Early on in my career, I was working primarily in social media as a copywriter. I’d work with my team to come up with concepts and copy for content calendars that needed to be delivered for the month ahead.
The agency I worked at was your typical open floor office space filled with young people, myself included. I sat across from my art director, and next to us were two strategists who interfaced directly with clients. With no official creative director overseeing our work, we had full reign of our ideas, and luckily, clients who were all for experimenting and pushing the envelope.
A few weeks into a project, I noticed that the copy I wrote kept changing. I’d write one thing, and see something else pop up on Twitter and Facebook. I had a sneaking suspicion what had happened, as the tone of the new copy very much matched the way one of the strategists talked and wrote.
But I was less than a year in, and this strategist was a veteran and well-beloved by our superiors at the agency. I didn’t know if they’d actually changed my copy, and maybe it wasn’t a big deal anyway. Clearly their copy had been approved by the client. Maybe theirs was better, and I wasn’t going to fuss over that.
Basically, I didn’t want to start shit.
So I kept quiet as we continued working together, joking and chumming it up like nothing was wrong.
The more I let things simmer, though, the more betrayed and resentful I felt. I finally confessed how I felt to a friend, and they encouraged me to speak up in a way that didn’t accuse the strategist. Script in mind, I went to work the next day to confront my teammate.
“Hey! I had a question about the copy on Twitter.”
“Yeah! Your copy is great! What’s up?”
“About that… I’ve noticed sometimes it looks totally different from what I sent you. Do you know what happened?”
“Oh! Yeah… sometimes I just tweak it because I know what the client’s looking for. And I don’t want to bother you for such small changes.”
At this point, I was angry and shocked that my suspicions were correct. But I managed to keep my cool even as my face reddened from the embarrassment of having to ask a peer to let me do my job.
“I appreciate that. But if I don’t know about these changes, then I can’t improve as a writer. Could you give me that feedback in the future so I can be the one to make changes to my writing?”
The strategist was probably redder than me at this point. And that made me feel better that they knew they’d stepped out of line. Nodding quickly at me, they agreed. And like that, the confrontation was over.
For some people, standing up to someone when we’re clearly in the right is a no-brainer. For me, it was terrifying. I was constantly questioning if I should say something or let it slide. I didn’t want to offend someone else. If they were so good at their job, then maybe little changes here and there weren’t a big deal.
These were the arguments against speaking up that I wrestled with. On the other hand, my feelings were in full “Aww hellllll no” mode, and that was an important part of me to listen to as well. I’m glad I chose to acknowledge my feelings.
As scary as it was, coming out of the confrontation unscathed showed me that things were fine on the other side. Better yet, my colleague probably respected me more and would think twice before taking over another writer’s work.
I’ve stumbled through other work confrontations since then. Doing them has helped with situations in my personal life as well! Some are easier to get through than others, but in the end I’m always glad I said something.
Seeing it less as “starting shit” helped too. We’re just… clearing the air! Or making sure. Checking in. Following up! Or in the case with the strategist, asking a question.