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The Absence of Context

by Hank Barnes  |  July 16, 2019  |  1 Comment

Context is critical–to pretty much everything.  But too often, context is either assumed or not established.  Examples of this can be seen daily:

  • Blog posts touting essential customer experience strategies –without establishing clarity of whether this is for consumers or B2B situations (and if you are going to tell me “its all the same now,” please listen to this podcast I did with Jon Reed of diginomica.  There are clear differences).
  • Name dropping – Have you ever been in a conversation where someone mentions a name, acting like you’d be an idiot if you don’t know who they are.  Well, for me, I often have no idea who they are, so I just act like I know and  then realize I really have no idea what they are talking about.
  • Joining the middle of “conversations” – This happens at work all the time.   You get involved after several other meetings or discussions (we know this happens with occasional participants on buying teams).   Trying to catch up is hard.   Being asked to jump in and take action is even harder–when you have no idea of expectations.

And I could go on and on.

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

In our distraction-driven world, we can never assume context.   We need to confirm context and understanding.

I’m not saying this is easy.  It’s pretty hard, particularly when you think about the fact that this is happening constantly.  It’s not just with one person; it’s with 2,3, 5 or more.

But there are things that can be done.

  1. Create short-form “catch-up” communications – These can be written or verbal, but quick recaps of “this is how we got here” will help everyone.  Short form is critical.  It is a form of progressive engagement.  It might provide the context to dig deeper.  But I’ve seen some say “here’s the project folder, that will have the information that you want.” Really, wading through file after file isn’t exactly helping people get up to speed quickly.
  2. Look for signs of confusion – Maybe this could be called “active talking,” but look for signals of tacit confusion vs. strong agreement and understanding.  If that is happening, be willing to take a step back and clarify.
  3. Start stories with the intended audience – This is built into our recommended storytelling approach.  Rather than start with the answer, start with the situation and the group that is impacted.    This allows them to put themselves in the story.

The absence of context may be just a nuisance, but in some situations in can make the difference between success and failure.   Clients ask for details on something that had been suggested, but no one is really sure what that is–or what was committed to them.  The delivery team gets frustrated.  A subscription is established for software, but users aren’t trained or given clear guidance on what the usage expectations are.

Want to make a difference in decision-making, team effectiveness, and customer relations?    Don’t assume or ignore the importance of context.


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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: confusion  context  customer-experience  decision-making  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on The Absence of Context

  1. Ken Rutsky says:

    Content is king and the king is dead. Context is the new king, Long Live Context!!!

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