Being aware of the Asian tendency to what one of my editor colleagues has called a "much more rigorous and formal structure of politeness in negotiations" (in comparison with that used by, say, Americans), I am always careful to compose my first few e-mail communications with new Asian clients very formally and letting them know that I am "very happy" or "pleased" or even "delighted" to work with them, and I always thank them for their trust in my editing skills. I also keep track of national holidays in Japan, China, and Korea and e-mail clients in those nations the appropriate holiday wishes at the appropriate times, and I include a "thank you for your continued trust in my editing" sentence. When there have been natural disasters or warnings of them in countries where I have clients, I have always e-mailed them to check on their welfare.
After I've worked with clients a few times, I ask them to call me Katharine, rather than Ms. O'Moore-Klopf (or Editor or Editor O'Moore-Klopf, as some have addressed me), if they wish. They in turn become less formal and will often tell me about their vacations or departmental events when they get back in touch with me to ask that I edit their newest manuscript. Some even ask me to address them by their nicknames.
Generally, what I'm editing for my ESL (English as a second language) authors are medical journal manuscripts. They may want me to edit the manuscripts immediately, but I may have to ask them to wait a few days because I already have a journal manuscript or two, plus a book manuscript, in process. Occasionally, a project scheduled ahead of theirs may run longer than planned or an emergency editing project may come in, pushing theirs back a couple of days.
That happened a few weeks ago with a PhD from Korea, one of my repeat clients. I do keep my authors informed about the status of their manuscripts in my schedule. But not having heard from me as soon as she would have preferred, this client wrote:
I cannot receive the editted manuscript. What's the problem with you? Please check up the process of my paper. Thank you.
Now, if a U.S. author were to write me and ask, "What's the problem with you?" I would be offended, thinking that the author was being rude by implying that I am incompetent. Knowing, however, that with this author there is more of a language barrier than with some of my other ESL authors, I wrote back:
I started work on your manuscript today and should be able to finish the first round of editing tomorrow. I have had some emergency editing projects in the last few days, which required that I do triage on all of my projects. I apologize for the delay; it was unavoidable.
I understand that you may be unhappy about the delay. I am hoping that you are not angry with me.
Fortunately, she replied:
I'm not angry with you. I apologize for the my poor expression. I will wait your reply.
And then I replied:
I am very pleased. I like to keep my authors happy.
She has since asked me to edit two more manuscripts for her, and you can bet that I'm now updating her about my schedule much more often than I do with other clients. I'm glad that I addressed the issue of her satisfaction and didn't just assume that she was fuming and that I'd not be asked to work with her again.
Being forthright, honest, and unfailingly polite serves a freelancer well when working with any client, but it works especially well with clients from different cultures.
cross-cultural communication clients ESL copyeditor copyediting editor editing publishing EditorMom