The Courtesy of a Bit of Context

This post was written by Hannah Morris, Director of Assessment & Advancement at The Latimer Group. 

It’s easy to live inside our own heads. We know what we know. As a result, we sometimes start talking, telling a story, asking a question, making a statement, and then realize that the person we’re talking to has no idea what this is about or where this came from. We do this with our friends, our partners, our colleagues, all audiences.

When we forget that our context is just that – our context – we neglect to share it with others and the thoughts just start pouring out.

Context can be many things. It can be a brief explanation of the key terms and assumptions surrounding a topic. It can be the history or timeline of a topic for a certain group. It can be the background on the key players in a situation or discussion. Context shows where a topic fits in the big picture and it helps an audience interpret and understand.

On my morning run recently, a friend and running partner brought up this very topic. She and I haven’t known each other for long; she joined my long-time running group a few months ago. As the two of us wound through the quiet streets one early morning, she shared a memory from her first run with our group. It was a moment when I was telling a story and paused mid-telling to provide her a bit of context. She was new to the group and didn’t have the backstory for many of our regular discussion topics. Though she didn’t recall the specific story that was being told, the moment had stuck with her; that simple courtesy of providing a brief explanation had made her feel welcome, acknowledged, and connected.

As someone who is constantly promoting context as a key ingredient of great communication, I see this as a perfect illustration of one the many benefits of providing it.

Providing context shows empathy and respect.

It lets people know that we are considering their perspective and understand how it differs from our own. It is an indication of awareness and demonstrates the value we place on others’ experiences.

Providing context welcomes people back in.

It is an on-ramp back into a conversation for people who have the history but have forgotten it in between their sixth and seventh meeting, trying to be available and accountable to all, and, understandably, prioritizing their own responsibilities, topics, and deliverables.

Providing context takes us beyond.

It shows that we are not just focused on the present moment but understand the relevance of the past and the importance of the future. It shows that we are not just tactical but are thinking strategically about where everything fits in the big picture, how it is all interrelated.

Providing context empowers people.

It brings them up to speed so that they know more of what we know; not everything, but enough. It informs them, enables them to process our communication, engage with the ideas, and ultimately to act on our recommendations.

Next time you start a conversation, a meeting, or a presentation, make sure you are providing that bit of context to set your audience up to fully engage and connect.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Hannah Morris

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.