Communication: The Importance of Context

used - blog - august 18 - circle

A day doesn’t go by when you aren’t constantly communicating. Whether it’s a coffee room conversation about your weekend, a quick update email to your team about a change in process, or a Facebook status update celebrating the arrival of Friday, we are sending messages. Sometimes those communications are easy, they flow well and the messages land right where they were intended; and sometimes, they don’t hit the mark.

It’s also impossible to go through a day without being the receiver of communication. In that case, it’s important to us that communication we receive makes sense. There is nothing more frustrating than receiving communication that isn’t clear!

So, how do we make sure that our messages are heard and interpreted correctly?  We put that communication in context. Context is critical, because it tells you, the receiver, what importance to place on something, what assumptions to draw (or not) about what is being communicated, and most importantly, it puts meaning into the message. The best thing about context is that it deepens your understanding of the message so that true dialogue can take place.

“The hardest thing about communicating effectively is knowing how to ‘set the context’”.

The hardest thing about communicating effectively is knowing how to “set the context”. But how do you create context? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about the other person hearing what you have to say for the first time. If you were in their shoes, what would you need to know to be able to put the message into context? Is there some background information that’s important to convey? Would you want to know the history of how you arrived at a certain place? Try to anticipate how they might respond and frame your context to their needs.

2. Level the power dynamic. Remember that when you are communicating information without any context, it can feel like you know more than the other person. This creates a power imbalance that can put others on the defensive. To remove that feeling, be open! Let them know how you know the information, and share as many details as you can. That way, at the end of the day, you will both know all there is to know.

3. Answer the fear that might arise. Not being privy to important information creates fear. As people hear information without context, it can bring up fear around what else they might not know. Setting context removes the ambiguity and helps to allay any anxiety.

4. Proactively answer their questions. Communicating within context helps people to process the information faster and to make decisions quicker. Anticipate what the inevitable questions are going to be. Answer the question before it is even asked  – when you provide context and provide holistic information by anticipating questions, you’re helping the receiver reach conclusions easily

Your Engaged Assignment:  The next time you have a message to send, give these strategies a try. Focus on providing context, and see for yourself just how differently the conversation goes!