I exchanged messages recently with someone I had not communicated with for a few years. Between the last time we talked and the recent message, I had started working at my current job. The person I was talking to asked how my job was going.
“I had a whole other career prior to this, so I appreciate what I have,” is what I wrote.
“What do you know about your work now that you wish you’d known when you first started?”
After discussing my gratitude for my current job, I finished off the message with, “I appreciate the opportunities I have every day to learn something new.” It’s true.
One thing I have learned to do a little bit better than when I started editing full-time after a career in health policy (followed by a few years of caregiving) is the art of asking questions.
Asking questions the wrong way (or with the wrong timing) can a) waste people’s time (including mine) and b) harm relationships.
At first, I didn’t take a moment to think first, ask second. Sometimes, the question I have is right, but there are other editorial options that will eliminate the need to ask.
I once got into an interaction with a colleague over a piece of content we both had a hand in editing. The discussion was about whether to use the term “student with autism” or “autistic student.” The colleague had strong opinions for very good reasons. I did too.
I started a discussion about the sentences we had a shared responsibility for.
Essentially, the response was a mini-lecture that implied I didn’t have sufficient background or knowledge to weigh in. This was a problem because I have been involved in autism advocacy for a very long time and would never in a million years intentionally choose language that minimized anyone in the autism community. (Note: Here’s one important piece of writing on the topic of language around autism.)
There’s a certain kind of demoralization that happens when you’re working remote and have a conversation over Slack that doesn’t end well. It’s one thing to have a tense email conversation with someone who is down the hall from you, someone you’ll probably bump into at the coffee machine or a meeting later that week. It’s another to do so with someone you have never met face-to-face, who you may never meet face-to-face. I hate it, and if I can learn to calibrate the content and timing of my questions better, my mental health and I are here for it!
I could have, if I had taken a moment to think it through first, revised the sentence in a way that made it still work while eliminating the need for the question through creative and intelligent use of grammar.
I asked first and thought later. The reverse would have definitely saved both of us time and avoided an interaction that led to more questions than it answered.