Communication centers around context. If I say to my wife, “how much did you spend?” as she is bringing in grocery bags from the car, the context and question are clear. But, if I ask my wife, “how much did you spend?” at the end of the day while sitting on the sofa, the question is odd and confusing.

I am finding that as communication technology gets easier, people get so excited to communicate their thought (after all, it’s just a quick text) that they completely forget to give the context around their communication. As a result, I get emails like, “Adam can we resolve today?” To which I respond, “Can we resolve what?” (that was a real email from last week).

When someone communicates without context I believe they are making the following mistakes:

  • The sender is assuming the recipient has first-hand knowledge that they may or may not have.
  • The sender is assuming the recipient has the issue being addressed top of mind just like they do (this is almost always not the case).
  • The sender is too busy (frantic) and working too quickly (frantically) to think through their communication. So the sender pushes off the work of thinking to the recipient, making the recipient either dig around to figure out what is going on, or making the recipient respond with clarifying questions.

As a result, people send off communications with a question that might mean five different things based on the context of the question.

I confess that I have often been guilty of this often and have made all of the assumptions above. I have seen how this has frustrated my co-workers and wasted time. So, I have come up with the following little checklist to consider in sending communication:

  • Am I sure the recipient will know exactly what I’m referring to?
  • Am I sure the recipient has the necessary knowledge to help me or answer my question?

If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then I’m good to send the communication. But, if one of those answers is no, I need to provide more context.