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I was on call over the weekend and met my husband, Tim the other day for breakfast. We got our usual coffees and omelets. I’m a bit particular when it comes to my coffee and had managed to add just the right amount of sugar. When the blonde waitress in her 50’s came around for refills, I stopped her and proclaimed with a smile that I didn’t want to alter my “perfect coffee to sugar ratio”.

I thought that was somewhat clever. She gave me a quizzical look and a half smile before walking away. At that moment, I knew I had misread my audience, her facial expression said it all. I was in a small town café in northern Illinois, where the other patrons where dressed in sweatshirts and jeans, talking loudly about their families and neighbors and how a certain big business was making billions of dollars. My haphazard joke might have gotten a chuckle in Madison or Philadelphia but not here. “Mix”, Tim said, “would’ve been a better word.” I could not have agreed more.

Next time I’m talking to someone I’ve never met before, I’ll be sure to attend better to my surroundings and the conversations around me and let that guide the way I communicate. Now I know what people mean when they say, “Know your audience.”

Ayla Guild

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