Monday, September 20, 2010

Too Much Information

Readers are a great source of material for this column and this week demonstrates this clearly. One would think that after 130 columns, subject matter would be getting scarce, but the reverse seems to be the case. The dynamic of imparting too much information to others when having a conversation is a new topic. A reader submitted the following observations.

"In this information age it is not surprising that we can get caught up with the idea that we must embellish our conversations with lots of personal details when we are talking about ourselves. What we often fail to consider is how these thoughts are received by another person. Sometimes we also forget to examine our relationship to that person, with little or no regard for the fact that they may not agree with us; or even worse, they may simply be an acquaintance and what we have just blurted out is something of a personal nature which they do not want or need to know about us.

"Sometimes in our rush to impress someone, we do not filter our messages and can either overwhelm or even repulse someone. We take a huge inhale of what is on our minds and exhale the details in a single stream with no place or chance for the person receiving the message to get a word in edge wise. What we succeed in doing in our exuberance is to convey way too much information about ourselves which the person probably cannot nor wants to begin to try to digest. This sort of tactic throws them off guard and succeeds only in being annoying and embarrassing.

"If we think before we speak and organize our thoughts and feelings, this certainly makes for better communication. Another element to consider in conversation is how interesting and relevant our particular bit of news is to the other person.

"We might want to consider whether or not we are wasting everyone’s time. Although easy to change the channel on the television, when you are face to face with someone or have engaged them in a telephone conversation, proffering too much information runs the risk of turning the person off.

"This process revolves around the dynamic of respecting others as well as ourselves. Letting too much personal information out of the bag is not appropriate. Rather than embarrassing yourself or running the risk of putting the listener off, sift through what you are saying and be discerning about the content of your message. There is no harm in erring on the side of caution when it comes to deciding what we do and do not need to know."

These thoughts illustrate how important it is to be aware of what we are saying with the advice to even think about what we will say before blurting it out. What this process will effect is putting the importance of other people ahead of our own. My colleague across the pond, etiquette guru and social commentator William Hanson, repeats this principle almost as a mantra when advising people on matters of etiquette and good manners. We completely concur on the crucial importance of putting others ahead of ourselves in terms of social interactions. Having respect for ourselves and exhibiting good manners ourselves is very important, but making sure that those around us are not embarrassed, belittled or made to feel inadequate or inferior in any way is the most important.

I find that people are so unsure of themselves and how they should behave that they allow their egos to completely take over, that suddenly becoming superior, being right, and the final word becomes their safety zone. More often than not this lack of self esteem results in making those around us feel worse about themselves so that we can feel better about our own selves. This is the root of disrespect and something which we need to be mindful of and which we need to
point out to our children at an early age. Making friends, preparing for job interviews, and being comfortable in our own skin becomes second nature when we put others ahead of ourselves.

The next time you suddenly feel like you have just divulged too much personal information, take a look at your motivation. If you are feeling low in the self esteem department, stop and have compassion for yourself. This is a very human condition and one which need not beat ourselves up about. By putting others first, it's amazing how quickly our feelings about ourselves improve.

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