by Achim Nowak

Want More Productive Conversations? Create More Granular CONTEXT.

August 10, 2020

Michelle Obama caused a stir last week. On her weekly podcast, she spoke of having a “low-grade depression.”

What? Michelle Obama depressed? The pundits and social media went into overdrive.

First things first. Michelle Obama is allowed to be depressed. Moreover, Obama clearly contextualized her statement. The idea that what this country is going through shouldn’t have any effect on us – that we all should just feel OK all the time – that just doesn’t feel real to me.

Context clear, right? And an entirely different message. Let’s be real about the feelings we have about what’s going on in the world. Let’s allow ourselves to be fully human.

Context matters. Always does.

Exceptional influencers carefully shape their conversations. Instead of creating a conversational free-for-all, they launch with a finely crafted context. The most helpful context isn’t airy-fairy. It’s specific. Granular. Think of it as HYPER-CONTEXT.

Context creates expectation AND anticipation in any conversation. It invites complex inquiry. It inhibits a conversational shut-down. It hopefully normalizes a measure of discomfort. It quite simply demands a better conversation.


Do you wish to fashion more compelling conversations? Consider the following 4 ways of creating clearer context in your business conversations.

  1. Outcome Context:

This is the classic in most US-centric business conversations. We’re here to come up with a Strategic Plan for bringing our new Microblender PLUS to market by October 15.

Deservedly a classic. It sets a clear results-focus. It does little, however, to define the quality and substance of either the conversation or the desired outcomes. It's a meat-and-potatoes kinda context.

  1. Historical Context:

In our recent two strategy conversations we have consistently suggested go-to-market tactics that haven’t worked too well for us in the past. Let’s challenge ourselves to come up with tactics that we have not tried before.

Clear, right? Not the same old crap, please. Let’s change the substantive quality of our conversation. Let’s leave past choices in the past. Let us stretch ourselves,

  1. Contrasting Context: 

We’re here to get clear on the optimal go-to-market tactics for our October 15 launch. We’re NOT here to figure out how to sell Microblender PLUS 3 years from now.

By defining what we’re NOT doing we give ourselves permission to fully sink our teeth into the conversation we DO want to have. Clear boundaries contain the urge to drift and digress. They support substantive reflection and analysis.

  1. Qualitative Context:

To make sure that we come up with the most effective plan, I may at times ask some tough questions to challenge our thinking and assumptions. And I urge every one of you to do the same. That’s how we ensure that we come up with richly examined action steps that will deliver.

Clear as well, right? Let’s be a little tough in our conversation. We want things to get a bit messy as we fully examine our ideas. Messy is desirable. Let’s not avoid it!

In case of doubt, HYPER-CONTEXTUALIZE. Context defines the landscape of a conversation and the quality of your outcomes.

Contextualize explicitly. Contextualize beyond the Outcome Context. Contextualize well. HYPER-CONTEXTUALIZE. HYPER-CONTEXT demands a better conversation.

Michelle Obama knows. By inserting the provocative phrase low-grade depression into her conversation, she provoked her followers to take a deeper look at the context that matters to her. Her context DEMANDED attention.

Demand it. You will set everyone up to be more successful. And we all want that, don’t we?

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