#76 Context and Communication

by Steven Cerri on October 14, 2008

“Context-Static questionnaires don’t work.”

Hello everyone!

I was teaching a management class at the University of California, Santa Barbara, this last Friday.

I was talking to the class about the way in which each of us is “programmed” to behave in certain ways.

I gave the students a questionnaire and one of the categories surveyed by the questionnaire had to do with being oriented toward “details” or toward “big picture”. Those people who prefer to focus on the “big picture” have a tendency to detest details and vice versa. Some people prefer a balance and some people prefer one extreme or the other.

In response to the questionnaire, some of the students displayed preferences for details or big picture, while others displayed a balance.

They got the very clear message that their preferences are real and strong. Students were acknowledging that they either had no real preference or they had strong preferences and they were able to give examples of how these preferences showed up in their lives.

As our discussion progressed, one of the students asked if the scores recorded by the questionnaire ever changed. Essentially, “Do they remain constant or do they change?”

Now here is the very interesting part. Once the students clearly understood that every human being has these “internal programs” that run, often outside of our conscious awareness, my answer to the question was that not only do the preferences change over time, they actually are different depending upon the situation; different depending upon the “context”.

I’ll take myself as an example. When I take my own questionnaire, the survey comes back indicating that I have a very high preference for “big picture” and I have a very low tolerance for details.

Don’t give me details! My eyes glaze over. I want to focus on the big picture. I’ll let someone else attend to the details…. That’s how I answered the questionnaire. And it’s TRUE….

Unless, I’m being creative. If I’m designing a rocket engine, or designing a new training, essentially doing something I consider to be very creative… then I’m all over the details.

So our internal programs actually shift depending upon the context.

Now not everyone has such a strong shift depending upon the context as I have. But most people will display some shift based on context.

This is why I don’t use Myers-Briggs, Disc, or Enneagram. They are context independent. They are great to convince people that people have programs, but then there are a lot of questionnaires that do that. The issue with most systems out there is that they set the internal programs in place assuming that the context is static.

We all know that the context shifts. We all know that situations change.

I’ve developed communication, influence, and leadership processes that allow for a real-time shift in the context, which is exactly what happens in real life. The communicator can actually determine what the context is that is “driving” the interaction and alter the messages so that they can take into account the internal programs of the people listening. It’s a real-time, context-sensitive, communication and leadership process that allows the communicator to adjust the communication process to match the context.

Now I know this sounds like a blatant marketing piece… sorry. But I don’t know how else to talk about what I consider to be a fundamental issue in human communication. And that is that people and the communication and leadership processes are dynamic. They are not static and if we are going to be highly effective in communication, management, and leadership we have to understand that we must engage with people in a real-time “dance”. A real-time give and take that takes attention and awareness and an understanding of all the levels of communication that are taking place simultaneously.

How else can effective communication, influence, and leadership be accomplished?

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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