Let me start by saying that much has been commented lately about this topic on social media due to the unusual rising of conflict, less charming manners, and an even lesser sense of professionalism amongst translators, proofreaders, interpreters, editors, reviewers and pretty much every other freelancing job there is. I will be focusing solely on translators, editors and proofreaders for obvious reasons, but believe me when I tell you that it will be more than enough.
Dissension and arguing are common amongst people on the Internet. While at their core both words are not negative per se, they may become depending on the emphasis that one gives to each. It’s not the first time that I disagree or argue with someone on the Internet while discussing work, the state of the union and tips and tricks with colleagues. However, there are some that take it to the next level – lying, slandering, insulting, ad hominem attacks, envy, lack of information slash lack of experience slash lack of meeting more colleagues in real life, God complexes… you name it. While one could argue that it’s the Internet’s fault because it’s a jungle out there, let’s stop for a second to think about it.
The Internet is not sentient or conscious, while people are, and that means that the Internet is not provided with a brain, unlike everyone that uses it (with some using their brain more than others, it goes without saying). In that case, and because everything that is not privileged enough to have a brain cannot think, it’s more than fair to say that the ones that use the Internet are in fact the ones to blame when things go south. And south things go more than they should.
If it’s not because of the eternal debate about rates, then it’s about something else that in no way elevates our trade. The question, though predictable, is simple – what do people expect to attain when they act unprofessionally to say the least? Social media is indeed a very large zoo with an exotic and very wide range of fauna – trolls, holier than thous, maniacs, rude and ill-mannered people and everything else you might imagine. I have several theories to explain poor-taste behaviour, from the lack of a sturdy home-education to poor, real life social skills, but none as logical as lack of impunity. You see, when said people enter the Internet jungle, they behave like the fiercest animals to be noticed. Then, because it is very hard to cage most animals, they wander and roam free, always waiting to pounce onto the next victim.
I have had my share of encounters with some of them. In fact, I was even told to (quote) go f**k myself by someone who thinks she is at the top of our profession, something that is very far from true but to which most other colleagues nod affirmatively and say “Yes, yes”. Let’s face it – would you argue with a looney? Neither would I, so I smile condescendingly and go on with my life. However, said “professional” is in fact esteemed by plenty of colleagues, as the person indeed is talented and… well, professional, this time without quotation marks. Why is it then that someone who is recognized or seen as a professional acts like an amateur in front of everyone and even gets praised for doing so? Herd mentality could very well explain it, but in the end we’ll never know, as it is not logical nor civilized to begin with.
That being said, why should we be polite to others when they are inches away from ripping our heads and skewer them on a stake? Well, the only answer I have to that is “Because we are professionals and we act like it.” Not to mention that if you’ve had a proper home education you will certainly refrain from stepping down to someone else’s level, of course. Sticks and stones, sticks and stones. There is, however, another reason, which I think is the most important of them all – how will you look professional in the eyes of a real colleague (that is, someone who does not abide by mob mentality and who doesn’t follow trends or bandwagons) when you act poorly? No need to answer, we all know what you are going to say.
Our image is not only about how good we are at what we do, but also about how we act before our peers and clients. There are perks to it, to be honest, and I am sure that you have more to gain than to lose by starting to act like the professional that you are. After talking with colleagues like Marta Stelmaszak, Lloyd Bingham and Andrew Morris about the no-wins of acting unprofessionally online, I decided to write down the 5 most important reasons that I reckon that are necessary for a professional to be at his prime. The others? Well, no matter how hard they try, professionals in full they will never be, and that’s that.
CAVE CAVE DEUS VIDET
(Be careful, for God is watching)
Bosch’s The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things sums up the first point perfectly – be careful with what you say online, for God sees. And I don’t mean the biblical God, but clients. Take Facebook, for instance – there are thousands of pages about the world of translation and interpretation, and I am sure that even the most amenable one has had trouble with some of its users. Take the page Standing Out; to my knowledge, it’s the most balanced page in terms of manners, and even so the page and its users have been greeted with sourness in the past by previous users.
Let’s be honest – SO users (and I am one) do discuss all the time about what goes on in the trade, we tip each other to the best of our knowledge and we happen to gather in the same place without ranting, be it online or in real life, without being nasty to each other and always with a good dose of not too balanced humour. Because other groups can’t even dream of how good those users get along without needing to chop each other’s heads, they prefer to call it a cult, a placebo, etc. Not a problem, we ignore it as the adults that we are. We welcome everyone that wants to grow professionally while having fun, but no one’s obliged to enter. We also do not rule with an iron fist and act like we’re heaven sent mana.
