We’re excited to share a guest post with you written by our very own Victoria Hubbard. “The Vicster” gave up “the good life” in Greenville, SC back in March 2015 to move to Ecuador for, well … no one knows exactly how long. She works tirelessly for a bunch of very happy clients, yet still found some time to pop in to share her wisdom with us.
Today I’m sharing something that is kind of an, um… uncomfortable subject.
What is it? How can you know the difference between constructive criticism and plain old negativity? More importantly, what do you do with constructive criticism? How you handle it is VERY important and, in a work situation, can gain you a client for life or cost you that client for life.
First, I’m going to share a story about a personal experience with constructive criticism. I had been proofreading for maaaaaybe three months. One weekend, I got utterly slammed. From Friday afternoon to Sunday evening, I received almost a thousand pages from four different reporters.
Keep in mind, I was still working a full-time job, plus coaching at a gym a couple times a week — AND my personal life mildly flourished on top of that. Needless to say, with a two-day turnaround, I was feeling just a little overwhelmed.
Some stuff was due on Monday, but the bulk of it was due on Tuesday. One of the reporters in particular had sent me about 220 pages, and she had been my client since the beginning. I let her know I was a little slammed, but that I would get her work back to her as agreed, and she was fine with it.
When Tuesday finally ended, I let out a huge sigh of relief (but not too big — I still had normal levels of work due the next day!) — and I went to bed thoroughly exhausted but very pleased with myself.
Everything was normal on Wednesday… but on Thursday, I had an email from my reporter. Here’s the gist of that e-mail:
“This e-mail isn’t going to be easy for me to write, but I know it will be harder for you to read, and I’m very sorry for that. I just went over the arbitration hearing job and found some problems. You wouldn’t be good at what you do if criticisms of your work didn’t bother you, because proofreaders have to be perfectionists.”
At this point… I was terrified.
I had been busy and knowing that my quality of work went down enough to cause one of my favorite — and most loyal — clients to write me an e-mail was like a sock to my gut.
“I am starting with such a long lead in because I’m trying to make sure you know that I think you’re a good proofreader, and I want to continue working with you. Proofreading is a job that NO ONE notices when it’s done well, and it’s only when something isn’t perfect that it’s noticed. I know how much good work you do for me. That said, I also know that if I were in your position, as hard as it would be for me to hear it, I wouldn’t want someone to see mistakes I’d made and not say something.”
After this point, she added some very specific examples of errors I had missed. Some of them were HIGHLY embarrassing. But due to her tone and her obvious desire to only help me be better, the sickly feeling in my gut started to subside.
“I’m really not trying to ruin your morning, and I feel like I am. It’s completely possible that these were only 6 of fewer than 50 errors in the entire transcript… which I wouldn’t consider bad in a 250+ page transcript. It’s also perfectly possible that you did correct some of these and that either I didn’t catch them in the PDF, etc. I don’t want you to feel defensive about these, I just wanted to have some examples so I wasn’t just saying, “I noticed more errors than normal.” Without proofing the transcript myself, I have no idea if I just happened upon the few errors there were or if I’m turning in a transcript with a lot of errors… and that’s scary. I don’t really have time to proof it myself, so I just had to turn it in.”
This got to me. I had made her SCARED to turn in her work. That is unacceptable. My work should always be of high enough quality that my reporters can turn it in with confidence.
Do you see what this tone has done for both of us? She’s not only revealed my errors and flaws to me, but she’s also created a HUGE buy-in on my part that a) I am clearly in the wrong at this point, and b) I’m going to work harder than ever to never put myself OR HER in this position again.
“Please, please, please don’t take this too hard. Again, it’s possible that I’ve been happening upon more errors than normal, but that the amount in the transcript is the same and acceptable. I just know that if my agency were noticing that my trans had more errors than normal, I’d want them to say something instead of just quietly sending work somewhere else or not saying anything.”
This resonated with me as well — because I don’t know about you, but I hate unresolved endings. People who send me a little bit of work and then I never hear from again are my LEAST favorite people. I want to know why they aren’t working with me anymore: are my rates too high? Did I miss things they considered important? Did they not like my communication style? So for her to recognize that desire for closure was something that I understood and respected.
She finished by emphasizing again that she thought I was an excellent proofreader, and that she hoped this email didn’t make me not want to work with her going forward.
