Is 15 minutes a long time?

“Is 15 minutes a long time?”

Susan asked me as we sat down for our coaching session. She was a bit out of breath.

“Well, it’s a very long time to hold your breath. It would be a reasonable time for a commute to work. But it would probably be a very short time to say good-bye to someone.”

She sighed and then, knowing that I was already in coaching mode, responded: “That’s NOT what I meant!”

She and I have been working on her ability to get her ideas across, especially in stressful situations.

Like many of us, the stress and perceived urgency of many situations impacts her ability to clearly communcate. Often she jumps to conclusions and gives short and unclear messages. It’s as if I am jumping into a conversation already in progress.

Many times we are in such a hurry or have been conditioned by our communication tools (texting, tweeting) that we jump to the idea or the question without providing context.

The question “Is 15 minutes a long time?” is a concept without context and can be interpreted in many ways. To make matters worse, the person responding may use their most recent context to answer the question. So if I were just on a phone call and placed on hold, 15 minutes on hold would be a long time and I may answer ’15 minutes is a very long time.”

Of course, you may not know the assumptions they are making regarding the context just as they do not know your assumptions. Too many assumptions equals misunderstandings and miscommunications.

That is why it’s important to understand and communicate the context of your idea as well as the content.

Think of it as setting the scene of a movie or play. You need to establish the context of the story before you can start telling the story. The dialog of a story set in space in the year 2425 will be different from one set in London in 1920.

Help your audience to engage in your conversation by giving them the information they need and avoid misinterpretations.

My client, Susan clarified the question by providing the context. She had just been informed she was given 15 minutes on next week’s governance meeting agenda to present a project proposal. She was tryng to determine if 15 minutes was a long time and if she could accomplish her goal in that amount of time.

Fifteen minutes (concept) now had meaning (context.)

How many messages are you sharing without context?