Should we share our personal problems with the client?

Courtesy of picjumbo, by Viktör Hanacek

If you are on Facebook, you must be familiar with its groups. And if you are an active user, chances are you are a member of at least one group of translators. Translators groups on Facebook usually generate great discussion topics. I myself am a member of one of the largest (if not the largest) translators and interpreters group there is in Brazil. As such, people post all sorts of comments, doubts, complaints, etc. The other day, a translator who works at an agency commented that one of their best translators (in quality, on-time deliveries and trustworthiness) accepted a project one day and on the next day returned it unfinished claiming he quit working as a translator. Just like that. No further explanations. The members of the group started wandering about his reasons to do so: “Maybe he had a serious personal problem and didn’t feel comfortable sharing it with the agency?”

Yesterday, based on this story, another translator raised this discussion: “When we have a serious personal problem, like the death of a parent or sibling, is it worth it to come clear with the client? Wouldn’t they think it’s a lame excuse?” A few members declared having already tried to be sincere with the client, but the consequences weren’t pretty. Besides showing no empathy at all, they even stopped consulting the translator. On the other hand, other testimonies showed some agencies do understand and even show concern for the professional.

My take on the subject is quite straightforward: we should always be sincere with the client. If you feel you might delay the delivery, tell the client and check if it’s possible to have an extension. If you’re sick in bed and there’s no way you can work properly, tell the client and see if you can find a way out – a deadline extension or a friend you can refer. If someone close to you is really sick or has died and you are in no condition to work, talk to the client. If you both have a good long-term relationship, there’s no way they will not understand you. However, if you usually let them down for any reason, of course they will not believe in you when you do have a serious reason for returning a project.

Two years ago, I felt a horrible muscle pain that wouldn’t allow me to work. Actually, I couldn’t move at all! So I had to take some strong muscle relaxant that made me feel really sleepy 22 hours a day. How could I think properly and even work? I did do my best, trying not to leave them in the lurch, but they were totally aware the quality would be compromised. I worked about two hours a day in the first couple of days – it was the most I could do. After that, they tried to reallocate the rest of the project.

Last year, my dad was hospitalized with suspicion of cancer. I had to travel to my hometown last minute and, therefore, had to return two projects I had taken for the next couple of days. I communicated the project manager and she totally understood my situation. Actually, she even sent constant emails, always checking how my father was feeling. He died 10 days later, but it was on a Friday, so it didn’t influence on my ongoing projects. But I wouldn’t think twice in returning any project to the client if I had to in this case. And I wouldn’t even be worried with what the client thought of it, because my family needed me, I needed to go through the grieving period and I knew there was nothing else I could do. If the client hadn’t understood, well, not my problem, really.

We should do our job and always deliver on time; help the client when we can; always be clear, inform any issues and try to find a way out that suits both parties. However, we should never forget we are freelancers, and as such, we shouldn’t be afraid of refusing projects if we can’t work for any reason and of returning a project in case of any real emergency. If you are an example of a translator and if you have a good relationship with the client, they will understand. If they don’t, fire them! I personally don’t want to work with people who do not value pain, grieving or other human issues. Neither should you.

Have you gone through a similar situation? What happened? Even if not, would you like to share your opinion on the topic?

3 thoughts on “Should we share our personal problems with the client?

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