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An Awkward Request Phrased Beautifully

Scenario: Imagine that you run a classy beachside hotel. Many of the hotel rooms have balconies that face the beach. Everyone walking from the beach toward the hotel can see the balconies.

Diria balconyWhen guests hang wet bathing suits, towels, and other items over the balcony railings, the view is tacky–not the memorable look you want your guests to enjoy.

As the manager of the hotel, how would you communicate with guests who did hang such things off their balconies? Would you call them, leave them a note, or knock on their door and make your request?

It’s a bit awkward, isn’t it?

I was one of those unthinking guests the first day I stayed at the Hotel Tamarindo Diria in Costa Rica. I tossed my bathing suit and a beach towel over the balcony railing to dry.

The next day I found a note that had been slipped under my door.

Before you read the note, think about how you might communicate with a guest in this awkward situation.

Here’s the note in English:

Dear Guest,

We have a special request for you.

For aesthetic reasons, we would like to ask you to not hang clothes or towels on room balconies. Please use the balcony chairs instead.

Have a beautiful day.

Here’s the Spanish version:

Querido Huésped,

De la manera más atenta le solicitamos tender sus paños y ropa en las sillas del balcón y no en la baranda, esto con el fin de preservar la armonía visual.

¡Que tenga un maravilloso dia!

What do you think of the message? Would you write something similar?

I love the way the Hotel Tamarindo Diria handled the communication. The phrases “Dear Guest,” “special request for you,” “aesthetic reasons,” and “Have a beautiful day” all communicate positively and save me any embarrassment. Also, the note offers me an alternative: “Please use the balcony chairs instead.”

It’s too easy in uncomfortable situations to use negative language or criticize the reader. In this situation, a negative phrase might have been “unsightly appearance.” A reader criticism might be “We are sorry to have to make this request,” which hints that the reader caused the unfortunate situation.

Do you have thoughts about the Diria’s note or about other awkward communications? Please share them.

My book Business Writing With Heart covers many challenging situations: apologizing, saying no, disagreeing, dealing with anger, reminding people, and sharing bad news. You can get it from Amazon, or your favorite bookseller.


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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.

11 comments on “An Awkward Request Phrased Beautifully”

  • Near a beach, hanging your items on the balcony is natural and probably many guests do it. This means lots of surveillance and lots of notes to slip under the right doors. If I were the manager, I would put a small sign on each room’s balcony nicely asking people to hang their items in the bathroom and not on the balcony. 95% of guests would comply. The few who didn’t would receive a somewhat more strongly worded note under their door. This would reduce the problem to a tiny minority.

  • Nice thought George. It made me to think from the point of view of the hotel for a moment. Do I “trust” my clients? If I assume they will do the right thing, then I would refrain from putting up the notice and take the extra effort of writing the notes–knowing I might reduce the number of notes by putting up the notice. Also, by putting up the notice, I notify the guests that “this is an issue” that happens regularly.
    On the other hand, you correctly assess that the possibility of mistakes rises as the number of “violators” goes up. Even so, in this case, if I choose notes over the notice, then the note is certainly well written.
    Thanks, Lynn, for the thought-provoking story.

  • Hello George, John, Laura, and Emily. Thanks for your views on the hotel’s message.

    George, I appreciate your excellent suggestion about the sign. Because I was relaxed and thinking about the beach, it’s possible there was a sign in the room that I missed. But I’m pretty sure there wasn’t one on the balcony. Such a sign would be likely to reduce the number of offenders, as you said.

    John, I like the way you think about the issue. The printed note is easy to slip under doors, but as George mentioned, the note needs to be placed under the right doors. That takes some effort.

    Laura, your feelings match mine. I was happy to save the note as a good example.

    Emily, good idea. I agree that in a tropical climate the items will dry faster on the balcony than in the bathroom–just not on the balcony railing!


  • I love that note. This hotel “gets it” in terms of their method and choice in communication. Two thumbs up on this note for me.

  • In this particular example, and using the example photo provided, I would advise the hotel to post a small notice on the inside of each balcony wall with the same request as the note: “We have a special request for you. For aesthetic reasons, we would like to ask you to not hang clothes or towels on room balconies. Please use the balcony chairs instead”, and close with “Enjoy this beautiful view.”

    Alternatively. hotels could also provide a stand-up or attached towel bar on the balcony specifically for the purpose of hanging up wet clothes that don’t often dry as well in the bathroom.

  • At first I thought they should have put up a sign on the balcony.

    But then I also thought that signs on the wall are not always aesthetically pleasing.

    So yes, thumbs up for the beautifully written note!

  • Carlos, that’s an interesting idea. The staff member registering the guest might point out that wet clothing can be placed on the balcony chairs, not the railings. That would be memorable. Or a small printed note might come with the room key.

    Thanks for your thoughts.


  • The spanish version of the note is so much more polite than the english version, yet to the point. I would find a way to convey the message to guests when registering.

  • Hi Lynn, I agree it’s a tactful and polite note.

    Here’s another example: After completing customer success stories, we sent a final email request to our happy customers in an attempt to boost our Google rating. We were cognizant of asking the member to “do one more thing,” so we thought carefully about the wording:

    Hi Name,

    Thank you so much for sharing your success story. If you feel so inclined, we’d also appreciate a few sentences for our Google Reviews page. You can find us here:

    [link to page]

    Adding a review will require logging into your Gmail or G+ account.

    We appreciate your consideration of this request.

    Thank you,

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