Why You Over Explain—and How to Stop (Using Just 6 Words)

Do you have the tendency to over explain?

I do. As a high-empathy person (that’s a strength but it’s also a weakness), I tend to worry a lot about how others think and feel.

For example, have you ever done one of the following:

  • In an email: Sorry for the delayed reply; it’s been completely crazy…
  • When you can’t accept an invitation: Sorry I can’t make it; I have a very early appointment the next morning…
  • When you give a gift: Sorry if it’s not something you like; I wasn’t sure what to get and…

The problem is, over-explaining kills your confidence. Additionally, you may actually add anxiety to the other person, who feels the need to assuage your feelings.

But why do you (and I) over explain? And how can you break out of it and become more confident?

Why you over explain

“Over explaining is a habit response where we attempt to rid ourselves of guilt or anxiety by providing a ‘right’ answer to someone,” explains psychologist Dr. Nicole LePera. “The root of over explaining comes from patterns of fawning or people-pleasing. Many of us believe in order to say ‘no’ or to not do something, we need to provide a reasoning that won’t disappoint or upset others.”

When over explaining you might notice it feels like you’re out of control and can’t stop talking. “This is because of the nervous system and the messaging it’s getting that saying no is a threat or a danger,” LePera explains.

“Many of us learned from a young age that being liked or approved of us is more important than our own limits and boundaries.”

The truth, though, is that most adults are capable of hearing no. Best-case scenario, they don’t think twice about it. And worst-case, they are disappointed for a short time, and then they get over it.

So, how do you get out of the habit of over-explaining?

How to stop over explaining (with just six words)

To stop over explaining, you have to practice.

“Over and over again,” explains LePera, “until our nervous system adapts and our window of stress tolerance gets wider and wider. With practice, we’ll learn that people actually appreciate short, concise answers. And confidence in saying no actually creates respect between people.”

LePera recommends the following formula to help you break the habit:

The Appreciation + the no + well wishes

Here’s how it works:

“Thank you so much for thinking of me (appreciation). I actually don’t have time in my schedule right now (the no). I know it will be a great event (well wishes).”

“Thanks for sharing what you’re up to (appreciation). Right now I’m not in the market for [this product] (the no). I wish you the best with this (well wishes).”

“I love that you’re passionate about this (appreciation). I won’t be able to make it (the no). Let me know how it goes though; I know you’ll crush it (well wishes).”

Oh, and one more tip:

“If you’re a chronic over-explainer, you’ll notice a pull to make the no sentence long winded,” writes LePera. “Practice keeping this super short and not providing an excuse beyond what is actually true. (Ex: ‘I don’t have time in my schedule right now.’)”

Of course, for some relationships or situations, we owe an explanation. But many other times, there’s simply no need.

So, the next time you’re tempted to over-explain, remember the formula:

The Appreciation + the no + well wishes

Doing so will lift the burden of defending your choices…and give you the freedom to actually enjoy them.


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