On thick skins and ego bashing

NB: Finally got around to posting this, a few weeks after first starting the draft. 

A dear colleague and friend of mine bemoaned recently on Twitter that his “biggest weakness as a manager is forgetting that some people take their writing very personally. [He] tend[s] to be a harsh and curt editor.”

This struck a nerve with me because as a communications guy, writing is one of the biggest parts of my job and I’ve long ago had to learn that to succeed in this industry, you have to be able to accept harsh and curt edits.

Writing for corporate clients is much, much different than writing for yourself. You can’t take criticism personally because it is not personal writing. You may be the most brilliant wordsmith on the planet but if the client or (in many cases) the client service rep / account exec doesn’t see the client’s message reflected in what you wrote, you didn’t do your job well.

Writing for someone else is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, a writer brings a unique set of skills and talents to the process. But coming at things from a writer’s standpoint does not give you the exclusive ability to communicate the message. In a typical shop, the account exec is better positioned to understand the client’s needs than you are. Even in positions like mine (an in-house comms specialist reporting directly to the Executive Director and President), there are political and strategic implications that the lowly comms guy might not know or fully grasp.

When I studied journalism at Carleton, there were many, many people in my classes that said they got into journalism because they love writing. More often than not, these were the same people that took editing poorly. Because people who love writing tend to love writing for themselves; writing for an audience is a different beast entirely.

A good communications professional, be it a writer, editor or whatever else, has to understand that communications is a multi-disciplinary occupation that is part of a grander process. When I tell people what I do for a living they often say “oh, so you write stuff?” Well, sort of. But I also listen a lot. I think a lot. I research a lot. And I try to position what I write in the greater context of what is being said and what is being heard.

It takes practice and it takes humility. Sometimes what I would write isn’t what my clients or my bosses would write. And I have to find the common ground, all the while being mindful of what the audience needs to read.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *