Do as he says, not as he does

Post date: 07-Feb-2011 12:48:13

What do you do when you send an important email and receive no reply? Just sit still, do nothing and hope for the best? Or try a second time, maybe adding a "delivery receipt" flag in your email, or even phoning them. I hope you choose the latter option. After all, email communication is far from being 100% reliable. Among the many things that may happen, your message may not be delivered because of problems with your computer, your ISP or the recipient's ISP. It may be delivered, but end up in the recipient’s spam folder. Or your recipient may simply fail to take stock of your message. Or he may read it and reply, but then his reply may vanish because of one of the above reasons.

I'm sure each one of us has experienced a misunderstanding about an email sent at the wrong time, to the wrong person, with the wrong content or not sent at all. That's why you and I are extra careful in our communications, especially when they are important to us, such as when we want to land a job, to deliver a job or to get paid for a job. Actually there are people who write books about that, about how to behave professionally and ethically as a translator. And obviously those authors write those books because they've been there and done that and are in a position to help novice translators.

Actually, not really... Six months ago, some friends called my attention to a forum post about me in a popular translator community. Whilst it had started with very positive comments about an article I had written, the thread was soon hijacked by another translator with a really uncivilised post in which he called me, among other things, unprofessional, unethical and a lousy translator, for allegedly having not replied to an email he had sent me.

The first thing I tried was to contact that man to demand clarification, but it turned out he had left that message and gone on holiday to be unreachable for a couple of weeks. Fortunately the moderators found the message offensively over the top and deleted it.

I then looked at my files and found out what had happened. If you know me, you know that, besides working as a translator, I'm responsible for coordinating a team of translators and editing their work, as well as vetting any candidates to join the team. It is a purely editorial job, and whilst sometimes I contact some translators who I think might make the cut, I don't get involved in any negotiations. I just recommend their names to the project manager and then eventually approve or reject their tests.

I had taken the initiative to contact that one translator because he sounded promising based on his website and his profile. He was certainly a professional of high standards, so I thought, and I just had to check the quality of his work. I forwarded his application to the project manager, alongside many others, and proceeded with my work. Then I never heard about him until that day when I saw his forum post.

By now you may have guessed that there was a communication breakdown. I found out that the project manager, when emailing a test to that translator, had misspelled the recipient’s email address. That was unfortunate, but everyone makes mistakes, and in that case both parties ended up expecting a reply. However, whereas the project manager was probably contacting and testing dozens of applicants, that specific translator was quite interested in that job, as he made clear later in his post. So, as a translator, if you were interested in that job, wouldn't you have tried to resume contact to check whether you were still being considered?

Well, that translator, the same who loves to talk about his book wherever he goes, and about the importance of acting professionally, that one translator did not try a new contact. Instead, he let some unnecessary anger build up for six months before turning it against the wrong person because of a simple email mishap. And by doing that, he showed not only that he was lousy in business communications, but also that he couldn't care less about ethics, as he unfairly and unreasonably offended a fellow translator in public.

So, in the end, he not only lost that job—supposing he really stood a chance—but also lost face with his colleagues, as many fellow translators came to me with words of support and criticising his behaviour, especially considering that he was guilty of the same crime he so vehemently opposes in his writings: unethical and unprofessional behaviour. By the way, when he finally replied to my email, he barely apologised, and only in private. I decided to let it go, as I did not want my name to be further involved in such nonsense.

And to think that simply sending another email or maybe making a phone call would have prevented all that trouble. Unlike that translator, I don't like to say I'm a bastion of ethical integrity nor do I enjoy looking down on others, but I think this short tale may be useful for my readers. Last but not least, if you read his book, remember to do as he says, not as he does.