Context Is The Key To Communication

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In doing the research for a keynote on the business of communicating joy, it became clear to me that humans basically communicate in two ways: 1. Immediately - meaning, face-to-face, via video or telephonically, and 2. Delayed - which is pretty much everything/every way else. This includes voicemails, social media, advertising, texts and homing pigeons. 

We humans have, over the course of our evolution, developed a fine and intricate system of personal communication. So much so that most of the meaning in our conversations is communicated non-verbally. Setting aside factual information, the tilt of a head here, the raise of an eyebrow there and we just get it. We understand not only what’s being said, but what’s being implied as well. We’ve got your number Becky. 

Here’s the big, giant rub: in the digital era, we’re inundated with so many ways to “connect” and receive information that actual communication, the give and the take, is in genuine peril. We cannot discern meaning without the face-to-face. It lacks context and context is everything.

Merriam-Webster defines context as “The parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.” So, without context, we’re literally groping in the dark for meaning. 

We’ve tried to compensate for this context-less way of communicating. While our phones may come with a 26 character alphabet (English Standard), we have at our fingertips an exponentially larger lexicon of emojis, which we use to comment and editorialize on our written word. This is what has replaced immediate communication - an eggplant and a winking smiley face. It’s unclear if this is actually progress or regression. I tend to think the later. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Creative Mornings, I urge you to check them out. They’re like TED Talks™, but more informal. Alan Webber, Founder of Fast Company magazine gave Creative Mornings/SantaFe™ a brilliant talk on why context is so much more important than content. We could just keep churning out media and information but unless we understand why it’s important or IF it’s important, it’s really just noise.

I for one, would like less noise and more meaning. 


LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC.  Her company provides fun & interactive training events utilizing theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.