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.