I’m not going to lie, when I first started reading the e-mail my first reaction was to deny, deny, deny. “No way, I’m not THAT bad!” I thought.
But once I hit those middle paragraphs, I put it all aside, and I realized she wasn’t doing this just for herself and her work, she was doing it for me.
Then it hit me.
What a kind person. What a true professional.
What a blessing.
More than a year later, this same client and I are still tight and work together like a well-oiled machine. She’s more amazing at her job because of me, and I’m more amazing at mine because of her.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work. And I’m so grateful.
Victoria, thank you so much for casting a positive light on something that can feel so negative. How smart to view it as an opportunity to learn and grow and build a professional partnership.
What a great example of putting aside your pride and accepting that we’re all human and can make mistakes, but it’s how we learn and move forward from those mistakes that really set us apart. I’ve been called out on somethings before, and a lot of it has to do with Canadian vs American spelling, I always thank them and pay more attention to it from there on. I used to just go, “yeah I’m good, no need to re-read my work” I’ve since realized that my keyboard does not always pick up every letter that I type and that my computer doesn’t keep up with my typing, so I make sure that I am always going back and checking to make sure that what I’ve typed is what I meant to type.
Thank you again for your story, but what I’m wondering is how you responded to her e-mail to keep the relationship so good.
Hi Caitlin! I really appreciate this story because it reveals real people on both sides. I recently encountered the kind of kindness and patience your CR showed you. It was when I turned in my Unit 5 test and didn’t pass.
What I learned was that when there’s a certain kind of stress (nervousness and fear from a threatening job situation) that I should not have even taken the test. i could barely spell my own name, much less see what was normally second nature to me. I should have waited till things calmed down, but thought I’d just hurry through the test to get that off my plate. Mistake. I had to decide to resign from my job to start to calm down. But the kindness of your staff gave me room to relax just a little so I could begin to see clearly. I’ll take the test again tonight. And thank you and your staff for kindness in my really hard situation (even though they didn’t know what was going on with me) and to you for offering this training to the world in the first place. I’m going to pass the test and move on – to Unit 6 and out of my day job. Life is going to get better. Thanks.
You go Meghan Criss, you may fall but you certainly are not out. Pick up yourself, brush yourself off and be determined that you can achieve, it is your call.
All the best and ensure that you kick Unit 6 right out of the window.
Go for it!
Fingers crossed for you, Meghan! Best of luck (and skill, of course)!
Thank you for sharing this experience. It’s a good reminder of how important it is to do this job well and not slack off. What a wonderful client, to be so honest and yet so kind in her criticism! So much better than ending the professional relationship with no explanation!
Love it! Truly amazing outcome! Thanks so much for sharing!
Wow! Lucky to have such a kind-hearted and honest CR! One can only hope for that when turning in something less than optimal. I, too, would be interested in the PR’s response, so let’s have it when available. What was that conversation like, please?
Great story. I am slowly working my way through the course. I am to the point of starting the practice transcripts and learning to use the iPad. I have downloaded iAnnotate but now need my daughter to help me learn to use the iPad. I am so technically challenged. That is one thing that scares me. But I just keep telling myself to take it one step at a time and it will all make sense. I have always been the kind that spots spelling errors on signs and in print. My girls and I spend countless hours at Chick Fil A when they were young but inside I was cringing at all the misspellings in their signs, etc.
Thank you Caitlyn for helping us to feel confident, even as we are learning the process.
Caitlin has really made using the iPad easy for those of use who have never used it. She gives a great tutorial on how to use iAnnotate within the course, so fret not! Pretty soon you’ll be using your iPad like a pro! 🙂
What a great client! I certainly would welcome constructive criticism. You can’t possibly correct your mistakes if you are not even aware you are making them.
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the post, I wish all CRs could be that up front when they have a problem, versus, as she said just quietly moving on to someone else. And as Victoria said, it definitely makes you way more careful with your work. However, I have to say, I got some feedback from one of those who doesn’t say anything. I asked her and she told me my work wasn’t up to Standard. I had done probably a dozen jobs for her and she never said a bad word, when I asked she pointed out things I missed. So of course I went back to the scripts to check and those things she pointed out were not missed. I did a search on the things she said snd they were all right. I won’t say there weren’t some things missed but nothing that she said. I would rather she had just told me the truth, rather than make me question whether my work is good enough to be doing this.
