Pet Please #126: Context

I was recently listening to a podcast about a board game I’m somewhat unfamiliar with. There were three podcast hosts, and several times throughout the review, one of the podcasters mentioned a specific character in the game. They mentioned the character by name, chortling about their love/hate relationship the character, but they didn’t explain anything else. It was essentially an inside joke to anyone who had played the game.

20 minutes or so into the podcast, one of the other hosts mentioned this character for the first time, and instead of talking about them as if the podcast audience was in on the joke, they took 10 seconds to explain the character’s function.

Suddenly everything made sense. Even though I hadn’t played the game, I was in on the joke. The second host had provided context.

I love context, especially when people give it freely at the right time in an effort to include people. Like, if you’re at a dinner party with some close friends and some not-so-close friends–it’s great when the close friends tell stories and ask questions in a way that includes everyone at the table.

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to it, but I often recognize when people forget to give context, and I try to catch up the other people so they know what the heck the person is talking about. And I notice when people are aware of the disparity of information and provide context up front–it’s a very attractive quality.

This happens both games in the board game world quite a bit. Podcasts are one example, but I also see it on BoardGameGeek–a major gaming website–where people will ask a question like, “Does the Horticulturist help all players or just opponents?” There’s nothing else, just that.

So whenever a person gives context, I think it’s awesome. Like, if they say what the Horticulturist is (a summer visitor card in Viticulture) and post the text on the card, I think that’s great. That way people don’t have to go digging through their copy of the game to answer the question.

Context. It’s the best.

4 Responses to “Pet Please #126: Context”

  1. Falko Jäger says:

    I totally agree – context is the best. It is relevant in all our communication. This very morning an employee of mine informed me that upon investigating a subject he had found a problem he counld’nt deal with and asked me to solve it. But he did not provide the exact nature of the problem. To him it was clear as he had spend an hour looking into it. The lack of context made me ask for specifics which annoyed me, so I was less inclined to give the help the employee deserved. Context makes everything better.

    …with the exception that you can get lost in it, too: I regularly find myself in a situation where I want to share a fascinating scene from a tv series or a book with my wife. For her to understand I give context which usually ends with her telling me after 10 minutes to GET TO THE POINT. But that might just be me.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Falko: Thanks for sharing that example. I can see why the lack of information would make it harder for you to help that employee. And that’s true, sometimes too much context can convolute the message! 🙂

  2. Katie says:

    On one of the first days back after the holidays this year, I was stopped by our VP of Finance before I left my office for the night and randomly told, “Your cream cheese is in the fridge.”

    Huh? What was she talking about? I scoured my brain for reasons why this sentence came out of her mouth. Had I brought in cream cheese and forgotten to take it home? Had I blocked out a recent cream cheese-related conversation with her that was now being reignited? But alas, I had not thought about or used cream cheese for months, and I was quite puzzled about why I had some in our office refrigerator, where it had come from, and why she knew about it.

    I managed to ask for clarification on her statement, and she repeated the same thing again. Even more confused, I started to wonder if this was some kind of strange secret code – perhaps I was a sleeper cell who was being activated with this phrase?

    Finally, after some back and forth and me making it clear to her that I have absolutely no clue what she’s talking about, she tells me that she brought in cream cheese for everyone for Christmas, which could be mixed into a dip she also gave us. Because I was gone for our office holiday party, she put mine in the refrigerator for when I returned, and had assumed someone had already told me about it and she was just giving me a friendly reminder. Once she put it into context, it all made sense. But until then, I was certain one of us was losing our marbles and I was just hoping it wasn’t me!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      “I started to wonder if this was some kind of strange secret code – perhaps I was a sleeper cell who was being activated with this phrase?”

      That’s awesome. I really wish that was it, but the real explanation (in context) makes more sense. 🙂

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