Everyone’s watching. A few thoughts on online (professional?) behavior.

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binoculars‘Everyone’s watching.’ This was the closing line in an article I read recently, written by a physician about his approach to and attitudes towards his online behavior. Though there are definitely certain aspects that are specific to professionals in the medical field, and a great deal of it is subjective as he says, I feel there are also many universal truths in statements made about what is ‘professional’ or ‘unprofessional’ online behavior, no matter what field you are in.

With the rise of Facebook and other social media platforms, many of which are used as a means of connecting with other professionals in certain sectors, also comes an exposure to potential clients, customers or business associates. In fact, this is for many of us the goal in expanding our online presence. Getting our name out there, making people aware of our existence. However, as the good doctor says, ‘We just need to be smarter than we were before. Everyone’s watching.’

I have seen a lot of heated arguments, the careless tossing about of insults, and have watched emotionally charged battles being waged on translation forums, be they on Facebook or LinkedIn (and I’m sure many other online platforms), in the last couple of years. I have witnessed contests of will, conscious attempts to create, develop and uphold a specific online persona, posts often designed to shock and awe, and others designed to intimidate others into submission. I’ve observed countless bragfests where one-upmanship is the rule rather than the exception. Hurt feelings and bruised egos abound. People inevitably start siding with one another, sometimes resulting in them leaving groups en masse, and forming others. I suppose clique formation and behavior is something that we never really leave behind on the playground, or in the halls of our high schools, it is something that we continue to exhibit throughout our lives; obviously it’s just human nature.

What I can’t wrap my head around is that a lot of these people, those ‘shouting the loudest’ and protesting too much on these forums don’t seem to realize first of all, that their ‘victims’ are human beings, just like them, not just a photo with some words trailing behind it. Many of whom are also just starting out in the business, just like they once did, perhaps at a time where there was no public, instantly accessible place to moan, vent and share experiences. And learn from those who have been at it longer. How soon we forget. How easy it is to judge someone’s abilities, skills and personality by a couple lines they may have posted when they weren’t at their best, hadn’t had enough coffee, had just (who knows?) lost someone they loved, or a pet. Or been through a nasty break-up. The judgments are easy to sling, because you can just chuckle to yourself, step back from your computer, and go have another coffee, choosing to ignore any blowback, or simply leave a group because someone has pushed you too far. Or perhaps you do as I often do, ‘avert your eyes’ and stop reading posts on certain forums because they are too negative, pessimistic and just downright unproductive.

Secondly, the way we treat other people online aside (or maybe not?), I can’t help but wonder if everyone realizes what kind of a reflection this behavior is on their professional reputation, how they come across to potential customers, or others they may end up working with in some capacity? I personally wouldn’t hire half of the people I regularly see on these forums, based on their online behavior alone. Sure, they may be the absolute BEST in their field, in their language combination, in their area of specialization, but what about communicating with or dealing with them regarding aspects of the business that don’t involve their professional skills? How will they take criticism, if warranted? How volatile will they be in a dispute? How ‘human’ are they capable of being? Because after all, it’s not just our skills that matter to our freelance businesses, it’s also our ability to be professional, communicate effectively, be diligent about deadlines, capable of taking constructive criticism (if it’s justified, and refute it with substantiated arguments if it’s not), and, well, just plain being HUMAN.

There are of course people who don’t care how they come across to others online, don’t mind who they insult, insisting that this is who they are, take it or leave it, at least they’re honest. Unfortunately, many will choose to leave it, and if you have plenty who don’t, people who accept it and even embrace it, well, more power to you I say. And good luck.

Sure, I’ve been guilty of using Facebook as Ventbook now and then. But I have been careful, while posting, to consider who could be seeing it, and whether or not it will negatively impact my professional life, my business, my livelihood.  I still make ‘rookie mistakes’, posting bits about frustration with certain customers, or certain jobs I have agreed to take on and later regret, and later wish I hadn’t posted. Let’s just say I’m working on it.

pg-baby-playground-games-sandbox-fullI try to instill in my sons the knowledge that whatever you post online is there forever, one way or another. It’s your ‘digital footprint’ and unfortunately, an indelible one, in theory. Sure, maybe not everyone will be able to access it, but you never know who might be seeing it, now or five years down the road, such as a potential employer, for example. I try to live by the motto, ‘Don’t post it if it’s not something you wouldn’t say to everyone.’ I admit, sometimes it’s hard to follow this advice myself, but I am making more and more of a concerted effort to live by the words I preach in the sermon to my kids.

It’s easy to sling mud or kick over someone else’s sand castle in cyber space. Just try to think who might be watching next time you do. Your professional reputation is at stake.

