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Why You Should Never Use the Word “Obviously”

obviously

One of our core values at Atomic is Teach and Learn. This belief is evident in many different aspects at Atomic, from the external (presenting and attending conferences) to the internal (setting up brown bag presentations and weekly cross-team design reviews). It is also clear in the day-to-day work, like pairing and problem solving as a unit instead of as individuals.

As I’ve spent time learning and listening to the great teachers we have at Atomic, I’ve noticed one word missing from nearly everyone’s vocabulary: “obviously”.

Learning “Obvious” Things

“Obviously” is a purely destructive word. It’s commonly used when a new concept or idea is being built of pre-existing notions. As a teacher, these prerequisites for understanding might seem simple and, well, obvious.

But I’ve found in learning that hearing the word “obviously” instantly distracts me from the real point of the lesson. My mind begins racing for a definition of what was described as “obvious,” and I zone out from the conversation. If I cannot comprehend the “obvious” statement, the rest of the lesson is moot. How can I understand what the point is, if I don’t understand what that point is built on?

Teaching “Obvious” Things

As a consultancy, we have a diverse set of customers. They are all experts in different areas, and they come from different backgrounds. Often, we build lasting and recurring relationships with these people.

One way we are able to build such meaningful and lasting relationships with such a diverse group of people is mutual understanding. We understand that our customers know their market, and they understand that we know design and development. An easy way to break that trust and understanding is by disrespecting the other half. “Obviously” does just that. When discussing a new feature, saying: “Well, obviously, we will want to implement it this way.” takes away from an entire session of brainstorming and relationship building. If that phrase comes from the development side, it can make the customer feel left out and like they don’t have a say in the matter. That is not conducive to building a lasting relationship.

Ridding the World of “Obviously”

So what should you do if you are stuck in a situation where the word “obviously” is almost as common as hello? If you are a mentor, teacher, or leader, the first thing you can do is remove it from your own vocabulary. You got to where you are because you are an influencer, so lead by example. Whenever you feel “obvious” is appropriate, ask yourself why or how the idea is obvious.

If you are on the flip side, ask clarifying questions. Ask them to repeat what they said, dig into the “obvious” statement for a better understanding. Hopefully together we can rid the world of obvious things and have a better understanding together.