Taming your Response to Feedback
Do you like negative feedback? Do you wait for it with excitement like you wait for that special package you ordered to arrive at your door? If not, you’re not alone. Nobody likes feedback. It’s daunting and weighs heavily on our shoulders. It stirs our emotions. It makes our heart race and fills us with adrenaline. It can leave a bad taste in our mouth for days.
In college, a professor once told me a story. Every time her family had chicken for dinner, she saved the chicken breast for her husband, no matter how much the children asked for it or how much she wanted it for herself. After 20 years of marriage, her husband finally confessed, “I have never liked chicken breasts. I would prefer any other piece of the chicken.” Timely feedback can make everybody’s life easier, whether you’re giving it or receiving it.
If somebody is taking the time to give you feedback, it means that you’re not going to lose your client. Save your worries for a client that doesn’t send you feedback.
Replying to Feedback
We need to respond to all feedback, regardless of what we’re planning to do with it. I have three tips for writing the response.
Tip 1: You should be driving the feedback car. If you let your ego drive, you are headed for a head-on collision.
Tip 2: Assume your message won’t be private, but public. Your response will most likely be forwarded, usually to the reviewer who reported the mistakes, so do not badmouth them.
Tip 3: Decide the objective of your response.
Objective 1: Keep the client.
Empathize with their frustration. Apologize for mistakes and explain what you will do to prevent repeating them. Thank them for the time they or their reviewer spent writing the notes. Most
importantly: be sincere. Don’t use a language barrier to cover up your error from a client who isn’t able to discern the complex grammatical rules in your explanation.
Objective 2: Get rid of the client.
Be gracious, say thank you and never take work from them again. Telling them how ignorant they are and then dumping them will get you more grief in the long run. It could result in a bad review or an angry post on your social media accounts, for example.
What if your Client Needs to be Saved from Themselves?
Clients are human, like us, and sometimes they make mistakes, especially when they’re in the middle of two sparring linguists with contradicting opinions. In this case, don’t be passive aggressive and let an egregious error stand. Instead, try to save your client from embarrassment. How? Target the error among all the feedback. Stick to the facts. Delete any emotional language. Be objective by stating the rules. Use institutions and books as sources, not your opinion.
Once a client of mine sent me feedback and wanted me to accent all instances of the word “ti” (“you”) in her subtitle file. If you don’t speak Spanish, you probably guessed that “ti” should not have an accent. This is how I responded: “Thanks so much for taking the time to send me your feedback. I took note of all your preferences and will follow them in future projects. I have one concern. The Royal Spanish Academy updated their spelling rules not so long ago, and in their most current book, ‘ti’ appears without an accent.” That was enough to save her from the embarrassment of having typos all over her corporate video. I gave her a gracious way out without criticizing her or her proofreader, and I did it by putting the weight of the knowledge where it belongs: on the Spanish Royal Academy. After all, they were the ones who decided that “ti” doesn’t have an accent (and never has) and not me.
In general, we should sincerely be thankful for feedback because it’s the path to getting more direct work and referral work, and a way of learning new things and perspectives. A shift of perception on feedback is rewarding and allows us to tame our responses.
All our clients want after sending their feedback is acknowledgement and a promise that we will learn, improve and won’t make the same mistakes again. If they wanted to fire us, we would not be receiving feedback at all. It takes less time to delete us from their vendor list than it is to provide us with feedback.