One of my copyediting listservs is in an uproar about uncivil clients. There was a listing for a copyeditor that a bunch of my listmates applied for. The client clearly is unhinged. The garbage he spewed back at them was hilarious and awful all at the same time. They started sharing stories. To a Canadian editor he wrote “I hope never to step foot in your country again,” and he took another editor to task for using his first name.
So today the copyeditors are chatting about how to respond to abusive emails, whether to respond to abusive emails, and who is at fault for receiving abusive emails. Everyone was supportive of the first copyeditor who offered up her experience with the client because it bothered her and she wanted to make sure she had done nothing wrong.
I thought about the phone call I once had from an editor where she excoriated me (it was such a bad experience, only big words will do) for every single change that I made in a 128-page manuscript that was different from her suggestions. (My job had been to correlate all changes, and I had gone with the technical editor more frequently than with the editor.)
Instead of yelling back at her, or standing my ground, which would have been the better course, I went into the bathroom and cried. That job taught me to not respond to personal or emotional components of criticism and/or attacks. Instead, I bit my tongue, hard, and responded to the actual editorial issues at hand. It’s a lonely, hard-won skill.
I thought about the incoherent paper I helped a student with that was all about how abortion was the biggest crime of this century. I held my tongue. The next time I received a pro-abortion paper it was much better argued. And I told the student that I disagreed with her position so that I was the actually the perfect person to help her to strengthen her argument. It may have not been the smartest thing to do, but I said it in a very friendly way and it helped me release my feelings and thus I could focus on her paper, not on my own opinion.
When do you speak and when do you hold your tongue?