As a writer and editor I’ve been bred to have a tough skin. Some of my best constructive criticism came from thoughtful professors and kind editors when I was attending NYU for grad school. If it wasn’t for my editor at Inc., I never would have learned to write a lead for my articles. His graciousness and tact throughout my 9 months with the company never went unappreciated.
I’ve worked with much harsher critics, too. I remember I wrote a dreadful title for a story and my boss literally whacked me on the head for it. No, I didn’t sue her. But I remembered it and let me assure you I’ll never make that bonehead move again.
Now I’m in the editor’s chair and I have to steer the ship. I try to be thoughtful when it comes to editing other people’s work—I know what it’s like to be sharply criticized. Plus, I come from the school where you don’t have to be mean and arrogant to get your point across.
Our freelancers email me all day. And I communicate with them almost entirely by email. They’re busy, I’m busy, so email seems to be the best way to share ideas. Plus, I work better when I have something in writing.
My Angry Email Story
I’m not a screamer. I don’t feel the need to yell to get my point across. I don’t even get angry often. But when a freelancer cut me off at the knees a couple of weeks ago I was furious.
Here’s the scenario. One of our freelancers, let’s call him Dave, failed to adequately complete his writing assignment. I had been emailing and calling him for over a week, asking him to please send me the missing information. When deadline day rolled around, and nothing had materialized, I called him once more to prod him. He basically told me he couldn’t get a hold of the guy he needed to talk to, so, sorry.
Sorry? He’d known about this assignment for over a month and didn’t finish it and we were about to go to press. I did what any good editor would do and I looked to see if the keeper of the missing info was represented by any public relations agent. Voila! He was. I gave this woman a call and pleaded my case. This was before lunchtime.
The rest of my day was shot because I had to track down this man and get him to give me the missing piece of the article—a sidebar that we always print in this particular section of the magazine. To not get it was not an option. I wasn’t going to risk the reputation of the magazine because Dave didn’t do his job to the fullest.
The lovely PR person, who had a great southern accent by the way, and I traded emails and phone calls all day. At about 6:25 pm the sidebar info finally came in. The only two people in the office were myself and our art director. We were supposed to be at an awards ceremony that night but couldn’t make it due to the fact we had to wait at the office for this information.
Our art director placed it on the page and I made the PDF and sent it off to our printer, who was kind enough to let us push our deadline back a little bit in order to finish the story. I was exhausted, embarrassed, and fuming. I felt like Dave failed to do his job and left me holding the bag. I sent him an email. Allow me to paraphrase:
I got the missing info but it nearly killed me. This is YOUR job, not mine. You should get this info during your interviews so we don’t EVER have to try to get it at the last minute again. I’m really upset and frustrated that I had to do it as I don’t have time for this last-minute hassle and don’t want it to happen again.
Short and sweet. And honestly, I didn’t think it was a bad email. I wanted to let him know I was upset and that I didn’t want something like this to happen again. Case closed. Or so I thought.
The next day Dave calls up my boss to rant and rave at him for 23 minutes (he timed it) about my unprofessionalism. I was shocked. Me? Unprofessional? I figured that if I had called him on the phone I would have made him feel worse! My supervisor suggested that I never again send a heated email, that if I’m angry I should call the person up and tell it to them in person. I get her drift—if I call someone they don’t have anything in writing to look back on and use against me. But I was so angry that I felt an email was the best way to go.
Clearly other people don’t have the thick skin that I do, but does that mean I have to handle them with kid gloves? I don’t regret what I emailed to Dave, but I will think twice about sending an angry email again.
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