Life Lessons from the Library: Provide Context, Please.

The other day as I was leaving the library, a student walked by, waved, and said happily, “You found it.”

I nodded, although I had no idea what we were discussing. I have found that nodding with a vaguely approving look on my face often gets me out of these sorts of situations. But clearly she wanted more.

So I was forced to admit my ignorance. “Found what?” I asked.

She stared at me in disbelief. “The book that’s on my account. I knew I’d turned it in. And someone in the library found it yesterday.”  She was clearly amazed that this had not been weighing on me.

I smiled back and said, “That’s great news. Glad we could correct the mistake.” And we parted friends.

But the incident made me think of the times that I am ‘ambushed’ by people who provide little or no context for their questions or statements.  And I have  to wonder why that is. I could think that it’s because folks have such a strong belief in my ability to remember things, but if they’ve known me for more than five minutes, that can’t be it. Another reason may be that most of us are so self-absorbed, we can’t really believe that our problems aren’t on the forefront of everyone’s mind.

But not providing a context, especially for a question, makes miscommunication that much easier and has the added liability of making the receiver of such a question irritated.

For example, let’s say you appear at the door of my office. I look up from my computer where I’m working on a report.

“Did you get an answer?” you ask.

Now my mind has to shuffle through the various projects that need answers. Is it a purchasing problem? Is there a Testing Center dilemma? Did we get the budget transfer for the Learning Center? You get the picture. So I answer with a less-than-elegant, “What?”

But let’s back up and redo our example with context:

You appear at my door.

I look up from typing.

“Hi,” you say, “did you get an answer from the business office about the sole source form?”

“Yes. We need one. I’m working on it now.”

See, life is much easier.

Unfortunately, there are so many ways  for communication to go awry. So let’s eliminate one of them. Just provide a basic context for your listener. Trust me. It’s much appreciated.


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