2018-12-14

"The Other Thing Is..."


In the business world, in the academic world, and in casual conversation, it is not uncommon to hear the phrase "The other thing is…" This is followed by a new topic of conversation, or a new element to the same topic, not previously discussed.

There are plenty of times when it is perfectly appropriate and reasonable to begin a sentence that way, but I have a  proposition worth considering: If you say "the other thing is…" multiple times in the same conversation, or during the same business meeting, or during the same lecture or presentation, you probably need to spend more time organizing your thoughts.

The reason I say so is because most things people discuss are about multiple things. If you only have one thing left to discuss, then fine; talk about "the other thing." In that case, there truly is one "other thing" left to say, and that thing genuinely is the other thing. If, on the other hand, there are multiple things yet to discuss, then whatever else you have left to discuss is not the other thing. Instead, it's one of many "other things."

Talking about the other thing gives the listener the impression that there is only one consideration left. If you keep bringing up two, three, four, many "other things" means that you're simply in the middle of what you have to say. No one knows when you'll wrap things up. No one knows how many other things you might want to talk about. No one knows whether now is a good time to ask a question. No one knows anything.

Should I take a bathroom break before I listen to the other thing, or after? Is now a good time to freshen my drink? You said something a moment ago that I wanted to respond to, but I wanted to give you time to finish; should I respond now, or wait even further? How is what you are about to say related to what you just said? Is it something altogether new, or something that naturally follows from the previous thing.

Tasked with making some kind of mental catalog of the information you've just shared with me, seven various "the other things" presented to me in succession places the entire organizational burden on me, the listener, when it should rather be on you, the speaker. In that case, it's even a little rude.

Worst of all, you've presented your ideas as an unstructured whole. How do you bake bread? You add flour to a mixing bowl. The other thing is, you add milk. The other thing is, you add eggs. The other thing is, you add yeast. The other thing is, you add salt. The other thing is you put it in the oven.

Who on Earth can make sense of a recipe like that? Tell me what the ingredients are, so that I can make a shopping list. Give me an idea of how much of everything I need. Should I start pre-heating the oven as soon as I have the ingredients ready, or will we be waiting hours for the dough to rise first? Give me some idea about what I'm in store for, for heaven's sake!

Not every conversation or presentation is a recipe for bread, but if you care about your audience and want them to understand your ideas, take a moment to collect your thoughts. Make an effort to present them in a way that lends itself to knowledge retention. Present your points in some kind of logical order. If possible, announce your intentions and the scope of what you're about to say.

Of course, some people say "the other thing is…" just as a generic transition from one thing to another. Their thoughts are perfectly well organized, and this is just a verbal transition. And yet, this is one of those verbal tics that ought to be minimized, no different than "um" or "ah" or "like." It might be organizationally harmless, but it's ineloquent. And if you happen to be talking to someone who expects some orderliness to the conversation, it's distracting.