’ll ask for it. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, try giving the one word answer and then ask the other person if he or she would like to know more.
With a little practice, you can tweak your communication so that it’s more to the point. Just be aware of how much you say and make the appropriate adjustments.