How To Deal With Information Overload

How can you deal with information overload?

Say you’re having a catch-up with a member of your team and they give you a huge brain-dump of everything that’s been happening, everything they’re worried about, everything that’s in the way, everything they want to happen…

That’s information overload on multiple levels! They’ve got too much to think about at once – and now you have, too!

Clean Language provides some nifty approaches to the problem. Here’s one I recommend you don’t use – and three that are worth a try.

  • DON’T ask, “Is there anything else about all of that?” That’s an opening-up kind of question, likely to result in another flood of content from your colleague. More information overwhelm for them, more information overwhelm for you.
  • What’s more likely to help the client to do some new thinking is to get them focussed on something specific. Narrow them down, rather than opening them up. It’ll slow the client down, too, giving the facilitator time to regroup.
  • One way to do that is to use three-part syntax and very specific questions, with slow delivery. Like this: “And x, and y, and z. And when x, what kind of x is *that* x?” Here, you are choosing one aspect of what’s been said to put your shared focus on.
  • Another way of getting specific is to invite your colleague to choose where to focus. Ask something like, “And x, and y, and z. And when all of that, what are you drawn to?” 
  • An alternative approach is to help your colleague to step back and see the wood rather than the trees. This one is probably unique to Clean Language, because of the way it works with metaphor. You simply ask your colleague for a metaphor for the whole situation, by asking something like, “And x, and y, and z. And when all of that, all of that is like… what?” I tried this one on myself today, and discovered I had “too much on my plate – like trying to eat breakfast, dinner and tea all at once.” From there, use your Clean language coaching skills, notably the Power Switch question, to move the conversation forward.
  • Thanks to my friends and colleagues Jackie Lawlor, Martin Ibbie and Olaf Lewitz for input on this topic.What other Clean Language approaches have helped you with information overload? Please comment below.

6 thoughts on “How To Deal With Information Overload”

  1. Stephen Grey

    In my risk work, I would often ask “Why do you care?” about a rambling exposition to get the speaker to bring the discussion up a level.

    Is that ‘unclean’?

  2. Very much like the question, “And x, and y, and z. And when all of that, what are you drawn to?”

    I’m asking myself this question because I feel I have too many options – which is causing a frittering away of my energy and resources through too much pondering – and I need to focus.

  3. Thanks guys. With both these questions, my question to you would be, “What kinds of responses do you get, and what difference do those responses make?”

    @Stephen to answer your question directly, “Why do you care?” is not a classic Clean Language question because it’s not in the list*. But is it Clean, or Cleanish, in context?

    It brings the presupposition that the person does care – but that is probably reasonable. If they are talking about something, presumably they care about it. A similar argument often runs about the NLP question, “What’s important to you about that?”

    More interestingly, perhaps, the questioning word is “why”, which doesn’t occur in any of the listed Clean Language questions. Why is that? As I understand it, it’s because “why” is a very imprecise question and David Grove liked to place his questions very precisely. “Why?” also has a tendency to take people into highly-rational, “left-brain” thinking – the opposite of David’s purpose.

    * The list is here:

  4. Hi Judy,
    I had just this situation last week. For me it pre-supposes wanting to find a start point to a sequence. My process was as follows. I write it out longhand on A4 and then ask Clean Questions of it.

    “I’m not sure what to focus on first…website wise.”

    “And when you’re not sure what to focus on first – website wise, is there anything else about website wise?”

    From there a whole list of steps appeared where I felt naturally drawn to one particular project and from there with a “What Kind Of” a further sequence appeared that made sense. Once that was all down on paper I could then see the other projects and numbered them in order of which would be done when.

  5. Someone I work with has a tendancy to “brain-dump” on me. It’s like they’re firing tennis balls out at me and I can’t keep up. Either I run all over the place trying to whack them back or I simply give up and stand bewildered amongst a pile of tennis balls. I shared this metaphor with him and explained that he either slows down with the rapid fire to give me time to catch each one and give them the required attention or he needs to divide them into balls I can simply whack back and balls I need to concentrate on, and warn me beforehand what’s coming my way. Or I can ask “what kind of ball is this?” when he starts to speak… it’s a work in progress but its enabled us both to discuss the problem in a non-conflictual way…

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