11 gedachten over “Everyone’s watching. A few thoughts on online (professional?) behavior.

  1. Da’s de spijker helemaal op z’n kop, Allison. Very well put. It’s hard to command respect at work when in your spare time you’re ostensibly denying that very image. It practically invokes a piercing thrust of discredit: “So when should we believe you’re lying: when are you’re at work, when you’re clowning out and about there on the internet, or just anytime, anywhere?”

    Thanks for typing up an instant classic reference!

  2. Thank you very much for this post, Allison. I think you’re spot on! I said something similar in a recent article: ‘I would like clients to look at translator fora and be impressed by the professional discussions, positive outlook and mutual support among translators, rather than witness in-fighting and endless complaints about themselves (the clients), because this is potentially damaging to the businesses of freelance translators anywhere.’

    1. Thanks so much Nicole! As a good friend and colleague of mine said recently (in so many words), translators don’t realize their behavior, on forums and elsewhere, is also a reflection on us as freelance translators, as a community, and on our profession.

  3. Nice post, and interesting reflections.

    I admit I have gone too far in the past, and need to learn to keep my emotions in check, or just leave any environment that will just raise my blood pressure. I regret my actions on one forum in particular – a Facebook group that is crawling with newbies. I suppose it was my own pride and personal perfectionism that was blinding me. But this, too, is something that just happens sometimes, to a lot of people, and equally, this is influenced by our own circumstances at that time (or lifetime). I’m never in a good mood just after proofreading something terrible, and even if I can limit the influence bad translations and their defensive translators have on my own style, the effect they have on my state of mind – and therefore behaviour – is quite measurable. So I’ve severely cut down how much reviewing I actually do, and outright refuse to correct the work of certain translators whose work stresses me out.

    Regarding the other behaviour… I think I’m a bit blind to some of it. Or perhaps we are not active on the same forums. I have seen it a lot on LinkedIn, which is part of why I rarely use it (it is also the most visible to clients), and I have occasionally seen it on Facebook, and ended up deleting any of my own posts that went that way.

    As a group admin, I have seen a lot of conflicts and general trolls. Thankfully we are able to stop most of them at the gate – but that’s not before they have laid into the admins with all manner of abuse. One of my co-admins takes a much more radical stance on dealing with trolls – outing them publicly. I see both sides of that argument. When someone’s been very abusive, support from the pleasant members of the group certainly helps us feel better. On the other hand, revealing names is more risky.

    You mentioned the culture of one-upmanship. I have seen that on LinkedIn and certain Facebook groups especially. I hate that culture of judgement, so have left such groups, or blocked people who are prone to it. Unfortunately, I think it is a cultural thing in Germany, and perhaps our industry in general, so I can never completely avoid it. Just learn to ignore it and they not to get offended and rush to defend myself or others.

    Regarding attitude. Outright bullying won’t appeal to (m)any clients at all. But being forthright, direct and no-nonsense can. I know of colleagues who regularly expose scammers and dishonest businesses – and their honest clients respect them for it, and share their frustrations. Myself? I’m extremely polite to real potential clients, but see no reason at all to be polite to known scammers, something some colleagues recently scolded me on (that said, far more were amused by my simple ‘No, f off’ response, in the context of being distracted from a sunny afternoon with gorgeous cider and fantastic company). It’s a matter of personality and attitude. I know of another colleague who has been called vain for sharing selfies of herself looking gorgeous, as well as the odd thing about lifestyle and fashion. Well, guess what she translates? Lifestyle and fashion. What some may (perhaps jealously) perceive as vanity or unprofessionalism is actually admired by her clients, who see she is both their target market as well as their translator. What better combination is there?

    We will all have different ideas about professionalism. Different ethics. Different perceptions. So much will vary based on our culture, personality, specialisations and client bases. I have a very British sense of humour and a slightly pinickity, perfectionist nature. I’m a worrier. I’m obsessive about certain things, but I ultimately have a good heart. If I’m complaining, I’m usually laughing, too. I’m not depressed. My clients (who include colleagues – some of whom I attracted because of my rather blunt blog and comments online), being largely British, German and Dutch, get that. I understand that there is this other attitude, the (in my view) generic, soulless, ‘How are you today?’, ‘Have a nice day!’ attitude which some people seem to think is synonymous with professionalism. It probably works for their clients. But it’s just not why my clients come to me. They come to me because I’m a reliable perfectionist who understands what they do, because I have a sense of humour, and because I actually share my opinion.

    I’m not ashamed of revealing my standards and my personality through my blog and elsewhere. If a customer wants a soulless, drive-thru attitude to customer service they can use one of those large agencies’ websites with their automated customer service chat boxes. They come to me because I am a real person. An individual who has opinions. A thinking translator.

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