Check Yourself: 4 Steps to Write and Edit with Emotional Intelligence, Not "Ego"


Most of the potential clients I speak with want someone to help them make their writing better, but they don’t want to be made to feel like all their ideas are bad or that they must become fully dependent on an “expert.” The approach I take that allows me to draw from my experience and critical authority--and yet keep customer service at the forefront--is to approach writing and editing services with emotional intelligence. These four guidelines help me respect the client's goals and help her reach them, without my ego getting in the way.

1. Understand the client’s passion for her business and share it

I begin the process by asking open-ended questions and become personally invested in the client’s deepest reasons for offering her product or service. From this position of genuine care, I do my best work--in the same way that I write my best poems when I care the most about what I have to say. When the client understands that I feel what she feels and wants to express about her business, we establish a relationship of trust that allows us to work together in a way that is mutual.

2. Respect the writing she’s already done and be constructive

For instance, with my first client I understood that she and her brother had written the brochure she was using, along with her all her other content, and I was called in to help with a labor of love. In this editing process, I was finding the heart of her business and making sure that her powerful message is cultivated in every word of her communication. If an entire section was great, I didn’t change it just to prove a point. I praised it to her and used it to set the tone for what I added to keep the essence of her voice.

3. Editing is a process, so be open to multiple revisions before you get it right

Being a good editor also means owning it when I am wrong. I recently sent a business letter draft to a client, and when I woke up the next day, I felt like the metaphor I used was accurate, but off-beat, relative to their audience and goals. I opened my email and found that the client also questioned the metaphor, and I quickly drafted more inviting language and told them they were right, and that I felt the same way. I was not defensive. It’s tough to admit I was wrong even to myself, much less to a client, but it’s necessary, and showing that vulnerability and commitment to doing the best work and willingness to revise is what makes my editing style about encouraging creativity and dialogue.

4. Pay it forward and be a good receiver of editorial review

I recently sent a course proposal for a poetry writing workshop to Writespace, and I spent a few hours on it, but the organizer came back and gave me some edits. I could have been defensive; after all, I was invited to submit. Just as is true with my clients, sometimes it’s hard to do my best, objective writing with subjects closest to me. This was my dissertation topic! I saw that the criticism reflected the one nagging concern I had, which was not being certain “who” my audience was. My draft was too technical--the very thing I help my clients with. So, I wrote back and thanked them for the input and approved the revision, grateful for their specialist attention. They were shocked that I took the feedback so well, but when we all have the same common goal it’s not about being right, it’s about getting it right.

How do you approach your writers and editors? Have you had a bad experience with someone who was emotionally deaf? Have you noticed a difference in your business dealings when you put your emotional intelligence ahead of your ego?