Welcome back to our guest series, dear readers! I hope all of you are doing great and at full speed with whatever you are doing. 🙂 But how about taking a coffee/tea/juice/lunch break to read this awesome post by today’s guest, Lloyd Bingham? I assure you it will be worth it.
Professionalism in the Translation Industry
We need to talk about online professionalism
Professionalism is a word we hear a lot as translators. As an unregulated industry, we naturally need to set, maintain and enforce our own standards, so that we’re taken seriously by our clients and the wider world. Professionalism is not a new idea by any means, but there is a relatively new dimension to it that we have talked very little about: the effect that social media is having. Yet, as a new phenomenon that is damaging our industry’s reputation, we do need to talk about it.
Professionalism is a subjective word. Typically, though, many would associate this concept with politeness, empathy and fundamentally not insulting other industry members. These attributes should be inherent of any person who runs their own business, not just translators. Just imagine if we as freelance translators had to be interviewed for the job like any other – no-one would hire us if we lacked these qualities, and quite rightly so.
While freelancers naturally find it harder to draw the line between our personal and professional lives, our presence on social media exacerbates this. We have professional profiles on social media, but we often become close to our colleagues and accept them as friends on Facebook. This amity is incredibly admirable and I wouldn’t change this principle for the world. But social media are making it easier for us to be unprofessional.
Social media as we know them today are only about a decade old and we are still seeing a boom in their use for professional purposes within our industry. They have given translators a new set of powers, but much like superheroes we need to decide whether to use those powers for good or for evil.
The problem is that we sometimes let our personal feelings affect our professional lives and then take it out on the keyboard. Passive-aggressiveness has sadly become the norm within online forums and a culture in which it is acceptable or even encouraged to attack our colleagues and clients has been fostered. Regrettably, it begs the question whether we are infringing professional ethics or the codes of conduct of any professional associations we may belong to (see the ITI Code of Conduct, for example – sections 1, 3.5, 3.6 and 5.4 in particular).
Social media have become a breeding ground for vigilantes. Rude, hateful language has become standard practice and swear words directed towards colleagues and clients aren’t given a second thought. It’s the modern day version of putting someone in the stocks and pelting them with rotten vegetables if they’re lucky, or burning them at the stake if they’re not.
Picture a doctor criticising his patient or a solicitor mocking her client online. This is practically unheard of in the most respected professions. And as the translation industry currently fights to be credited with the professional recognition that it deserves within society as a whole, unprofessional behaviour online amongst its members does a huge disservice to this and undoes the hard work of those campaigning for respect for our work.
A new generation of unprofessionals
When newcomers enter our industry, they observe the aggressive behaviour of established professionals and view it as the norm. Sucked in by this culture and those who spearhead it, they quickly become party to it in an effort to be accepted into the community; this is effectively training a new generation of hostile, cynical and defensive translators with a warped sense of conduct with colleagues and clients.
To say our industry has its problems would be an understatement: bottom feeders, non-payers, lack of understanding, scammers, the list goes on. Ranting, however, as previously pointed out by Corinne McKay (on her blog) and Andrew Morris (in his Book of Standing Out) serves no purpose. Other than an inflated ego, fifteen minutes of fame and the self-satisfaction from a few ‘Likes’. I don’t often quote Thatcher, but something she did say fits well here: “If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at anytime, and would achieve nothing”.
Equally, self-pity does no good. And personal attacks are utterly out of line. Observe how you would never see some of our industry’s most recognised professionals, such as Nicole Y Adams, Tanya Quintieri and Chris Durban, who all voiced their support for Corinne’s article on this subject, being party to this behaviour.
No-one denies there are horrendous agencies, aggressive project managers, bad translators and evil scammers out there. And no-one should apologise for their internal animosity towards these and the emotions that accompany it. But we must be responsible in articulating our sentiments when faced with a problem.
From discussions with other professionals at the ITI Conference 2015, it is clear that the vast majority of translators are on the same page and agree there is no excuse for professionalism to be undermined in our industry. A change in mentality is severely overdue. The way we can go about this is not by suppressing problems, but by turning a problem into an opportunity:
- Demanding clients are a good thing. They keep us on our toes and encourage us to challenge ourselves. None of us are in the profession for an easy ride;
- 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;
- Clients who consistently don’t pay should be subjected to the formal procedures for recovering money owed. After a reasonable amount of time, it is appropriate to bring matters like these to the industry’s attention – albeit in a calm and professional manner – to inform colleagues and help them to avoid the mistake of working with that client;
- Unsolicited emails from other translators, particularly those new to the industry,asking to work with you should be guided towards more appropriate channels of building up a client base. Otherwise, there’s always the ‘Delete’ button;
- 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 businesspeople. 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”.
We are all ambassadors of our industry and have a duty to represent it responsibly. We should not be victims waiting to be rescued from the bad people in our industry – that takes away the point of being a freelancer. Rather, our careers are in our own hands. Shouting over and blaming one another is for amateurs.
Great post, Lloyd! I agree with every word you said. Thank you so much for accepting my invitation and taking the time to write such fantastic content!
About the author
Lloyd Bingham runs Capital Translations in Cardiff, UK, translating from French, German, Spanish and Dutch into English. He specialises in marketing and business and is also a qualified member of the ITI.
Known for speaking on translator and interpreter engagement in their industry, primarily through the medium of Twitter, Lloyd has also turned his attention to online professionalism following a palpable surge in client and colleague bashing on social media.