Why You Should Never Use the Word “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.

  • I am 63 years old, with seven sisters and three brothers. What I recall, when I was still a young person, is my sisters, after hearing someone use the word obviously, is mocking that person, with “obviously” retorted somewhat loudly. Approximately 18 years ago, in a brain cramp moment, I used the term when talking about a powerpoint presentation I was doing at work. After I was done, my boss took me to task over it. He said, never use the term, if something is obvious, there is no need to point it out. It’s insulting to your audience.
    Anyway, I watch quite a bit of sports, and the word found it’s way back into the vernacular some half dozen or so yours ago. I have no idea why or how, but it drives me crazy. Some of the better announcers and commentators use it, and without naming names, some are kings of it. At times, I have turned the sound off on some of the worst offenders. What I can’t understand is, where is the leadership in television on this? Are they also offenders and don’t even understand the barrage of such language? Are they clueless as well?

  • Nick Wright says:

    Very well put. I’ve discussed the excessive use of “obviously” at length with one of my best friends, who is possibly one of the biggest influences on the indi game development scene in the northeast of England, and until recently it wasn’t something he had considered. He and I both have a vastly different skill set but join at our love of kayaking, at which we are both rather good. I often struggled explaining to new members of the club we go to how to perfect certain techniques without a chain of X obviously means Y obviously means Z, but I have made every effort to brake down what to me are incredibly simple activities or ideas into the simplest component parts.
    On the other side of this, my partner uses obviously frequently enough that it is almost a filler word like “um”, and “like”. Yes most of the time she is right, and it is pretty obvious, but on the occasions, of which there have been many, where it wasn’t I have always felt stupid; stupider still for having to pause and ask what it is that is obvious or why that is the case.

    This is an article I will definitely be re-reading and referring to in the future. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • John Cloe says:

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  • Steve says:

    I’m not sure the younger or less educated members of society knows what the word obviously means, every other word in there sentence is Obviously, it’s rather annoying and insulting.

  • Steve says:

    Hello, the other day i asked a mate where she was
    going and she replied, OBVIOUSLY I’m now going
    into town and i’ll see you later, now if that was (and
    i really dislike this word) obvious why did i waste my
    time asking, well i should have known, but i didn’t because I’m not Mr Daniels.

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