Thursday, April 27, 2017

The 1 New Habit That Will Improve Every Relationship You Have

If there's one magic bullet that can instantly improve nearly every interaction, it's context. It doesn't take long to establish, yet context is too often completely ignored. How many times have you seen someone snooze or scroll through a presentation, only to find out at the end that they should have been paying attention because the information impacts them? In a perfect world, we'd all be curious and alert all the time, paying attention even before someone spells out what's in it for you.

This isn't a perfect world, but we can make it a little better by taking the time to clarify context in our interactions.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make context a habit.

1. Context forces clarity. When you take the time to explain what's in it for someone else, you're also taking the time to make sure your own thinking is clear. Putting yourself in someone else's position helps to establish focus, which enables the relationship to grow and mature. It's easy to speak from your own perspective and assume that other people understand where you're coming from. But what if they don't? It will cost you.

2. Problem solving. When teams work together to solve a problem, participants need as much context as possible around the problem they are trying to solve. I once facilitated a session for a global travel company. They thought they needed to invent some spectacular new innovation for their customers. They spent a lot of time thinking about the many possible innovations they might create to make their customers happy. In the end, when their customers were brought in to discuss their issues, the problem turned out to be much easier to solve. The biggest complaint their customers had turned out to be the easiest fix imaginable. The font on the forms they had to fill out was too small. The customers explained the context of this one tiny problem that had so many tendrils, and how it sometimes forced them to seek the company's competitors, even those who offered fewer options but laid them out more clearly.

3. Water-cooler chat. Give people a few data points without context, and they will invent an entire epic of their own creation. People draw their own conclusions based on incomplete information, and together they will analyze every aspect of what you might have meant by what you said. Instead, spell it out. Start every meeting, presentation and conversation with context. "We picked this platform and we're going to use it," is begging for a behind-the-back review of possible motives. "We picked this platform after an extensive review of four of the best, feedback from employees, benchmarking against industry standards, and we are aware that it may not be exactly what we need, but we are willing to take a risk, try it out and see how it goes. We look forward to your feedback."

4. When in doubt, ask. Context is a two-way street. Don't let someone plow forward until you understand the context of what they need from you. Are you expected to provide help? Resources? Knowledge? Listen quietly and say nothing? Take the message to your boss or your team? Change how you're operating? If you don't know, ask.

Image Credit: Getty Images

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