Thursday, February 16, 2012

Suppressing the noble rage

The other day, I suffered an employer experience so galling that I felt compelled to write a long e-mail explaining to said employers exactly why I was so galled. Essential catharsis, you know.

I maintained sufficient self-control to file it in 'Drafts' until the next morning, when the version of the mail I actually sent - though still mildly laced with exasperation - was very much toned down.

I'd written some website copy for them. And apparently they weren't happy with it. They weren't unhappy with it. But they had 'feedback' they felt they needed to share with me, slight misgivings on certain points of style.

First aggravation is that they decide to call me up about it. I have explained to them many times that discussing things on the phone is a huge waste of time. If you can't express yourself effectively in an e-mail, then you can't express yourself effectively. Really, I am pretty sure you could have expounded your position in writing in much less than half the time that we were on the phone; and I am damn certain that I could have read that e-mail in 1 minute, rather than the 25 minutes of my precious life that you just raped. (Oh well, my fault, I suppose: I shouldn't have answered the phone.)

Second aggravation was that there were two people involved in the feedback, but they hadn't discussed the material together first: so, I found myself suddenly being double-teamed in a phone conference by guys who were giving me an inconsistent - sometimes flatly contradictory - message.

Third aggravation was that they hadn't given enough thought to the matter to actually come up with any concrete examples to support their nebulous quibbles. When pressed, they eventually managed to cite 3 or 4 points.... 3 or 4 isolated and unrelated points that were not really representative of any prevalent, recurring feature in the text.

I give them credit for managing to identify the only 3 or 4 potential problems in the entire text. But, really, they weren't problems. My clients' misgivings arose - as is so often the case - from their having a shaky grasp of grammar, a fixation with jargon, and a tin ear for what sounds right.

In order to placate them, I reluctantly agreed to revisit my copy and apply a few additional tweaks. After going through it with a fine-tooth comb, I identified around a dozen instances of the sort of language features they were apparently uncomfortable with. In about two-thirds of those cases, I concluded that there was an overwhelming argument for leaving things unchanged. In another 4 or 5 cases I made small changes - which weren't really necessary - just to demonstrate that I had done my best to respond to their 'feedback'. I don't know if that will be enough to satisfy them.

You know, people, if that's it - if you have only half a dozen or a dozen trifling issues in a 3,500-word document, you could a) ignore them (nothing is ever perfect: 99.5% is about as good as it gets), or b) fix them yourself (really, if this adverb offends you so much, just DELETE it right away, when it's there on the screen in front of you; it will take a matter of seconds, less time than it takes you to dial on the phone to bother me with it!). A handful of non-generic 'flaws' does not constitute a systemic 'style problem', it does not compromise the overall quality of the document - and it does not warrant a full rewrite.

I don't take criticism well, I'm afraid. Particularly not when it is ill-conceived and poorly communicated - and when it entails me having to put in another 80 minutes of work on something to no purpose whatsoever.

I'm a professional. I know what I'm doing. Trust my judgment.

Or, if you really think you know better than me what 'good business English' sounds like, write it yourself.

Otherwise, shut the hell up.

[It's a pity these people are my only substantial source of income at the moment. My intolerance of working with idiots may have scuppered the relationship. It certainly would have done if I'd sent Version 1.0 of that e-mail!]


John said...

Some examples please! What do the tin-eared Chinese want to read on the English portion of their websites?

Froog said...

It's not exclusively a Chinese problem. This is an international management consultancy with a lot of American and European staff.

And the nuances we were quibbling over here were too subtle to provide the stuff of crude amusment... gradations of inference imperceptible to most people.