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Spell It Out: Nothing is Obvious, Obviously

November 7, 2022

We all face the curse of the obvious, whether we are the ones communicating or the ones receiving information. You know the drill, an email comes in, and you read it, reread it, and read it again, but you still have no idea what the sender was asking for. It isn’t your fault; the person who sent the email is suffering from the curse of the obvious. 

When something seems readily apparent to us, we tend to underexplain it to others – after all, they are looking at the same thing and should see the problem too! 

Here are some common ways I have seen this in the wild:

  • “The mobile site needs work.” But it looks acceptable to me when I load it because it is subjective.
  • “Just log in to the website.” But there is no link to the login page – not everyone knows how to find the login. 
  • “We want to know what Users are doing on our site.” That is a massive range of information; what do you want to know and why?
  • And hundreds more.

I’m not advocating for an irritating amount of detail – you should give the recipient of your information credit, but leaving out critical points can slow down the process of getting good work done. It also assumes a level of familiarity with your request only you possess. Spelling out what you want with the necessary details helps you refine your request. 

How do you include all the necessary details without going too far the other way? How do you avoid the curse of the obvious?

Read it Out Loud
Before you press send, read your email or communication to the person you are sending it to. Don’t give them a phone call; imagine telling them the message in real life. You will find gaps in your information as soon as you take it from the theoretical to the tangible. 

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Phone a Friend
Do you remember the lifelines on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”? The game show contestants could use three backup options when they didn’t readily know the answer. One of these was to phone a friend. The friend can be a spouse, co-worker, someone in the room, or somewhere else – but any time you are unsure about your relationship to the obvious, ask a 3rd party to review it. Your friend will instantly know if the communication is clear or you are cursed by the obvious. 

We all suffer from the curse of the obvious, but what is evident to you isn’t apparent to everyone. Spell out all the details (even the ones obvious to you) to get better results faster. 

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