Giving Context When Sending Information

How to make yourself more useful to the people you work with.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #55

Today's topic is being smart about your communication. The quick and dirty tip is to provide context with your messages.

You know how much I love meetings? I don’t. I hate meetings. That’s because it seems like meetings are chock full of irrelevant, useless, boring information. I used to marvel at my friends who were addicted to online virtual games. I’d naively think, “Why would someone spend hours in an online virtual world when they could have 3D, millions of colors, and a multi-sensory, first-person interface in the real world?” Simple. The real world has meetings. Online doesn’t.

So you can imagine how my ego shattered this week when I discovered I was part of the irrelevant, useless, boring information problem. Eager to make a good impression on my new co-workers, I sent out several articles that were relevant to our project, useful, and fascinating. I was expecting accolades and praises for my intellectual brilliance. Instead, my boss said, “OK, Stever. I spent my Saturday night reading the 75 pages you sent. Was there anything relevant in it? It seemed totally irrelevant, useless, boring information.” Ouch. Really, ouch. Double ouch.

No One Knows What We’re Thinking (Whew!)

What I’d forgotten to do was provide context. It turns out we all have brains (except politicians, but that’s not my main point). My main point is that what happens inside our brains is private. No one knows about our Arena Rock air guitar fantasies. Our brain is off-limits to everyone but us and the space aliens monitoring us with invisible electrodes. In particular, no one knows the logic of why we do things. Why we do what we do is perfectly obvious—to us. We always make complete sense, and we’re always, always 100% right.

What makes it so funny is that we kind of understand that the idiot down the hall with the dumb ideas thinks he’s right, too. But he’s obviously not. He’s wrong. We never take that next leap and consider from his point of view, we’re the idiot down the hall with the dumb ideas.

We Know What We're Thinking. (Yippee!)

When we share information, we know why we’re doing it. We’re sending our spouse the spec sheet on that new Maserati because we expect a nice birthday gift, this year. We’re sending our boss a copy of the sales report because we want her to notice our sales numbers were the highest. And we’re giving our co-workers 75 pages of reading because we want them to realize that the theoretical underpinnings of post-modern, deconstructionist pedagogical design is congruent with the economic process characteristic of cross-disciplinary value-investing over a 40-year boom and bust cycle. Isn’t it obvious?

Apparently not.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.