Your boss walks into the conference room and is unusually harsh towards you and your colleagues.
Your boss is clearly in a bad mood.
At first, you might think, “Geez… he’s being such a jerk.”
…and that might be true.
However, let’s say you find out later that he had a family member killed in a car crash last night.
How you view that morning’s staff meeting would likely change.
Your boss’s behavior, although not ideal, is perhaps understandable in light of this new information.
In this case, the information about what happened last night provides context that alters your perspective on how you perceive and interpret the events that happened in the conference room.
Context matters… a lot!
This has two implications for you.
First, when interacting with others, it’s useful to understand the full context of a situation before deciding how to respond.
If your impulse was to quit after the morning staff meeting, that’s fine. Just don’t act on that impulse until after you’ve had a chance to understand the context and thoughtfully consider your choices with this additional information.
Second, when trying to convince others, a simple persuasion technique is to influence the other person’s perception of context as a way of changing their position on a particular issue.
Sometimes this indirect approach works much better than a direct challenge on their position.
For example, some people object to spending their own money to buy a book, a course, or a program to further their own career skills.
They feel that their employer should be the one to pay for such materials.
One could very easily find weaknesses in the argument, and try to argue passionately for the opposite position.
That’s a classic debate technique.
However, one can also try to be influential with this person by attempting to change the context through which the person sees the situation.
In this case, the concept of fairness is the premise that underlies the “who should pay” issue. That’s the typical context for someone who holds the position that employers should pay.
A different context (or paradigm of thinking) could be the concept of competitive advantage.
The reason you should pay for your own career development is precisely because many employers will not pay for it.
The context is simple.
To get ahead, do the things that others do not do.
So rather than argue whether it’s fair if individuals vs. employers pay for professional development, the alternative context says that question doesn’t even matter.
What matters is that most people don’t invest in their careers, which makes it an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage when you do.
As long as you’re advancing your career faster than others, who cares whether it was “fair” or not if your employer didn’t pay for your professional development?
Change the context, change the perspective.
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