Having returned from a 15-day vacation in Guatemala, I have been thinking about what I experienced that relates to this blog and business writing. Here is what I realized:
Throughout the trip, I prided myself on speaking Spanish, with no lapses into English just because the hotel clerk or driver spoke some English. It was a treat to understand so much of the Spanish I heard.
But it wasn't only my ability in Spanish that helped me understand. It was that virtually all the Guatemalans spoke Spanish slowly to me. I did not realize this was happening until they would break off their conversation with me to conduct a rapid-fire exchange with another Guatemalan. When they finished that exchange, they would slip back into their slow pace to talk with me.
We business communicators can learn a lesson from the slow-talking Guatemalans, who give their audience what the audience needs. If the other person needs a slow pace, they slip into it patiently and with a smile.
Sometimes we business writers think our readers should be able to recognize dozens of acronyms, find action items scattered in a three-screen email, or unearth and apply instructions buried in our long, complicated threads. But that way of thinking is doomed to fail. It is akin to Guatemalans pouring out streams of flowing Spanish in the face of stuttering, befuddled visitors. Yes, perhaps those tourists should understand and speak Spanish better, but the Guatemalans know they don't. So the Spanish speakers slow down, and the conversations succeed.
Can you apply the lesson of the Guatemalans In your business communication? Is there anything you could be doing differently to meet the needs of your audience?