So much of what we try to communicate with others is context – the interrelated facts, conditions and background that give our message its full meaning.

Communicating context is tricky. Sometimes we share too much detail, and our main points get lost. At other times, we try to stick to the bare bones and don’t share any of the illuminating particulars.

Some helpful dos and don’ts for communicating context:

DON’T imply. When a message is sensitive, we sometimes balk at putting it into words. Don’t dance around the issue. Communicating in a clever or indirect way ensures misunderstanding.

DO share context directly. Use plain language to lay out the facts and the necessary background or peripheral information. Even a delicate topic is best approached unambiguously.

DON’T rely on nonverbal cues to add to the message. Nonverbals can be interpreted many different ways and can change the meaning of the message received. Nonverbal cues that don’t match the words you’re using will simply confuse the listener.

DO share your feelings and expectations along with the message. Be up front about your perspective and what you want to see happen, if anything. If your communication requires an action on the listener’s part, say so.

DON’T share too much. Share the minutia only if it is necessary. Resist the urge to communicate every detail, especially if it’s just to show how much you know.

DO share enough. Ask yourself, “What would I want to know about this situation if I were Person X?”

When you think you’ve got it right – that you’ve communicated just the right amount of info – check with the listener. Ask him or her to summarize the message in their own words. You may find that what you thought was crystal clear is still foggy. In communication, as in most endeavors, practice makes perfect.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!