On the opposite end you have pages that travel great lengths to create sourness and that rely heavily on bad manners; take The League of Extraordinary Translators, for one, where besides the regular bashing of other pages/groups/people, its users sometimes turn against each other as well. Maybe that’s because the group’s administrators are the ones that promote most of the discordance and antagonism to start with, indirectly and directly driving users to follow their steps. Or even Things Translators Never Say, a group that exists so translators can let some steam out after a hard day’s work.
I do love (and have the need) to blow off steam. For that, I sometimes play videogames. I do read as well, and exercise at the gym whenever I can. I even cook and sometimes throw darts at a Nigel Farage poster that I have in my office. Not at the same time, as you might have guessed. However, this page has become a cesspool where its users charge against each other and where clients are treated like sewage. In the beginning, TTNS WAS fun, but lately things got so out of proportion that I wonder why people go so low. Because I see new translators starting up their businesses almost every day, here are my three questions: have you ever heard of top-notch, exquisite customer service? Even if you haven’t, is this what you want to be remembered for in the eyes of newcomers? Is this the legacy you want to leave to the ones that one day will succeed you?
So, in my view, you have a page that is interested in creating a community of translators who know that, no matter what, there will never be rudeness involved (Standing Out), a page where disagreements, arguments and rudeness are the chef’s special (The League of Extraordinary Translators) and finally a page where translators wander in circles talking rubbish that will not only not help them as it proves to be pointless after a while, turning them into worse businesspeople. Even its name (Things Translators Never Say) makes you think – if it’s not to be said, why do people insist on saying the things they do? How do I know this? I once was a member of all three groups, and opted to remain a member of Standing Out only after a while.
Now let’s pretend you are a client looking for a professional and you are told that translator X might fit the glove. All of a sudden, you see him blabbering, being rude or talking nonsense about translators on a Facebook page. All things considered, will you still contact him/her in order to do the job?
“Oh, but clients don’t view those pages, you know?” – You might say. All I can answer to you is “Oh really?!” Most people have no idea of the amount of former freelance translators that suddenly opened a boutique/premium agency and that often go to pages like the above mentioned three looking for professionals. After all, they were translators once, it only makes sense that they know where to look. So, your idea of getting more work and even being eligible for a long lasting relationship with a premium agency or client is to be rude, disrespectful and ill-mannered towards others for whatever reasons in the same places where clients may be hanging? Call it what you want – in the end, it’s nothing less than burning bridges. People talk. Clients outside the industry may ask for a recommendation of other translators, and guess who will never be recommended?
WHAT YOU SAY REFLECTS WHO YOU ARE
I’m honestly not the happy-go-lucky type of person. I mean, it’s not that I am a pessimist, but I like to have my feet firmly set on the ground while my mind wanders and travels. On the other hand, I do try to find positivity in everything around me. If something turns out to be a bad surprise, then at least it will be a good lesson. Such a thing happened recently enough after I joined a professional translators’ association, IAPTI. I decided to make the investment as I had heard good things about the association and also because I recognize the positive and legitimate contributions of people like Aurora Humarán or Attila Piróth to our trade, amongst others. Moreover, luminaires like Noam Chomsky are honorary members of the association, so I tried it without thinking twice.
However, I was shocked to discover that the person in charge for IAPTI’s ethics committee (something in the likes, pardon me if it’s some other title) periodically fomented plain, simple rudeness with posts like “Is it me or translator xyz is full of crap?” Promoting attacks against whoever it maybe, especially on social media, is as low as it gets. Politicians themselves don’t do it, so why should someone in charge of an ethics committee (or whatever its name may be) be foolish enough to? I took the time to read IAPTI’s Code of Ethics and what I found left me speechless: as far as I could gather, the person in charge for the Ethics Committee broke the Code that she should have been enforcing instead of denigrating, namely points 1.3, 2.4, 2.5, 3.2, 3.3, 3.8, 4.1, 4.3 and 4.4. I wish I could say “Oh, the irony”, but there’s nothing particularly funny about this to begin with.
