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Context vs. Content

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw. 

Context is everything. It shapes the meaning in our communication.

When our messages are delivered in one context and received in another, that’s when miscommunication is likely to occur. Having come across the above quote recently, it got me thinking … how often do I find myself feeling frustrated after a conversation, when I come away feeling like the other person simply didn’t listen or properly hear me? I wonder if you've ever asked yourself the same question?

What is helpful for us to realise is that we humans miscommunicate more frequently than we’d like to think. This occurs because we talk in content and detail, inconsistently offering our listener(s) the boundary in which we would like them to hear us – the context.

For us to land communication well, we need to set the context first, and then fill in the content. That way, the audience knows what to filter or hear in order to make sense of it. Otherwise, essentially as ‘sense-making’ machines, we’ll make our own interpretation, building our own picture of what we think is being said through assumption, not the speaker’s reality.

To add to the mix, whether we like it or not, we seem to be drifting towards a world (undoubtedly due to advances in technology in recent years) where ‘connectivity’ is taking over from conversation. This creates a whole other raft of implications for communication. Texts and email are so very easy to completely misconstrue, largely because they have no tone of voice attached to them. And the stakes get raised in these forms of communication if, in any way, the subject matter is confrontational or pertaining to a challenging issue.

I’m a little bit old fashioned and so, where possible, I like to pick up the phone and actually speak to someone. If nothing else, I find things get progressed or actioned a lot quicker - particularly because, most often, when a phone call is finished, so is the transaction. Agreements have been made, actions agreed, etc. With more and more of us working remotely these days, stretching the muscle of creating human contact by speaking is a good one to exercise.  And, I’m not alone in thinking this, click here for some top tips from Harvard Business Review on how to deal with miscommunication in the virtual world.

So the next time you feel your message perhaps hasn’t been received the way you intended, rather than assuming it’s the fault of the recipient, take time to reflect and ask yourself if the context you provided was clear.

Have you ever had a particularly bad experience with a misconstrued message? If so, what did you learn from it? Please share your comments below.

Posted on Thu, February 11, 2016 in General Leadership Personal Development
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