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When Fast Is Thoughtless

My husband Michael and I took a cross-country train trip on our vacation. We loved the easy pace of the trip–reading magazines, eating in the dining car, watching the scenery roll by, not having to think about any schedule until our train arrived in Chicago.

At one meal somewhere in Montana, a man who shared our table in the dining car asked the server for his check. She was busy doing other things and didn’t ask the dining car captain to give it to the man. He said to us, "She just lost her tip. I asked for my check and she didn’t get it for me." When he did receive the check from the captain, he paid it in a great rush and left the car, leaving no tip behind.

His hurrying was senseless. With nowhere to go besides the bathroom, making the server pay for his trumped up rush was mean-spirited and stupid.

But sometimes people do that, rush thoughtlessly, even with business writing. For example:

  • Although they know a proposal deadline is coming, they delay working on it, then scream to the finish. They make others fly around at the last minute, supplying data for them.
  • They agree to unrealistic deadlines for documents, even when the client would have happily waited. Again, they make everyone work too fast, leading to mistakes and frustration.
  • They send an email request, wait 5 minutes, and then pick up the phone to ask "Where’s my response? Didn’t you get my email?" with thoughtless urgency.

Sometimes moving fast is not efficient–it’s senseless. On our cross-country train trip, we all arrived at the station at the same time, despite that man’s hurry.

Where we live, it’s summer, and people are taking life easier. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying the pace of the season.

Syntax Training


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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.

3 comments on “When Fast Is Thoughtless”

  • Why do we work ourselves into such a tizzy and get all worked up? It doesn’t help the situation, but I must admit I’ve been guilty as charged at times.

    I would hate to be in the service industry. I think they are prime targets if someone is having a bad day. It is the same with drivers who are so impatient. They pass you, give you the finger and yell at you only to find a few blocks down you are waiting at the same light with them. Their panic and ill manners did not get them any further. Relax!

    Thanks for the reminder to slow down.

  • Patricia, thanks for your comment and the link. I was sorry to read about the increase in “desk rage.” It is difficult to imagine people exploding that way in what we like to think of as civilized society.

    I am in New Jersey visiting my 96-year-old cousin Eleanor this week, and I have her as first-hand evidence that we slow down eventually. I am happy to say Eleanor has had a sunny disposition her entire life, and that has not changed. She chooses to smile rather than rage.

    I hope you are enjoying the summer.

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