Explain What You Mean

The key is to check in with your audience for understanding and be receptive to cues.

By Chally Kacelnik

Being able to effectively explain something, rather than gloss over it, is a critical skill at work, and something people often don’t get right. Sometimes, people stop an explanation before they get properly started “because we know all that already” or “and so on and so forth”. There are times when that’s fine and appropriate – when the thing in question is genuinely known to everyone present. But my experience is that there’s often one of two other things going on.

The first is that it’s a sign that someone doesn’t know or cannot articulate what they’re talking about. They are trying to pre-emptively embarrass others out of asking questions that would prompt them to reveal this. If this is something you’ve habitually been doing, I would urge you to reflect on this behaviour. I’ve seen this kind of bluster lead to some very serious errors.

The second is that they’re not fully considering how to bring others on the journey. If you’ve found yourself frustrated with explaining the basics (at least, the basics as far as you’re concerned) and wanting to move on to the stuff that interests you, think about the impact of this on your relationships at work. It might make others more reluctant to share information with you in the future, or to seek you out when they need your subject matter knowledge. Try working on concise and informative explanations that make sense to people who don’t share your skills and experience – it can be harder than you think.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of overexplaining, or explaining something to someone who doesn’t need the explanation, leading to boredom and frustration. But avoiding explanations as a matter of course can snowball into a real impact on your working relationships. The key is to check in with your audience for understanding and be receptive to cues.

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