Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Express Yourself!

Barbara: So easy, right? Just say it. Be confident, be honest. People will listen. They will get it. Right?

But what if it’s not so straightforward as all that???

The other day I was trying to explain something to Deb. (Okay, it was about how to link our blog to her Facebook account. And you already know how the FB is making Deb freak a little bit. So I wanted to be deft.) Now, I’ve worked very hard to learn how to express myself as clearly as I can. You who know me only from the blog can’t really appreciate just how tangent-y and convoluted my spoken word can be. I know I can be obtuse here, but at least I have the luxury of reading, re-reading, and editing to help me get as close as I can to my intended meaning. But all bets are off when I am in full ramble-mode.

So there’s me trying to explain something technical to Deb. I'm not good with the technical, so I was nervous. Keep it simple, I remind myself. Be clear. So what do I start with?: “There’s this glitch and I have no idea how to fix it.” These were literally the first words out of my mouth. I haven’t even told her what to do yet and already I’ve planted this very loaded piece of information in her head. So I ramble on: “Click on the Facebook link,” “find a good thumbnail,” “delete the comment,” “add a headline,” “click share”. Well, Deb—quite naturally—is still trying to wrap her mind around this “glitch that has not ever been solved". She wants to help figure it out, you see, or find someone who can. But I keep trying to sweep over this glitch business (“Why is she worrying so much about it? It’s not that big a deal.”). And then I realize—or rather, Deb explains to me—that I have set up our whole conversation around the existence of a relentless, irritating, unsolvable GLITCH. Who wouldn’t worry about it?! I started all over again with my explanation (sans “glitch”) and all ended well … but it got me thinking.

This whole conversation reminded me how easily we needlessly complicate things when we speak to each other. Warning people about dire consequences before I’ve put anything in context is my thing, I know this. But I think we all have our things.

A big one I’ve noticed (and of which I am also guilty) is OVER-EXPLAINING. The human mind is incredibly resilient. After a life long of reading––whether it’s books, newspapers, magazines, Facebook messages or email––we are very adept at extrapolating information from a few key words. But many of us (yes, me me ME!) over-explain because we don’t trust this process. And also because (I think) we’re so worried we won’t be heard or trusted or understood.

So, yes, we have to express ourselves. But we also have to keep honing this tricky skill too, don’t you think?

Deb:  This happens to my husband and I all the time. We are each clear about the intention of our point and yet we find ourselves bonking heads. Each of us trying not to say to the other either “am I crazy here” or “are you nuts?” I think it’s because we both have our line of thinking mapped out for us and we do not want to be swayed for fear that we lose our train of thought. Barb kept saying, “No wait, let me go over it again,” assuming I did not understand, instead of looking at the big picture of her statement, “There is a glitch that we can’t solve,” which is what I was focusing on.

I am also guilty of over explaining. I will say to someone, “Oh sorry I can’t be at the meeting because you see (bla bla details)(bla details reasons)( bla reasons excuses bla). Lately I am trying very hard with a good deal of success to stop that. “I can’t be at the meeting, sorry.” Feels so good.

But in your case, Barb, you were over explaining and repeating because you thought I honestly did not get it, which is a sweet reason for over explaining. Because, well, you are sweet.

At any rate, I got it, thanks to you. And what I would normally say here is, “Oh thanks for explaining because you see I just didn’t understand the (bla bla) and I couldn’t (more useless facts) because you see I (extraneous details) and so I (bla bla friggin bla). But instead, I’ll just say “Thanks. I get it now. xo”


  1. I am bad for when I am on the spot and have no idea what the answer to a question or when I am trying to explain something to someone I will look up on the celing like it's posted up there,or I will just ramble. I just hate when I ramble,on and on. It sucks. Or I may know how to explain something to someone but the words come out all mixed up. It's like my head is a jungle up there so when I try to find the right words they all get lost. So I blame me not being able to explain things very well on my Brain.