Fantastic share! Thank you so much, Victoria, for your willingness to openly talk about an uncomfortable experience you had that will help us all to “up our games.” Blessings your way!
Victoria, thanks for sharing this experience with us. I’m glad you didn’t get derailed by that feedback, and instead, absorbed the blow and became an even better proofreader. I hope that I never have the same experience…. and yet I kind of hope I do! Like you said, a client like that is a kind and generous person and would be a gift to any of us.
P.S. I’m brand new at this and only in Module 2, so I probably have at least eight mistakes in this post!
Glad to hear everything turned out for the best Victoria. The CR sounds like a professional and mature person, who can show empathy and still give correction when it is needed. I had a similar situation happen to me this past week. Nothing to do with proofreading. A character flaw was pointed out to me by a dear friend. Ouch! I didn’t like hearing it, but will grow and learn from it, and be a better person.
Wow, the client was super understanding and diplomatic in pointing out the proofreader’s poor quality work. Not all clients would be that nice, I assume. Great example and thanks for sharing.
Although this story makes me much more nervous and anxious about proofreading, I am happy to hear that you gained some valuable insight into yourself, your job, and into human nature, in general. I hope to be as brave as you and accept the constructive criticism with such a positive attitude.
Gulp…my first post..I just started the course today! While excited and on a high, I’m also nervous and anxious too. Am I doing the right thing? Can I really do this? Do I have what it takes?
It’s humbling to hear these shared stories, from “seasoned proofreaders.” I’m thankful to be included in such a wonderful group of people. This blog really spoke to my heart. I struggle when it comes to accepting constructive criticism. After reading this great post, I’m hoping my next encounter of when it happens, (cause it’s just a matter of when?) I will remember this and apply what I have learn.
Welcome aboard! We’re happy to have you in our “tribe.” 😀 A lot of us, myself included, can struggle with fielding criticism. Like anything else, it’s a muscle we build with time. You’ll do just fine! Have a great weekend!
So…what, exactly, was your procedure from then on? Did you work for the same rate, or offer a discount for the mistakes? Did you send an email as an apology? This post seems to be about how your client handled it; what did YOU do?
Both of you handled the matter very well-like responsible adults. I must confess that reading about it makes me a little scared about my plans for proofreading, now that it’s CONFIRMED that I need to be perfect at the job.
You absolutely do NOT have to be perfect; that I can promise you. Excellence is the goal. Nobody is perfect — otherwise proofreaders wouldn’t be necessary 🙂
I agree about making mistakes that is how we learn.
I always try to leave a space between the initial proofreading and a final read before I let the work go. I mainly work with PHD students (thesis up to 300 pages) so they have to accept my changes or suggested improvements. If under time pressure to complete, I release the initial proofreading and tell them that my final work on their script will be sent within two days.
The other thing that clicked with me about this story was that Victoria took on a lot of work at one time. This would have put a lot of pressure on her and reduced her ability to concentrate. Despite the fear of losing a client in the future if we turn the work down, I think this is something we have to do. It might lead to clients 'booking' your services in advance.
I agree; it may have added unnecessary pressure. That’s where teamwork can be helpful! In our student groups, if someone isn’t able to take on work, they post in the group asking for backup.
How would I handle the situation? Ackward, but, a thankyou is necessary. I would thank the client for letting me know and that her comments were very much appreciated. I would prefer to speak to my client on the phone than to write.
Then I would say that in the future to prevent as far as possible slips in my work, I would
a) build in some time to revisit my work before sending it out, and
b) request clients to indicate the length of the material as well as deadlines so I could budget my time.
I would admit that I had taken on more work than expected at the time and was working under pressure. Once again I would thank the client for bringing the matter to my attention and that I hoped that there were no repercussions for the client in presenting his/her work.
This is a great plan, Helen!
This was an uplifting story. I have not yet had this experience as a proofreader, but I have had many jobs where proofreading was certainly an important part of it; so I have had similar experiences. How nice to have someone who isn't a complete jerk about it, giving you a little nudge. Sounds like you are both keepers.
Very well said, proofreading is a job that NO ONE notices when it’s done well, and it’s only when something isn’t perfect that it’s noticed. There's a lot to learn from this great communication. Thanks for sharing.