With clear communication as the goal, when is it TMI – too much information?!? Way too much information? (i.e. I don’t know you well enough to go there with you) Too much PERSONAL information (that I’m not comfortable hearing)? Too much technical information (stop! I’m in data overload)?
We all have different communication styles, different levels of comfort, different perceptions of closeness, and often different desires for closeness with a given person. When information comes bombarding our way – which it does all the time, every day – we need to make sense of it all, or we will shut down and not take any action due to overwhelm. So what to do with TMI?
I frequently present training material to groups, which presents the challenge of holding the interest of the most advance who easily understands complex concepts alongside the less interested who struggle to keep up, as the material snowballs steadily forward. Trying not to bore the former or lose the latter is the challenge.
To the uninterested – who became uninterested when the falling behind starts, or perhaps fall behind because of it – it’s TMI: please stop as this is becoming torture, reads: my ego senses failure coming that I need to protect against. Then the problem that develops is that without informational backup, understanding is weakened and perhaps nil.
Now the question is: do we really need to have true, complete, full understanding? Is blind faith enough? For example, we are told to shut off our cell phones and other electronic devices when in an airplane during takeoff – no reason, just do it (blind faith that someone who knows more about it than you do has deemed this necessary). Do you do it? Some do, some don’t. And for those who don’t, there are no consequences, so the bad behavior is reinforced (they likely do it again and again with the same positive result – so they ‘get away’ with it).
If you want 100% compliance with instruction, you should give the ‘why’ information, which, if the reason is compelling, would get a higher degree of participation, less renegades deciding for themselves. The importance of the desired behavior should dictate the amount of explanatory information given.
I heard on one flight that the reason they request electronic devices be turned off is that the wireless signals interfere with the pilot’s bells and whistles needed to get the plane off the ground. This made good logical and plausible sense, but still I rationalized (yes, I’m one of the nonconforming renegades referenced) that it would take the strength of all the devices combined to have enough of an impact; my single renegade device remaining on would have little effect. So was this good information or TMI? It was TMI – most people are law abiding and will comply without needing to know the why, and the renegade is still the renegade. The information (accurate or inaccurate) didn’t change the behavior for those non-compliers and so it becomes extraneous.
Now I just learned that the real reason airlines request you turn off electronic devices not because of signal interference but is actually due to the risk of fire. It turns out that lithium batteries are highly flammable and lots of them are used in aircraft, so adding the battery power of the travelers’ powered-up electronics, which there are a lot of these days, with the plane’s battery power during takeoff is a fire hazard inside the cabin (not desirable plus a personal fire will ruin your device!) So is this new information helpful/necessary or TMI? If it will serve to change the behavior, it is good information, which is the case here. Who wants to risk losing their valued electronic device?
And what’s really interesting is the misdirection of the 1st piece of information – whether unintentional or not!
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: When information serves to influence the desired behavior in the right direction, it is valuable, even if the desirable behavior may not be. Anything else, accurate or unintentionally inaccurate is extraneous. By this definition, all gossip is TMI, since no desirable behavior results; ditto for all ‘misery loves company’ information. So whining about that nasty plantar wart growing on the bottom of your foot – TMI!