The Opportunity Cost of Misplaced Entitlement in Translation

Comprehensive list

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted a picture of “a comprehensive list of everything you are entitled to and that which the world owes you.” The image was that of an empty sheet of paper. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

Later that week, someone in a translation group posted a copy of an incredibly rude, whiny, and ineffective message they had sent out to a potential client who was simply trying to open the door to a negotiation. The translator was insulted, apparently, because the agency owner wanted to negotiate in the first place: not drive down price with a ludicrous offer, just negotiate. Things escalated and got quite ugly pretty quickly once the agency owner went online and came across her name and confidential information about the job (information which had been given to the translator in good faith for the sole purpose of evaluating and quoting the job).

I happen to know both parties involved. The translator does a lot of online bragging about his rudeness to agencies who just don’t seem to get how special he is; and the agency owner is actually a really great person, who pays well, on time, and is an absolute pleasure to work with. I have in fact recommended several colleagues in other language pairs to this boutique agency and they have the same impression as I do. So on the one hand we have a serial agency basher and problematic translator and on the other hand we have a boutique translation business owner who was looking after her client’s interests and her own business. How dare she?!?!

Had the translator not been betrayed by his own Ego and misplaced sense of entitlement, he would have landed a great client, as the agency’s concern had more to do with the translator’s proposed deadline than with his price. Had the translator focused on interests instead of positions, he would have realized the agency was willing to pay his proposed price (and even a bit more, according to the agency) to get the translation a couple of days earlier and have enough time to review it in-house before final delivery to the end client. Instead, the translator took to social media to list all that to which he is entitled on the count of his self-perceived sheer awesomeness (paraphrasing Po the Panda).

Of course, there’s more than one way to understand the concept of entitlement. If by entitlement we are referring to our legal entitlements (i.e. the rights we each have in virtue of being human), then the empty “comprehensive list of everything you are entitled to” is flat-out insensitive to the entire notion of justice and clueless as to the many sufferings of the world. However, if by “entitlement” we are referring to some people’s unjustified belief that they have a right to certain privileges or special treatment just because they are who they are (i.e. white, rich, etc.), then the idea behind that picture is well worth promoting and the translator in question should learn from it.

I have insisted in many different posts that professionals need to watch their online behavior at all times. It’s oftentimes the first thing people see and you never know where in the web a potential client is waiting to be discovered. In today’s world, opportunity no longer “knocks at your door,” sometimes it IMs you or pokes you on Facebook. So when we go online to brag about how rude and rough we got with a client or to troll other translators in forums or blog comments, what we’re really doing is telling the world there is a side of us that feels it is better than other people, that others owe us this or that because we are SO cool, that we know better, that we are smarter, that we own a thesaurus, that we read some business guru and bought into the hype, that we can write complicated sentences, etc. You get the point.

What we’re not doing is helping to promote professionalism in translation or in any way earning other people’s respect. One could argue respect is a given. It’s not something you earn. Perhaps in everyday life that is true. We say “please” and “thank you” to absolute strangers on a daily basis out of respect and those are givens. But the kind of respect that comes with placing value on a person at a professional level, with wanting to pay their fees and to accept their terms and conditions are not givens. Professional respect is earned. You don’t respect your doctor’s professional opinion simply because he or she wears a white coat and has a stethoscope around their neck, you respect their professional opinion once they have proven to be qualified, reliable professionals who know their stuff. So why should translation be any different?