Life’s Little Lessons

By Carol Anderson, Featured Contributor

CONTEXT IS IMPORTANT, but how many times do we miss the opportunity to ask just a couple questions to make sure we’re thinking about our conversation in the same context?

breadMy husband and I went to Panera Bread for a loaf of their Sesame Semolina bread. Our local grocery store no longer stocks the kind we like, so we figured Panera should have really good semolina bread. When we got to the counter there was one loaf remaining, which we ordered. The cashier asked if we wanted it sliced and how.

My husband immediately said “thin” and I immediately said “thick.” The lady behind us chuckled, and the cashier looked like she was thinking “oh no.”

We looked at each other, and both of us acquiesced, telling her to go with what he/I said. She looked more confused and held up her thumb to ask if this was about the right thickness. We both said “sure.”

I was quite excited to have my turkey sandwich on Panera’s wonderful sesame semolina bread. When I grabbed the first piece, I thought – wow, this is thick. Two pieces of bread dwarfed the turkey, but I finished it up. The bread was tasty, but way too thick.

Rather than admit my error to my husband, I reflected internally on what I meant when I said “thick.” I remembered recently getting a loaf of whole grain bread from our local grocery, and only after opening it did I see the label “thin sliced.” It sure was. The mayo oozed through the bread, and it promptly fell apart. I thought, “huh – didn’t know that was something I needed to look for when buying bread.” I became alert to the thickness differences in bread.

But my context, you see, was known only to me. AND, the cashier’s context was embedded in the machine she used to cut it, which had no relation to either my husband’s or my context.

Perhaps I should have, instead of jumping to a conclusion, asked to see just how “thin” and “thick” the machine cut the bread. Had I seen “thick,” I would have chosen differently.

How many times do we allow our own context to drive our response, instead of more carefully understanding the question that is being asked? I bet it’s a pretty common practice and, with just a couple good questions, we might be able to provide a much better, much more contextual response.

I didn’t want to tell my husband I was wrong. Don’t say anything. ;)

And try checking out your own context, along with others’, before giving your response to a question. It just might end up being good for everyone.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE