KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Delicacy of Cross-Cultural Communications

In cross-cultural communication with clients, it's very important that both freelancer and client assume that the other is operating from a position of goodwill, even when there are occasional misunderstandings.

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:

Hi, Katharine.

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:

Hello, C.

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:

Hello, Katharine.

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.



robyncz said...

As a former ESL teacher, I LOVE this post. I'm certain that your sensitivity to cross-cultural as well as linguistic issues is what keeps your ESL clients coming back again and again.

Although I read and revised a large number of theses and dissertations for my ESL colleagues when I was in graduate school, I don't know if I'd have the patience for that kind of work now!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Just this morning (August 26), I paid a translator to translate into Turkish my page of instructions to authors for how to review copyedited manuscripts. I was very happy to be able to use the translation with a new Turkish client.

I wouldn't want to have 100% of my projects be ESL editing, because I do feel mentally drained after finishing work on an ESL manuscript. But I enjoy working on them a great deal because doing so is like solving a puzzle: What did the author intend to say here? And how can I best rearrange his or her own words to express that correctly and as tightly as possible?

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

P.S. I want to turn as many of my ESL journal-manuscript authors into repeat clients as possible by accommodating their needs. I figure that offering instructions in their native language will make the whole ack-an-editor-is-ripping-my-research-paper-to-shreds-and-she's-doing-it-in-English process a little less stressful. Besides, the translation fee was low and is a tax-deductible business expense. And I can reuse the translation with future Turkish authors.

Right now, I have versions of the instructions in simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. I've requested an estimate for a French translation. I'll also want a Farsi translation, an Arabic translation, a Spanish translation, and a translation into at least one major Indian language.

Anonymous said...

I've wanted to say "What's the problem with you?" to various people I work with soooo many times!

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