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Story of Pi and the Power of Context

Updated on November 30, 2012

One of the highlights or rather lowlights of Pi’s experience last week can be characterized by feelings of impatience. He felt his tempers starting to flare in a few encounters he had with other people. A couple of incidents happened. He had to make a business trip to India and had to apply through the travel agency for a visa. The visa application took so much time – there were so much to-ing and fro-ing with the travel agents and it really tested Pie Sie’s patience. Another incident involved an encounter with the customer service staff at a mobile phone shop after he had purchased a new mobile phone and was looking for assistance to transfer all his contacts from the old phone to the new phone. The staff at the mobile phone shop said that they do not perform data transfers from the old phone to new phone – this really made Pie Sie angry and he almost lost his temper with the customer service staff because he couldn’t believe that as the customer, they were not willing to help him with something like that.

In the first two scenarios, Pi was the customer – so that was the context. He behaved in a controlling taking way when his requests were not met. Pi wanted to dominate and the more others pushed or declined, the harder he pushed back to get his way. After a while, Pi realized what was going on - he realized that pushing harder may not get him what he want, instead it made him more agitated and more frustrated. So, he toned down his words and his body language and tried to reason with the other person to find an alternative way that could still satisfy what he was looking for.

What if the context is different? What if you are not in a role of a customer but a service provider. What if you are the person who is serving the customer? How would you see it? Lets explore this but take two different examples. First, if you are playing the role of a facilitator and second, if you are a subordinate working for your boss. How would you react or respond if you didn't get your way or what you ask for is not granted?

Would you adopt a controlling taking stance? Or would you adopt a more flexible adapting, dealing style?

If I am a facilitator, there are certain values underlying the role of a facilitator and I would work according to those values, even if it may not be my natural reaction. As a facilitator, I would be more adapting dealing, and probe to find out the underlying reasons for another person’s position or why he/she doesn’t want to grant me what I’m asking.

If I am a subordinate to a boss, it depends on my relationship with the boss. In fact, the relationship is the basis or foundation for all further interactions.  

If our relationship is good and open, there is still a power differential and that air of formality between us. If I ask for something and don't get it, I will try to uncover his real reasons (he/she will usually offer a reason) and given the power differential, I will of course say ok, but may press to keep it open for further consideration in the future.

The same person under different context can behave very differently. The context vert often determines how you behave. If you are in the role of a subordinate requesting something from your boss, you tend to behave differently than you would compared to if you are in the role of a customer demanding certain services from a service provider. A wonderful resource you can tap on to learn more about the power of context can be found in Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book called The Tipping Point. It has many interesting stories about how our behavior or response is often shaped by the context we find ourselves in, often without us realizing it.


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