Hands up if you remember the last time you asked someone a question, only to get a response back that made you non-the-wiser? Is this a regular cause of frustration, perhaps in conversations you have with colleagues, clients or someone from your social circle?
There are several aspects of communication that work together to deliver an effective message; what we say and how we say it. There’s a wealth of discussion to support the how, such as body posture and vocal tone, but when it comes to the what, we often fall into the trap of over-emphasising the content of the message and neglecting the context.
Communicating the context is a massively important skill for a number of reasons. Whether you want to inform, motivate or consult others, ask yourself “What is the interesting story behind what I’m going to talk about?” There’s clearly a time and a place for detail, but often it’s the bigger picture that drives a valuable conversation. Make it interesting enough to captivate your audience, bring it to life with clarity and keep it simple enough whilst answering the ‘why’.
Let me illustrate this with an example. You ask John from marketing what he’s working on, who tells you he’s cross-referencing two spreadsheets to find any similar entries. His task-specific response gives very little away. You ask John to elaborate and he tells you he’s comparing projects. You’re still confused and don’t understand the bigger picture. At this point you either carry on with the painful conversation or give up because John hasn’t told a compelling story.
The bigger picture is this. Two cross-department change programmes have now been merged into a single programme of work to reduce cost and create synergy. John is currently looking at a summarised list of projects from both programmes to understand if there’s scope to consolidate any projects that are similar. Suddenly John’s task is brought to life and opens up a world of meaningful conversation.
Does this example remind you of any conversations you’ve had recently with a John, or perhaps you were John?
By using the right amount of context (don’t over-do it!) in your conversations, why not start exploring how this can help you to:
- Keep Your key stakeholders better informed
- Improve your ability to influence others
- Open the door to discuss new ideas and common interest areas