Content Without Context Creates Confusion

An early Monday flight got me into a North Carolina hotel for a Tuesday program with free afternoon of time to get a few things done.

That afternoon, I had three tasks on my list:

  1. Work out.

  2. Print a document that I had emailed to myself.

  3. Fax above document to a client at another location.

In order to get an energy boost, I chose to workout first.

The gym is located in the lower level of the hotel, by a set of stairs.

After finishing up my workout, I headed immediately from the gym in search of the hotel business center.

Not knowing where it was, I stopped a hotel employee on the lobby level.

Where’s the business center?

They directed me to the lower level, next to the stairs.

I retraced my steps, and realized they had just sent me to the gym.

Take two.

I went back to the lobby and asked another employee:

Where’s the business center?

They also suggested I go back to the lower level, next to the stairs.Then it hit me.I was dressed in my workout clothes, and had my water bottle in hand.

Even though I was saying “business center”, all these two staff members heard was “fitness center”.

What else would a guy in shorts, a tank top and carrying a water bottle be asking for?

I asked the employee again:

No, not the fitness center. I’m looking for the business center.


That’s down the second hallway past the ballrooms on the left.

Business center: found.

In communication, context trumps content.

In this case, two employees were so busy with the context of my request, the meaning was lost.It doesn’t matter how brilliant your content is: if it’s placed in the wrong frame, it will (at best) lose impact.

At worst, it’ll create confusion.

What do you do to ensure clarity of both context and content in your communication?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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