  2. I try and tell the same story or explanation in many ways hoping my point gets across. Someone will say I get it and I will stop. Otherwise I am forming my answers without really listening to whether they got it or not and projecting my next move and then I realize I missed some of their conversation because I was so intent on making my point. Did you get that?

  3. Lyndsie, yup, that's me and the rambling. Except it's not on the ceiling but somewhere off to the side!

    Madge, I almost fell off my chair when I read: "I realize I missed some of their conversation because I was so intent on making my point." That was actually gonna be another blog-post ("When the voice in my head is louder than yours"). Still want to write that one. It's SO TRUE!! lol!

  4. I find that I will repeat myself - using the exact same phrase - at least once before I can let a point go. Truth be told it's because part of me doesn't believe the other person has listened closely enough and - peel that onion one more layer - that's because I don't feel deemed worthy of enough interest to be listened to intently enough to get my point on one saying. Mercifully for me, that insecurity is countered by another part of me that believes I'm deep and fascinating. Oh, those dichotomies, huh?

  5. I've thought about this a lot, you know, over expaining and going on and on about things I've already said. I just say it over and over and usually in the same way, using the same words. It's silly and I'm sure annoying to people how I can just talk about the same thing for so long and never say more than one simple sentence. I just do it over and over again.....

    Um, yeah. Guilty. :)

  6. This is definitely one of the things I struggle with most, ESPECIALLY with things I'm very passionate about. If I were a superhero, I would be Tangent Man. No. Doubt.

    It's a really tricky skill to master. Generally trying to express any opinion I have of something always gets lost in utter nonsense, because I tend to speak before I think. That's really my biggest problem.

    I'm working on it though (having a girlfriend helps).

  7. Cheryl, Molly, and Luke, thanks for weighing in. The dichotomy issue is not wasted on me, my dears! On the one hand we know what we want to say, on the other not how to say it. On the one hand, we feel rational and intelligent, on the other, there's so much friggin' NOISE in these noggins of ours!!

  8. I am the Queen of the repeated phrase to make my point. Just ask my husband and son!

  9. Years ago I worked in corporate sales and we were trained never to preface a statement.
    To be honest...(what you weren't being honest before?)
    This may sound crazy but...( I already believe that whatever you say will be crazy)
    I don't mean to be rude but (I'm bristling, awaiting your rude comment)

    I've learned to catch myself from prefacing. Just say what you mean- thats all you need to do. It works much better for me, anyway.

    If you are going to preface, make sure it's something really positive like:
    This facebook linking is really simple, you're totally going to get it!

    My two cents. : )

  10. lol, Hollye, yes! No prefacing. I think I can remember that one. And call me crazy, but it makes so much sense ;)

  11. The repeating myself thing is a huge issue with me. I spent years and years getting into the habit, and it's going to crack me to the bone to break it. Growing up (especially when I was a teenager and college age), my dad would NOT listen to me. Nothing I had to say was worth his paying attention. I could tell him something, and an hour later he'd be asking me or asking my mom proving that he hadn't paid any heed at all to what I had said. I have been programmed to repeat myself.

    My aunt's husband still drives me fruitloops. Big, southern bubba chauvenist. If someone from my tier of the family (one generation younger), especially someone female (e.g. me), is talking, he'll just start talking, talking right over, like the woman isn't there and isn't saying anything worth listening, too. Younger women who are below him in the family are invisible and silent to him. Makes my skin crawl.

