I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like “I was taken out of context,” “They took her statement out of context” or “You can’t take people out of context” because if you do you will distort their message and misunderstand what they are saying. And then blame them for whatever you don’t like about what they’re saying. Taking people out of context is a typical trick of someone who is trying to defeat someone else.

However, have you ever heard someone say, “I was taken out of agenda?” Not taken out of the agenda but “out of agenda.” Someone’s agenda item and even their presentation around it can, for many legitimate reasons, be removed from a meeting’s agenda and may be replaced later when time or circumstances allow. But to say “I was taken out of agenda” in the same way you might say “I was taken out of context” is not only incorrect, it is meaningless.

I’m sure your intuitive response to my last statement is that you agree. And I’m sure you have a general sense of the difference between context and agenda, most people do. But can you articulate the difference accurately and precisely?


What is context?

Context is the set of circumstances, time, place, background, environment within which something takes place. Context determines the conditions and the meaning in which something is understood.

For example: suppose someone says, “I expect my trip to California will be easy.” A simple enough statement. But what about the context, the determining conditions?

If it is summer 2014 and the person resides in New York State, we might assume the statement is for the most part true. The person can travel by car, airplane, or boat and is likely to have an easy time of it.

Now suppose it is winter 1750 and the person resides in New York State. The statement is no longer simple and is probably naïve even with the best wagon or coach available.

The statement remains exactly the same but the context changes and then so does the meaning and our ability to draw meaningful conclusions.

What the context does is set the statement into a very specific reality and its meaning is determined according to that reality.

A context is a scheme of relations that alters the way we understand things. That set of relations can very broadly and deeply expand out or it can be narrow and pointed making the latter much more easy to grasp and draw definitive conclusions from. So if you take something out of its scheme of relations you shift the base upon which you can draw conclusions.


An agenda is completely different. It is essentially a list, a plan, or outline of things to be done. Its focus is on those things which must be driven forward, acted upon, or processed. We’re all familiar with checking boxes. That’s done. Check. That’s done. Check. Etc.

Can an item be extracted from an agenda? Absolutely. But you can’t say “It was taken out of agenda.” It can be taken out of an agenda because an agenda is not a source. It isa derivative of its context.

Also an agenda is static. It is limited by the list for a given meeting or event whereas a context is dynamic, it is alive in the sense that it moves, grows, advances, recedes, and changes and with that the meanings of the agenda items change.

For example when the context shifts the urgency of an agenda item can be increased or decreased. For a meeting to be successful the underlying context should be announced so that everyone can be on the same trajectory and decisions can be set up for success.

Hand in Glove

Context and agenda fit together seamlessly only if this difference is understood. Often a meeting will take place without the context being understood by the participants and they leave without the force of clarity and clear objectives to guide behavior.

Context is a first level operator and the agenda is its operational derivative.

Thanks for reading.

Author's Bio: 

Judith Sherven, PhD and her husband Jim Sniechowski, PhD http://JudithandJim.com have developed a penetrating perspective on people’s resistance to success, which they call The Fear of Being Fabuloustm. Recognizing the power of unconscious programming to always outweigh conscious desires, they assert that no one is ever failing—they are always succeeding. The question is, at what? To learn about how this played out in the life of Whitney Houston, check out http://WhatReallyKilledWhitneyHouston.com.

Currently working as consultants on retainer to LinkedIn providing executive coaching, leadership training and consulting as well as working with private clients around the world, they continually prove that when unconscious beliefs are brought to the surface, the barriers to greater success and leadership presence begin to fade away. They call it Overcoming the Fear of Being Fabulous http://OvercomingtheFearofBeingFabulous.com.