Why Context is Important

Recently at work I got a question about tools that our project uses. I get these sorts of questions at various times somewhat regularly for a number of reasons. As a responsible answering party I asked what the context of the question was. And, this time got no response, which means that my answer was probably crap.

When someone asks you to explain the context of your question, they could very well be saying “go away, I don’t want to deal with you”. But just as frequently they could actually be trying to communicate with you and give you an answer that they know you’ll get something out of. A snap answer is almost always wrong because the context and head space you came up with your question is going to be an entirely different head space that the person you are asking has been in all day/week/month or even forever. Communication, real communication, not waiting for your turn to speak, is what happens when two or more people extend their frame of reference to try to overlap so they can actually see what’s going on in the other’s head.

It frustrates me to give a useless, or worse, a bad answer because I couldn’t draw out more information about the question. Fortunately it happens rarely enough that I still get riled up about it, like today.