    Oh, and my belovediest beloved friend Andy (actor, director, playwright, dancer, singer, and has the certification to teach sword play for theatre -- all around freakishly talented guy) once told me, "You could never write plays." I asked, "Why?" He said, "You love adjectives way too much. Your stage direction in the script would drive people insane. Directors would want to kill you." Yeah, so, I like adjectives. They paint clearer, more imaginative, more thorough, more elaborate pictures. ;) Descriptors are my friends! :) *LOL*

    Oh, and I love me some parenthetical asides! I am all about tangents and parentheses. *giggle*

    The weird thing is that for all of my tangential proclivities and my love of adjectives, I love math. And, one of the things I love the most about math is that it is clean, elegant, methodical. I was the freakass kid in 10th grade honors geometry who actually LIKED doing proofs. *sigh*

    Oh, and here's a lovely one for y'all. I still remember a question I had to answer on an application for something many, many years ago. "What do poetry and science have in common?" Mmmmmmmm! Reading that question and writing that answer was like pulling on my warmest, softest, thickest winter sweater on a cold winter day and snuggling under a thick blanket while drinking a big mug of thick, rich hot chocolate while favorite songs sang from the stereo.

  12. Rigel I love the things you say. Stay.

  13. Maby there is some strange land where all these lost thoughts and words go. And if there is then maby my mind is up there as well.

  14. Prefacing! So there's a name for it! I am the worst culprit with this. I'm famous in my family for starting out with 'Can you please do me a HUGE favour' so of course they'll immediately think it's really going to put them out significantly when really it's only a simple thing like handing me a biscuit from the tin.
    I really must stop it...

    And once again, so great to have you back Rigel :-D


  15. Actually Elle, I have used the "big favour" method to trick my husband for years. Man what a pathetic confession-but here it goes. If I have something to say that I think might freak him out, I start off by making it sound like a huge deal and as a result, he is relieved that it is not-comparatively. Yes I know. Tricky. And genius!

  16. Rigel, your math/poetry/sweater analogy, mmmmm.
    Lyndsie, I love that "place where words go"! That's why we need to look off into space to find them.
    And Elle, I definitely do the favour preface. I am going to take a cue from Deb on that one :)

  17. I have a tendency to want to 'set it up' so you get me before I say something. Hubby completely doesn't get this. He is a black and white thinker--everything is simple, yes, no... reasons don't matter. To me the world is rainbows and shades of gray... black and white are not even on the radar. I don't believe they exist... they are merely an illusion of people incapable of grasping complexity *nods*

    Great point on how the 'set up' leads us to hear things differently! (though hubby doesn't want the set up... even when it's helpful)

  18. Oh! The staring off into space to figure out words thing! GUILTY! Oh, I'm so busted on that one! LOL

    Actually, I'm like Barbara. My eyes slide to the side. UNLESS, I have closed my eyes. OK, how to explain this weird thing, hmmmmm.... I am really, really visual. For example, in the summer vacation between 7th and 8th grades, I taught myself how to juggle by reading instructions and examining diagrams in issue of National Geographic World (the old name for the NG for kids). Please don't ever give me verbal driving directions. Just don't. Because, I'll be calling you for help 40 miles from where I'm supposed to be. I have to have written directions. LOL So, a lot of times when I'm trying to figure something out (or even just responding when my son has asked me how to spell a word!), I close my eyes and see the answer on the movie screen in my head. I've actually tripped a few people out when answering questions for them because if it's something that really takes some figuring (for example, while answering chemistry questions, I close my eyes and see the molecules and manipulate the atoms), I'll close my eyes to see the problem but then lift my hand and draw/write in the air because, in my mind, I'm writing/drawing/erasing material on a dry erase board in my head. I crack my friends up because they see me writing in the air when I'm doing mental math on the dry erase board in my head. When I'm writing, sometimes I have to close my eyes and see the movie in my mind's eye and then write out the movie I've just watched. Also, if I'm trying to remember something, most of the time I close my eyes (e.g. my friend R is on the phone, and she's inside my house to pick something up, and I'm describing to here where to go in my house to find it -- I have to close my eyes and see the path she must walk, see the drawer she must open, and see where she must lay her hand to find the item. What I'm telling her on the phone is the narrative of the movie I'm watching in my head.) Anyway, a lot times, I may be speaking to answer someone's question, but, actually, I'm reading the answer off the screen in my mind's eye. *shrugs* Hey, don't knock it! It works!


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