If you’re a long term Paper Napkin Wisdom listener, you may remember Christina Harbridge’s last visit EPISODE 47, when we had a lively discussion about shifting focus towards things that are enjoyable. If you’re just tuning in, Christina has a very interesting background. She has co-authored software, built a company that hit national revenue success, practiced acrobatic swing dancing, been a NASA test subject, and collaborated to design several large-scale metal sculptures currently on display in San Francisco, Austin, and Toronto. Now, she is the CEO of Allegory, a company that provides group training, one-on-one coaching, behavior change, and company culture services. In today’s podcast, she breaks down why drilling down on context is crucial to good communication.
Christina explains, “If I ask you for food and you hand me an apple, it’s because I wasn’t specific enough.” Taking it a step further, if she wanted a Granny Smith, she may find herself disappointed when you hand her a Golden Delicious for a midday treat. Recognizing levels of context has to become a habit, Christina remarks. As opposed to throwing around buzzwords, Christina recommends drilling down a bit and getting to the heart of the conversation and concerns. “Context is a deliberate practice and you must notice it everywhere in order to increase understanding. It will become more of a habit over time,” she says.
On an organizational level, becoming more contextual can pay dividends. Christina makes it a practice to ask for direct, tangible examples when a team member makes a complaint. “Getting examples can drive change and fulfill a person’s basic need to feel understood,” she believes. For example, as opposed to complaining that a Director of Finance is underperforming, Christina suggests asking team members for specific examples in order to change the complaint into a solution. “Context helps you understand if it’s just a complaint or if there is a good example beyond the buzzwords,” she says.
Outside of complaints, Christina believes there is also a benefit in applying this philosophy to positive feedback. “When praising an employee, give root level feedback. Make sure to specify an example of exactly what you liked in order to see that behavior replicated,” she mentions. Christina admits that she wasn’t always a practitioner of this belief. “I used to not specifically articulate my needs and get mad when they weren’t met. It would bubble up until the point where a missed document would take me over the edge,” she recalls. By adopting this practice, she has found that things run more smoothly in both her personal and professional life.
How can you begin to practice specificity in your day-to-day life and organization’s life? Tweet us with your thoughts!