Dishwashing plus camping equals context.

When I was a kid, one of my family chores was washing the dishes in the evening several times a week.  I grew up in a farming community back in the 80s, when almost nobody had a fancy electric appliance called a “dishwasher.” There were 6 of us in my family, so dishwashing was no small task, either.

My mom and dad each gave me advice about how to get dishes as clean as possible. Mom said to use plenty of soap, and Dad said to use the hottest water I could bear to stick my hands in. I ended up with seriously chapped hands most of the time.

Recently, I was laughing about my by-hand-dishwashing experience with my friend Tom. He grew up on a farm and can commiserate about the drudgery of chores. And, just like my dad, Tom has a love of camping, joined the military to see life outside Ohio, and is a practical sort of guy.

Tom pointed out something to me about my dad’s advice to wash dishes in the hottest water possible. When you are camping for fun or for the military, he said, it’s a good idea to rinse dishes in water hot enough to scald. Otherwise, you risk leaving nasty bacteria on your dishes. Nobody wants to deal with stomach issues in the wilderness.

Here’s why Tom’s perspective matters to me: he gave me context I could never have seen on my own. By adding context to my understanding of my dad and his experiences, a lot of the advice he gave me over the years makes more sense now.

Context is also the reason I always believe people when they say, “Well, it’s complicated.”

It’s complicated because they are dealing with layers and layers of context that I can’t see (yet). If I could wave a magic wand, that context would become visible to me – and to them! Context helps us see why making decisions is difficult, why someone is stuck on a particular task, or why success seems to be just beyond reach. There are several areas in which I often help clients gain context and, therefore, greater clarity:

  • Vision and direction;
  • Action plans;
  • Skills;
  • Things that limit progress – both physical environment and mental games and beliefs.

If you suspect you need greater clarity in any of these areas, try first looking for clues to context. Ask why your staff member relies on a particular routine, or how many years ago the phone-answering protocol was established, or what were the circumstances that led to the purchase of your client management system?

Maybe, like me, you’ll discover the context behind that puzzling directive to rinse dishes in uncomfortably hot water. Context that helps you understand the advice was actually given out of deep concern for the safety and well-being of your community.

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Where in your business could you be missing context? Tell us about it! We pledge to provide you with insight and solutions to help you build success for your business and teams.

Kay Coughlin, CEO, Facilitator on Fire, is passionate about helping businesses overcome roadblocks through leadership and sales coaching for women and team workshops.

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1 Comment

  1. Gary Monti

    Great post! Right on target. It’s where I spend a great deal of time with my change management practice, i.e., bringing it all to the surface. Always run into a paradox…people complain about not being understood and then they protect (ferociously, sometimes) the deeper layers that, when understood within the group, can help them break loose and experience abundance.

    Again, great post, Kay!

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