Context

Context is the water that we don’t always know we’re swimming in.

Think of the last conversation you had one-on-one with anyone. Even someone in your own house.

There were some elements of that conversation that were obvious enough. The setting, the actual things you talked about, the time of day, you get the idea.

What I'm most interested in, is what wasn't obvious. What was invisible to both of you during the entire course of the conversation. What, if made visible, may have actually changed the course of your entire conversation?

If you know me personally, then you know that I am not a fan of vague or superficial questions. Especially openers to conversations, like: How's it going? How are you? How was your day?

The reason I am not a big fan of these is because we have been conditioned—I think due to artificial constraints of time—to answer these questions vaguely and superficially.

What if we opened every one-on-one we had by discussing the context that each of us are bringing to the conversation. Here are some examples of context setting questions:

  • Has anything happened in the past 24 hours or do you know of anything that is going to happen in the next 24 hours that is weighing heavily on you right now? 24 hours is a bit arbitrary, so if you're asking this question, just pick a timeframe that makes sense to you.

  • How are you feeling physically? I like this question because it breaks through an assumption we make that just because we're showing up to a conversation we're actually feeling physically well. We're pretty good at masking that. It's unnecessary really. Also, asking this same question but replacing physically with mentally might make the question slightly more vague because sometimes it's harder for us to pinpoint this, but, give it a try too.

  • Tell me about your context right now. This might lead to a reaction of, "What do you mean?" If so, explain further by saying, "Tell me about some of the things you're holding right now that I'm not seeing." This gets right to the heart of the matter. Probably my favourite route to take.

As with all things you've never done, it might feel strange at first.

Having a conversation without context, is like looking at a piece of art through a toilet paper roll.

Let's see more of the human in our conversations.

A mosaic of different coloured circles