Contextual Communication – What Is It?

In a book I wrote on communication, I specifically talk about Contextual Communication as opposed to just communication as we know it. What is contextual communication? How does it differ from communication proper? And how can it help improve our communication? Let’s take a look.

Let’s say you’re frustrated one day, over an important matter on the job and run to your boss under the pressure of the moment. You may not come in with the best of chosen words.

Your boss should recognize that your behavior is out of context. Under normal conditions, you would communicate more rationally and constructively. Therefore, being aware of that, the Receiver (the listener, in this case your boss) will possess a certain understanding at this critical moment.

We are more vulnerable to misunderstandings and negative reactions at home. People are at their best at work or in public, and can restrain themselves more and apply communication tools. At home, we unfortunately forget our respect at times for one other. However it is the best place to begin to practice communication improvement and changes we would like to make in our lives.

If your boss is not properly trained, he/she may, sometimes, return an unexpected verbiage of literary responses which will begin a series of escalating words, or even unspoken misunderstandings. That could accumulate to serious confrontations or silent ends (you don’t say anything, walk away, but carry the grudge of the unfinished business).

The same kind of situation applies the other way around: the subordinate might misunderstand the boss at a vulnerable time. Often these confrontations can carve permanent damage in relationships. One may even lose a job over as a result of it.

What is the Contextual part? It is the whole of “the parts of a sentence, paragraph, discourse, etc. immediately next to or surrounding a specified word or passage and determining its exact meaning (to quote a remark out of context). The whole situation, background, or environment relevant to a particular event, personality, creation, etc. Contextual: of, depending on, or belonging to the context. (New World Dictionary).

Just as in reading, where one reads within the context of the words, the sentence, the paragraph, the chapter, the plot, the subject, the issue…, communication is also read, heard or understood within the context of the subject matters and the communicators — by both the Sender (speaker, presenter, etc) and the Receiver (the listener).

In a conversation each one of us, alternatively takes on the role of the Sender and the Receiver. Each one can also be a Sender only or a Receiver only. For example, we are a Sender only when we speak to someone who does not engage in the conversation, as in when we are teaching or giving a presentation or seminar, or giving instructions, etc. We are a Receiver only when we are the listener in an audience or a class or an instructional situation. But, most of the time, we are both at different times. We engage in conversations that require us to be Senders when we speak and Receivers when we listen.

The Contextual part of communication requires us to be aware of the context within which the subject matter is being discussed — the surroundings of both points of view. If we learn to see this contextual part, learn it and use it, most people will be able to improve their communication by 50-100% in most cases./dmh