I was at a friend’s birthday party a couple of months ago. It was held in the back room of a restaurant. There were no decorations and the room was drab and colorless. The tables and chairs were placed tightly up against each other. It was hard to move around and very uncomfortable. I thought to myself, it’s not the worst thing in the world and it’s only for a couple of hours. During dinner the birthday guy turned to me and said, “This isn’t what I had wanted. I’m sorry the party isn’t better. The venue had to be changed at the last minute.”
I said, “It’s fine. We are all here to celebrate you, that’s what’s important.”
“You’re only saying that to be nice. I know this sucks.”
“It does not suck. Everyone is enjoying being here and being with you.”
“You’re a very nice friend, but you don’t need to lie.”
“If this was my party and I was worried about it not being perfect, what would you say to me?”
“I would say your party doesn’t suck and everyone is enjoying being here and being with you.”
Everyone finds themselves in embarrassing situations and the last thing we want is other people piling on. What we want is some reassurance that it’s not as bad as we think it is.
How many times has your friend told you, “Oh my place is a mess. I’ve been so busy I didn’t have time to properly clean” or “Don’t look at my hair, I need to get it cut”? My favorite one, because I know I say it too often, “I know I’ve gained weight, but I plan on starting a new diet soon.”
Why are we always explaining ourselves? If you didn’t point out the small stain on your shirt, I would’ve never noticed it. Do we judge other people so harshly that we just assume they are doing the same to us? Maybe we are too hard on ourselves and worry way too much about what other people think.
Being part of a society does mean fitting in. We want to feel accepted and valued for our contribution. When we feel we are being put on the spot we tend to over explain. We then have to walk away beating ourselves up for it.
“Have you started exercising yet?”
“I plan to very soon. I’ve been trying to decide if I want to go to a gym, try a workout program at home or just wait for the fat fairy to come and make me skinny.”
Why couldn’t I just say “No, not yet” and leave it at that? Most questions can be answered with yes, no, or maybe. We are not on trial and we certainly don’t need to make anyone a judge and juror. I think most people are asking questions just to start a conversation. We shouldn’t feel that we have to justify our existence to anyone. I don’t think most people expect us to do that and yet we make ourselves feel that way.
What’s the solution if we tend to give more information than needed? Try taking a second to breathe before answering. Think about what you want to say or not say. For example, today you’re fixated on how your skin looks. You have a breakout and you have a networking event to go to. You feel self-conscious and yet you know you need to be there. Once you are away from your mirror, stop obsessing about how you look. Remind yourself of the importance of making a good first impression. Dazzle them with your smile. No one will give a second thought about how you look. They will if you decide to explain it away.
We also tend to give too much of an explanation when we have to say no to someone. For example, someone is asking you to pick them up from the airport at a time that is inconvenient for you. Instead of a long meandering answer trying to cover all the reasons you can’t, simply say “I’m sorry I can’t get out of a commitment I already have at that time.”
We don’t want people to feel that they can’t count on us, but sometimes we have to set boundaries to not be taken advantage of either. The less you explain yourself the more you realize people just want a direct answer from you. You also don’t want to make the mistake of explaining yourself to the point you end up doing what you were trying to get out of. (I say this while I’m taking my friend to the airport).
When you have a minute check out this video Pantene put out. It sums up perfectly how we tend to apologize when no apology or explanation is needed.
We can alleviate stress and gain confidence when we decide not to explain our actions to others all the time. We can change our mind-set to feeling positive and self-assured. We can go to the party, have cake, and feel good about ourselves. My diet starts tomorrow.
Celeste DeCamps has a B.A. in Communications from the University of Miami. She worked in radio and television, was a professional belly dancer, drummer, percussionist, nightclub owner, and a sales rep for Southern Wine and Spirits for 12 years. Throughout her different career moves, speaking to and teaching women how to be more confident is Celeste's most fulfilling job.