Want to improve your workplace communication skills, especially when working with other teams?

Give context.

Why give context?

Context helps your colleagues:

  1. Understand where you’re coming from / viewing things from.
  2. Understand who you are, and what you’re trying to achieve (your overall project, not this specific request)
  3. Helps remove assumptions. Teams often have their own dialects, and your request may mean something entirely different to them. Giving context helps them understand if there might be other dialects in play.
  4. Saves them time in “back and forth” clarifying questions, which, if the teams are remote, can take days.

Context helps you too:

  1. It saves you time in the long run – you’ll reduce the amount of “back and forth” while the receiving party tries to figure out exactly what you need.
  2. You might not actually need the thing, or need to do the thing. The team you’re asking may already have done something that can help you. But if you just ask for “$thing” you’ll never know, because they don’t know your project/goal!

A worked example

Here’s an example I used on Twitter recently:

Bad: “I need $thing”

Good: “I’m from $group. I’m trying to help $team with $companyGoal, to do $workItem, and need help with $thing”

This difference this makes can be stark, and it usually only takes a few minutes more:

Compare

I need a new SSL certificate

against

I’m from the web applications team. Our SSL certificate will run out soon (we’re trying to automate renewals but we’re not there yet), and I need the new cert to prevent our web app from going offline next week. Can you help please?

If I received the first request. I give them the cert.

If I receive the second request, I can tell them all about the solution our team developed to help developers with certificate management and auto renewals!

 

So please, do yourself, and your colleagues a favour – give context! ?

Written by Phil Wiffen

Phil is an IT Professional working in Cambridge, England. He generally blogs about useful solutions that he comes across in his work/play.

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