In a recent article, I suggested that Change Agents need to answer eight critical questions when they plan for communication. Today I’ll dig a bit deeper into the first of those 8 questions: “What’s the context for this communication?”
Change Agent Tip #63: Communicate in Context.
Why is Context So Important? Most of us have experienced the modern phenomenon of communication overload. We get bombarded with messages from people, computers, televisions, phones and a host of other screaming devices.
Day-to-day life has gotten so noisy that we often find ourselves begging for a bit of peace and quiet whenever we get a chance to jump off the rocket ride to information overload.
Give It A Chance! If your communication is to have a chance of being picked up by your target audience, it will need to arrive with as little confusion as possible.
That’s where the idea of “context” comes in.
Context for communication is something like the root system that holds a tree upright – you can’t see it, but you’d sure notice if it were missing! It gives your message a firm foundation that you can build upon.
Messages without a firm contextual foundation are often confusing and raise more questions than they answer.
Providing a basic context for your message is a simple idea that we need to paint the background before laying out all of the details.
First Things First: Consider these context-setting questions you may need to address before you get into the nitty-gritty:
- What’s this message related to?
- Why is it important?
- How does it fit into other things going on in my world?
- What have I heard about this topic before?
- Who’s involved and who needs to pay attention to this stuff?
- How does this message fit in with previous messages you have communicated to this group?
It paints the background before we dive into the details.
So before you start the hard work of crafting a change-related communication, I suggest that you spend a minute or two verifying the context for that message. Don’t grind away at it as if it’s the main thing you have to get across, but do spend enough time on the context that you don’t cause confusion when you release your message.
Answer the questions above and you should be well on your way.
A Final Point: If it’s your first message on a given topic, context is even more critical. Take the time to fully describe what’s going on and why. Summarize your logic and the background that sets up the message and you’ll give people a “hook” upon which they can hang the rest of your story.
Question for Chatter:
Have you ever received a message that caused confusion because it lacked context?
What other questions might be included as a part of setting the context for your message?
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