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The 101st Customer

The flight attendant was serving drinks, and I was sitting in the first seat of the coach section of the plane. She gave me my tomato juice, and I said thank you. When she served the person next to me and the person next to her, they both said thank you. On the other side of the aisle, the next passenger said thank you after being served. The flight attendant announced, “What a polite crowd! I love it!”

I asked her whether passengers are usually polite. She responded, “I can serve snacks to 100 people and not get a thank you until the 101st.”

Although it was disappointing to learn of the sorry state of people’s manners, it was good to know something else–that it mattered. The flight attendant noticed and she cared.

In any kind of communication, I like to think that manners and kindness matter. In business writing, I believe it is right to greet readers by name, ask rather than order, and express thanks. Especially if yours is the 101st message of the day, you may be able to lift someone’s spirits. I know we brightened our flight attendant’s trip, each with a simple two-word phrase.

In any communication, we have the power to delight or disappoint. It’s all in our language and attitude.

The latest issue of my free e-newsletter, Better Writing at Work, tells how to use language to create a positive experience for your reader and yourself. For a free subscription (and a guarantee of no pestering), sign up here.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.