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Taking criticism like a man and applying it to T&I November 9, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings, Translation Sites.

The Art of Manliness has an interesting post on how to give and take criticism like a man that definitely benefits both genders. The point of (constructive) criticism is to help someone improve – and who doesn’t appreciate being able to improve? When used sparingly and constructively, criticism can be quite welcome. I think translators should read this so that we learn how to best respond to criticism. If you always respond negatively to criticism you are inevitably burning more bridges that you are building. I also really wish our clients would read this post and take some pointers for the times when they need to offer us feedback.

If you have been in the T&I industry for any length of time you have most likely had your translation criticized in one way or another. Let’s face it, it happens. Sometimes one’s style does not necessarily jibe with the client’s. Stylistic complaints are the most frustrating, and they are easier to brush off in my head. Not everyone likes my style, and that is ok. I simply devote myself to my clients who do.

Also, sometimes I have an off day (or several) when I’m not feeling well, am feeling out of sorts and/or lethargic, etc., but still have to meet the deadline. It is so nice to translate when I am highly motivated and the words just flow. However, not every day is like that. Our tight deadlines ensure that we have to produce even when we have a very tight deadline and are having an “off” biorhythm day. Clients also need to remember this, because no one is perfect.

I am not advocating doing sloppy work or offering excuses. We should always do whatever we can to ensure we consistently produce quality work. As Thea Dohler suggested, we should schedule our most demanding work at the time of day in which we are in our highest productivity curve. I intend to implement this starting this week. My highest productivity curve tends to be around noon or one. In my case, in order to ensure consistently qualitative work I have a colleague who proofreads the texts which I feel could use a second pair of eyes and I proofread her texts and help her with computer problems. This collaborative partnership works very well, and it ensures that I do not deliver a text in which I have misunderstood something or made a grave error.

My favorite passage in the abovementioned post was:

Criticize the action, not the person. Try to keep the person as separated from their mistakes as possible by criticizing their action and not them. It makes the criticism less hurtful and much more effective. So don’t say things like, “Jeez Louise you must be an idiot! Look at all these mistakes you made in this report!” Just because someone makes a mistake, that doesn’t make the person a pinhead. We all have bad days.

A little over a year ago one of my (now former) clients ripped apart my translation and demanded a discount, but since she was known for doing this I didn’t take it personally, admitted some of her points were valid and accepted a discount. However, I repeat: I did not take it personally (see: Consider the source in the quoted article). Ripping apart a translation really has nothing to do with helping a translator improve. I wasn’t hurt when they stopped contacting me, because frankly it was too stressful to try to produce a quality text that I knew was going to be ripped apart anyway. I don’t miss them, and they weren’t a good fit for me. I have since found new clients who are a much better fit.

Anyway, I have digressed… The sentence “Criticism is an important part of our personal self improvement, for it is other people who can point out mistakes and shortcomings that we can’t see because we lack objectivity.” is an important one. It is so true. If I am acting like an idiot I need to be told diplomatically so that I don’t continue to act like an idiot. As a Virgo, I am already my worst critic as it is and have most likely already magnified my behavior in my head to be worse than it probably is. 🙂

I love getting feedback on my translations, because it makes me a better translator. However, clients need to be as specific as they can, because a simple “it just wasn’t good” frankly isn’t good enough. We need specific examples to decide whether the criticism is justified and to change to ensure the client is happier the next time. I like to think I can take criticism like a man, but this article was a welcome reminder of the various ways to do so.



1. Melissa - November 10, 2008

Right on – I agree with this attitude toward feedback (or criticism). I will definitely go and read the post you mentioned.

During the business practices forum, Mr. Joseph Mazzo of the US State Dept. said something that really resonated with me: One of the top things that he looks for on a translator’s resume is evidence of “mentoring.” He wants to see that a translator has learned from others, looked to experienced people for feedback and criticism, and implemented that in his or her own work. Interesting point!

That’s just another way to look at criticism, as mentoring. And I try not to forget to say thanks when someone takes the time to point out an error or improvement to my translation.

2. jillsommer - November 10, 2008

I love Mr. Mazza. I have heard him speak several times. What a fabulous point to bring up. Yes, mentoring or internships is a wonderful way to improve your skills. I was part of the internship presentation, which unfortunately was banned to the netherworld of Saturday afternoon, so we didn’t have a lot of attendees. I look back fondly at all the mentors I have had over the years. The information I learned from them is the basis for a lot of things I spout off here 🙂

Melissa, it was great to see you at the conference, BTW. Too bad you didn’t join us for the blog lunch. I would have loved to have actually had time to sit down and talk with you. When we talked by the pool, once I walked away it occurred to me that I had met you previously and in what context. That’s the problem with the conference – it’s such a blur sometimes and you automatically get in “nice to meet you” mode. Hope you had a great conference!

3. Stephanie Fauvelle - October 9, 2012

Hi Jill,
I cannot agree with you more on the importance of having/finding a mentor. I am a neophyte to the translating world and am looking for a mentor myself. I know that as any working professional, translators are busy and most do not want to take on a mentor role. Do you have any suggestions on how I could go about finding one? I have read Corine McKay’s book, as well as several other (not so amazing) ones–and keep up with translating blogs/tweets. I am a French/Spanish to English freelance translator who wants to specialize in mathematical and scientific texts. I would be grateful for any kind of advice. Thank you!
Stephanie Fauvelle

Jill (@bonnjill) - October 9, 2012

The ATA has a Mentoring Program (http://www.atanet.org/careers/mentoring.php). Many of my friends have been in the program both as mentors and mentees and found it to be very rewarding. You should definitely enroll for next year. Susanne van Eyl is in charge of the program.

wheresmydishmonkey - October 12, 2012

Awesome–thank you!

4. cehearty - December 12, 2014

Hi, as a translator who has received my fair share of criticism I loved this article! Learning to accept and assess criticism fairly has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve had while working as a translator. I wish as well that positive feedback would be given more often. The other day a client I do a lot of work for sent me the proofreader’s very positive feedback and it was great to receive that boost. Time is short for all of us but I really enjoy receiving a mixture of feedback – when I only get negative feedback, that’s all I remember!

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