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Context is the Key

We are in Tokyo, riding on a bus with a reporter from a local newspaper. In my defense, I didn't know they were a reporter, I just thought they were amateur photographers excited to learn more about America. I am there as part of a delegation of six leaders representing about 750,000 members of an American agricultural leadership organization.

At one point in the "interview," I am asked about my least favorite part of America. I spend a few minutes describing a bad experience I had at an airport that rhymes with "Snow Hare," but I do make sure to end my rant by saying how I "will definitely give that city another chance" and that "I don't truly have a least favorite part of America." As I finish, my five teammates, who were sitting near me listening, all turn and look at me like I'm an insane person.

"They're acting strange," I think to myself. Before long, we hop off the bus and head to lunch. We sit down and they immediately berate me for being a complete idiot. "Don't you know that was a reporter? They can print any part of what you said and leave any other part out." They wouldn't do that... would they?

The next day we find the website of the paper the reporter represented. A small headline halfway through their agricultural section read, "Delegation Visits Japan on Agricultural Tour." We click on the article and most of it is kosher. Then, we find my interview.

The print one sentence of the entire interview and it was a portion of my answer regarding my least favorite city. Not only do they miss the point, but he took what I said completely out of context! As I reflect back on that experience, I often ask myself, "Who is at fault?" In communication, whose job is it to set context? What's at stake if we don't?

John C. Maxwell says that "Everyone communicates, few connect." If connecting with someone is walking through a door, then context is the key to unlocking that door. Without proper context, we cannot guarantee proper results.

One of my favorite tips in setting context is to try and proactively answer someone's questions. Anticipate what may be unclear and clarify without having to be asked. The person you're communicating with will appreciate it and you'll spend less time explaining things later.

How we communicate matters, and context is the key to not just communicating, but connecting.


The next time you have an important conversation coming up, list out the expectations you have for the conversation. Then, tell that person those expectations.


Who in your life sets context the best? What do they do?


"'I'm sorry' and 'my bad' mean the same thing... unless you're at a funeral." - Unknown

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