Needless to say, I contacted Aurora Humarán regarding this issue and she obviously told me something in the lines of everyone having the right to their opinion and that what each person thinks is not directly related with IAPTI. Fair enough. She was kind enough to invite me to have a chat with her over Skype to discuss this matter, and I even added her, but in the meantime (due to professional and academic commitments) I took a rain check on the offer until I forgot about it.
It goes without saying that I did not renew my IAPTI membership in 2016 exactly because I do not feel well in a place where someone in charge of the ethics committee promotes digress, controversy and bad personal manners when said person should be doing the exact opposite. I don’t see ITI or CiOL colleagues acting poorly, so why should I not give those institutions a try instead? All this to say that what you say online not only gets noticed by clients but by peers as well. So what would you think of joining a vegan group that more often than not goes to McDonalds? Exactly. We should practise what we preach, and if we don’t we can bid farewell to our credibility.
LOW PAYING CLIENTS AND AGENCIES ARE THE DEVIL
Of course they are. And all Muslims are terrorists, all men are sexist pigs and all politicians are dishonest. Why not take it to the next level and create an Inquisition Cabinet strictly for direct clients and agencies? What usually happens is that rude people usually talk too much and listen too little, are full of certainties and do not allow the other side to speak their piece. They are so certain that a client or an agency is the devil that the first thing they do is to create vitriol (and here we can go back to the same herd mentality I’ve referred above). Only (sit down, please)… they aren’t.
Clients and agencies are an essential part of the negotiation process of our business. Without them, you and I have no work. I also know that there are plenty of bad clients and agencies around, from bottom feeders to non-payers, but then again, are we talking about the majority of clients and agencies? Should we just make up our mind and take things for granted when in fact there’s more to it than that?
In this matter, let’s look at Things Translators Never Say, for one. All you see from the time you log in to the time you log out is people going around in circles, crying “WOLF!” out loud so the entire village hears it and, tomorrow, it will happen all over again. And the day after tomorrow. And the day after that. Until you come to a point that you ask yourself “Is this all there is to it, talk rubbish about clients and agencies and bad rates?” Think: what will that achieve? Are you on social media to try to develop your business or to rant about how bad agency 1 or client 2 is? Is this what you call being a professional? Because it’s everything but.
Then it gets more serious when there are those who even publish confidential information on pages like this thinking they are being smart when in fact they just are making a fool of themselves, not to mention that this practice is obviously illegal and subject to criminal prosecution. Does NDA ring a bell, anyone?! But what is more alarming is the fact that said people are unfair, unjust and also liars, all this because they think they’re somehow on a higher plane of existence and that clients and agencies are ignorant peasants straight from the middle-ages. I won’t comment the absurdity of it all, I’ll just say that a translator like this not only is unprofessional as word gets around real fast about this sort of prima donnas, especially amongst agencies.
Again: it’s OK to say no to delirious propositions from agencies and clients that try to take advantage of us. However, saying no isn’t the same as acting like you’re fighting the devil or being delusional enough to think that without you the world would not be the same. Because it would. And this last part takes us right into the next point.
LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR
I’m sure you’ve already heard about certain translators for their notorious behaviour. In their minds, our trade would be far less good without them. They are the ones that insist on stomping other translators because said translators have different opinions and opt to have a different approach to their businesses. They’re the same ones that can’t go a day without saying how much they plan to earn next quarter. And they are happy in their little world, because they think this is what makes them successful and professional, earning plenty of money and having a formed opinion about everything.
Then, said translators are cast aside in real life (let’s say at translator events) by their peers, exactly because they have no real life social skills to begin with. Unless you think that being rude will gather you graces (and in that case you are very wrong), what is your excuse? Some do it because it’s the only way they have to be noticed, while others because they in fact think that they are very special snowflakes that only fall from the sky in the most remote mountain regions of Japan. In August. When the moon covers the sun at exactly 1.53 PM.
It goes without saying that there are good and bad translators, but that doesn’t give one the right to act rudely on those that are bad. Will it make you a better translator? Will your workload increase? Then why do it? There is no answer to this, except that some people’s egos are so big that said people don’t even realize how ridiculous they appear to be to others.
