Context. When you have it you don't even think about it, but when you don't, all hell can break loose. That's why I believe that context is crucial when it comes to communication.
As the leader of my e-mail marketing company VerticalResponse, I've seen it time and time again; individuals or teams that don't have context and the frustration, wasted effort and confusion that results. Without context we may make assumptions, or we may go into action without having details which could affect the outcome.
So how do you get context when you don't have it?
Be Present. When you're in a meeting focus on the topic at hand. Maybe context is being provided, but if you're busy multi-tasking, or looking at your phone or laptop, you could be missing out. Turn off your phone, shut your laptop and tune in.
Don't Worry About Replying. Similar to being present, you need to focus your attention. If you're in a meeting or talking with someone and you're focused on what you are going to say, or how you're going to reply, you could miss that golden context. Practice active listening by closing your mouth, opening your ears and really hear what is being said.
See the Big Picture. Now that you're present and not worrying about how you will reply, I challenge you to see the big picture. And that's not just some business cliche. The point is that often times we get in our silos and we don't want to come out. If we just keep our heads down and worry about our own stuff we'll be okay right? Wrong. That's not going to cut it if you want to grow and prosper as an individual and a company. Poke your head up and see the big picture by interacting with people all around your company. Soak up all that context. You might be surprised at how it can change your point of view and how you might approach a project for the better.
Ask Questions. I'm ending my context tips with this one because it seems like a no-brainer, but I'm blown away by how many times I meet with someone and they express frustration about something they might not have context about, I'll say to them, "Did you talk to Gary?", or "Did you ask Sally?" Too many times I'm met with a deer in the headlights look. If you don't have context you gotta go out there and get it people. Don't sit at your desk and hope context comes knocking because it probably won't. Go out there and get it by asking questions, talking to people (face-to-face always trumps email or IM in my opinion) and get in the know. It's in your best interest to find out what's going on so you can stop being a victim of context and start grabbing it by the horns and riding it all the way to success.
Have you struggled with context? How have you dealt with it? Share your thoughts in the comments.