Thursday, September 5, 2013

Context

Over the years I come to appreciate the importance of specificity and detail. It's often an almost indiscernible difference in the finest detail that separates success and failure.

That said, specificity and detail can prove to be absolutely worthless in the absence of context. In fact, they can be worse than worthless. Without context, specificity and detail can be completely misleading, making knowledgable someone who knows absolutely nothing meaningful or useful, making certain that which is certainly wrong.

Context is the mechanism that transforms specificity and detail into powerful tools that improve outcomes and solve problems. Context transforms a pile of stones and pebbles into a fortified wall. Context transforms a hodgepodge of notes and phrases into a symphony. Context transforms jumbles of words and wrote recitation into a moving speech.

Without context, details are meaningless, less than useful. Without context, an airplane is just 10,000 spare parts hurtling through space in close formation.

So what?

There are two so-whats that I find immediately useful. One has to do with speaking and one with listening.

Regarding speaking, whenever you find yourself in a situation where your audience simply isn't getting your message. It could be that the problem has nothing to do with your being detailed, specific or clear. It could be that the problem lies in your not having provided sufficient context. Your audience may understand that A leads to B which results in C. They may simply be asking themselves, "So what?"

They may have no idea why you're telling them what you're telling them or why it matters (to them).

Regarding listening, whenever you find yourself wondering, "Why is she telling me this?" or you find yourself thinking, "Wow, he knows so much, but I have no idea what he's talking about," ask the speaker, "So, why are you telling me this?"

Whether listening or speaking, check in to ensure that you have a common context and you'll find that your communication with others improves wonderfully.

Happy Thursday,
Teflon

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