Writing with hospitality: leaving space for your readers to be

I have to confess I don’t know too much about the hospitality business beyond my experience as a customer.  But I’ve been learning about some of the ideas, principles and values of hospitality from Rosa Say’s work on Managing with Aloha, and starting to think about ways that we can reflect these same values and principles in the way that we write.

I got thinking about this again the other day reading an interview that Rosa has done with Danny Meyer, described as America’s most innovative restaurateur.  The interview contains a lot of interesting ideas on leadership and management but there were two quotes in particular that jumped out to me.

Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side. The converse is just as true. Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you.

Think about this in relation to writing and it takes us to the heart of what it means to write with rapport.  Establishing a connection with your reader.  Writing with generosity, creating new possibilities for your readers.  Using a friendly, conversational style, demonstrating (over and again) that you’re on the same side.

But it also got me thinking about times in our writing when we find ourselves doing things “to” people rather than “for” them.  Times maybe when we’ve fallen into the trap of setting ourselves up as “experts”, as authorities, as the people who write “how to” guides…That style of writing is temptingly easy to write and appears to deliver on what a lot of readers, consumers and customers are looking for or what marketing “experts” tell us to write.  But the risk of writing like this is that you set yourself apart from your reader, losing the opportunity for conversation and engagement, breaking the sense of connection.

I guess there’s an art to this, and one that we’re learning to develop, teach, and practice.  It’s writing in a way that is professional, helpful, of value, a resource… without setting yourself apart from your reader.  It’s demonstrating that you know what you’re talking about - but leaving room for new ideas, for connections, for learning, for possibilities to follow.  To leave room for  your readers to add to the conversation.  To include them in the equation.  To leave them space to be.

And that too challenges us to be less than totally perfect, finished, complete in what we write.  That doesn’t mean unfinished sentences and half-baked paragraphs… well not for me anyway :-)   Some writing habits are too hard to break - and the way I write is the way I write, after all.  But it does mean leaving some thoughts open, some ideas unfinished, some questions still dangling.  It means being open about the stuff that we don’t know (yet) - but are willing to learn.  With thanks to Ariane at Neat and Simple Living for the reminder:

“Ring the bells you still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

Oh I have wandered a long way from hospitality I know… or have I?  Leaving space - for  your readers to be, for the light to get in - is part of what writing with hospitality means to me.  Writing with consideration and kindness, demonstrating that we’re on the same side.  Being professional, helpful, resourceful.  But at the same time being open, honest - and human.  At the end of the day the sense of connection your create is more important than the content you offer.

Back to Danny for the second and final quote:

Long after people forget what you served them, they’ll remember how you made them feel

If you’re interested in the idea of writing with hospitality check out these back articles:

How to be a hospitable writer at Confident Writing
Writing with ho’okipa at Talking Story

You can read the interview between Rosa Say and Danny Meyer at Joyful Jubilant Learning
For more on “experts” check out this article by Dawud Miracle: Who else wants to be an expert?

Joanna Paterson

Journal and writing coach, teaching ways to notice and capture the wonder of the everyday, through writing, poetry, and photography.

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