A colleague referred me to a client who was in a bind—he needed to make substantial changes to a journal article profiling his Silicon Valley-based company, and had to submit them by the following morning. I was already scrambling to get assignments completed before heading out of town, but this client had no other options, so I agreed to help.
Unbeknownst to me, this piece wasn't written for the general public, but rather high tech professionals in India and focused on the latest advancements in multi-platform artificial intelligence. Oh my. Normally I'd confess that this esoteric content was not exactly my bailiwick, but in this case, there was no time to find someone who was more well-suited to the task.
Initially, my client wanted me to rewrite the piece entirely. I could feel my heart racing. How could I revise a piece I hardly understood—in just a few hours? In an effort to find a viable solution, I decided to slow down, ask some open-ended questions, and simply listen.
As I listened, I discovered that my client wasn't actually as concerned about reworking the technical aspects of this article as the personal ones—he felt misunderstood and misquoted, and wanted to portray himself and his company more accurately. Plus, he simply wanted the piece to read more smoothly. These things I could tackle!
Had I rushed into the project due to time pressure without communicating effectively, it would've been a disaster, especially since there was little time for me to get up to speed with the technical content. Taking a breath and asking a few key questions proved transformative. This process allowed me to step back and discern what my client was ultimately seeking.
In the end, what mattered most was that I took the time to listen, enabling me to refresh the piece into one that reflected my client's mission, accomplishments, and story the way he wanted it told. His last message to me? "Thank you once again. I will touch base with you on the next project."
Elisse Gabriel is a Bay Area–based writer, editor, and consultant with more than 20 years' experience working with corporations, startups, retailers, schools, nonprofits, and solopreneurs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.