Why Context is Crucial in Communication

We all want to be more effective communicators. But the key to good communication is less about how "well" you communicate and more about what the other person receives and understands. It's not the singer or the song, it's the listener.

This means that a good bit of the Steve Jobs communication magic is in the fact that he's communicating to rooms full of people who want desperately to absorb his message, almost without criticism.

So if your end goal is to communicate better, worry less about your outfit or your slides. Your focus should be on setting up a better context in which your message can be absorbed.

If I gave you a 1-ounce gold coin and told you to walk up to a stranger's house at 9 p.m. and ring on the doorbell and offer to sell that gold coin (current market value ~$1,450) for $100, I bet you no one would take you up on it. Which is crazy. It's a certified ounce of gold, and you're selling it for more than 90 percent off the face value. Why wouldn't people say yes?

The context. It's night time, and a stranger knocks on your door. Your defenses are up. Maybe you're thinking about going to bed. Anything this stranger said will be received as "scam" or "threat." How could they not be? The greatest salesperson couldn't close this slam dunk of a deal. It's not what the communicator says, it's what receiver hears and sees.

As an effective communicator, you need to be able to build the right context around a particular message in order to make sure that it's heard. What if you got your annual performance review in front of a dozen strangers? You'll be so nervous and freaked out by the context, that you won't hear a word of your review. If the new recycling project is launched by a junior member of the building services team, no one may pay attention, but if the CEO talks about it in his or her weekly status updates, that's a different situation.

Context determines opportunity to succeed. Sun Tzu wrote: "Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought." Your communication, no matter how well-crafted and designed, will not succeed if the context is not correct.

James Ellis is the director of digital strategy at FLIRT Communications. His latest book, Google Analytics for Small Business is currently in beta. He's giving away discounted copies if you are willing to help make it even better.

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