Reading the Khaleej Times today here in Abu Dhabi, I learned of the birth of the first-ever cloned camel (it was front-page news). Named Injaz, which in Arabic means “achievement,” it made me think that while you may be able to achieve a cloned camel, you can’t always clone knowledge, and that sometimes clients, like camels, can be stubborn.
Ok, maybe a bit of a stretch, but I was thinking about this because my client asked me to ignore a common rule of English-language grammar that would have in turn introduced an error throughout a long document over which I am responsible.
This situation is by no means sui generis to this client, who has otherwise been (and I’m not just saying this) incredibly pleasant and easy to work with. Clients will often ask that we go against the grammatical grain: don’t hyphenate compound modifiers, capitalize words to lend them importance, use a comma where no comma is required. Letting the client know they’re wrong without insulting them and without coming off like a snooty, snotty, prissy, uptight jerk takes tact and diplomacy. I don’t argue in these situations, but I don’t just go along to get along either – and neither should you (after all, aren’t clients paying us for our expertise?).
In this case I wrote an e-mail to all those concerned (and a few unconcerned in an effort to cover my derriere), saying “I’d be remiss in my duties as writer and editor if I did not point out…” but that of course “I’ll follow your lead and make the requested change if that’s what you decide.” I also wrote that “to people who know the rules of English-language grammar, this will appear as a mistake.” Another favorite all-purpose phrase of mine in these situations is “let me play devil’s advocate.” It’s a polite way of disagreeing without raising anyone’s hackles or insecurities.
In the end, it was decided to be grammatically correct - a hump in the road to success both the client and I had to get over together. As for little six-day-old Injaz, she’s error-free and doing fine.