We certainly should go against the grain and say that something is not right when we know what we’re talking about, but even that requires manners. That’s what differentiates us from apes. Hence, and unless you plan to be eating bananas for a long time, my suggestion is act like the unique individual that you are – not less than anyone else, but certainly not more than anyone else either. While some may say that this involves personality, and we all know each person has its own, why should it clash with professionalism? You can have a rather unique or difficult personality, but can afford to be a lousy professional by being rude?
IGNORE ARGUMENTS AND MIND YOUR OWN… WELL, YOUR BUSINESS, LITERALLY
The internet is a pitfall that relies on the lack of paralanguage – intonation, volume, sarcasm, scorn… most of the times you might not understand at first what people have said, and this can lead to attrition. I am very sure that if you’re an ongoing Internet surfer you’ve experienced this at least once, so you know where I’m going.
However, other times you know all too well what people mean. Less than a month ago I was discussing with another colleague about rates and premium agencies paying at least 12 or 14 euro cents per word, and a third colleague posted a picture that said that 15 euros cents per word is a chimera, something unachievable. I replied that there’s so much more than meets the eye and that 15 euro cents per word is ridiculously low when top established colleagues sometimes charge more than 1 euro per word.
Another translator started asking me for names of said premium agencies, scorning and doubting, and most certainly filled with envy (I honestly believed that envy was a product of an old wives’ tales, but I was wrong). I let her have the last word and replied no more, exactly because I do like to discuss things, but I like more to invest my time with like-minded and open-minded people. Little does the person know that I do invest thousands of euros yearly traveling and meeting and networking with colleagues, and that things develop naturally from that point on. As a matter of fact, I do know a couple of dozen premium agencies worldwide, most of which contacted me as I was referred to them by colleagues or asked me if I knew someone specialised in a specific area out of my bounds.
I do sometimes put them in touch with premium agencies when I realise they are legit and that my references won’t backfire. Now why would I do that to someone I’ve never worked with, or to someone that interrupts a discussion only to throw acid and vitriol at me? In short, arguments gets you blacklisted, which is not a very savvy way of conducting a business. But lo and behold, this is the Internet, that place where some people tend to mistake liberty with libertine.
Because of all of the above, I asked my colleague Lloyd Bingham if he would mind me using small excerpts of one of his articles on this matter as I can’t obviously top a native English speaker, but more importantly because his tips sum up everything a professional should do in order to mind what really matters. They are as follows:
- Clients who won’t pay our rate or offer low rates are an opportunity for education. We should not waste it with patronising, smart alec answers. If they won’t listen, don’t work for them;
- Criticism of our methods or ideas offer us a chance to challenge ourselves and promote healthy debate with our industry.
Not one of these issues has ever been solved with the anger, frustration and hostility that they are often been treated with. This leads to us becoming more closed-minded, distrustful, desperate, less ambitious and, ultimately, worse business people. Some principles that should guide us when confronted with someone or something we don’t agree with are:
- Assume good faith if faced with an undesirable scenario. Assume misguided views rather than malice. You will always be the bigger person;
- Don’t take things personally. There’s no ‘I’ in translation community… there are two. The industry is bigger than a single person;
- Don’t go in with all guns blazing. If there’s something that a client or colleague has done that still makes your blood boil, write an angry message… and then delete it;
- Attack the argument, never the individual. Personal attacks are the epitome of unprofessionalism and any reasonable arguments immediately lose all validity once the sleeves are rolled up;
- What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. What goes on between our clients – potential or long-standing – is between us as individuals and them… no-one else. Not only is publically slamming unprofessional, you also risk breaking any NDAs you may have signed with clients and any codes of conduct of professional associations that you are a member of;
- Set an example to the next generations. New translators are sponges. They absorb everything their elders say and do. Lead by example;
- Challenge those who conduct themselves unprofessionally. As Edmund Burke allegedly said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.
With this in mind, and even though it’s easier said than done, we should be better than who we are and struggle with ourselves in order to do so. Someone said nasty things about you on the Internet? Not a problem, refer to the ad hominem attacks above and ignore them or outsmart them with a logical and professional answer. This or that client offered you a lousy rate to begin with? Not a problem, refer to the clients that won’t pay our rate above and explain this to them or ignore them. Finally, and like Lloyd pointed out, we should set an example to the next generations. We all started somewhere and we all have our share of responsibility to make the trade as professional as we like to be treated, so be good and stay good. As usual, all comments are more than welcome and encouraged, so be my guest and feel free to enter the discussion. Best of luck.