Career Growth, Empower Yourself

Don’t Over Explain

When you’re asked why the project wasn’t completed, or why your paper was late, or why you deserve a raise, just answer the question with facts, not emotions. Don’t feel the need to constantly over-explain yourself. Brevity is key here.

Over-explaining distracts from your message, your confidence and it undermines your competence.

For example, if your boss asks what went wrong with the project, the typical answer would look something like:

Well, I’m not entirely sure, so I’ll just offer my opinion. I don’t want to speak on behalf of the group or anything. Or maybe I should. Would that be ok? Because I think we’re probably all on the same page, at least I think we are. So, I think some of the mistakes, perhaps mistakes is too harsh of a word, but some of the challenges certainly that we faced on this project were issues such as trying to reframe the overall vision of the department, along with perhaps not having all the information necessary at the time, so that it took longer than anticipated. [Blah, blah, blah……..]

Could you get through that passage? So, long-winded, so passive, so apologetic, so verbose!

Just state what the problem is and how you’re going to solve it. This is what every professor, every boss, every leader wants to know. Problem and solution. That’s it. Anything more and you’re boring them, wasting their time or making yourself look foolish. Seriously.

Now let’s try answering that question again. Your boss asks what went wrong with the project.

We had 2 key issues. (1) a lack of information necessary to help us re-frame the department’s vision; and (2) we underestimated the time needed to complete the task. Now that we have the necessary information, I propose we rework the vision today and have this completed for you by the end of the day.

Why do women over-explain issues?

  • Fear of sounding too harsh, too opinionated, and too bossy.
  • Fear of not being liked, so you try to soften your answer.
  • Fear of being incorrect, so it’s better to sound unsure then you can’t be blamed for something.
  • We didn’t take a pause before we spoke, so we haven’t collected our thoughts into an organized answer, so we just keep talking, and talking and talking.


  • Next time you need to explain or justify something
  • PAUSE; take a moment to figure out your answer.
  • State the problem succinctly. No emotions, just facts.
  • State the solution. How will this to problem or issue be resolved?

Then, stop talking. That’s it.

Photo courtesy of Mcmaster’s Women Leadership Summit 2016.