The Art of Not Offending People


At all stages of your career and life there is always the reality you are going to offend somebody. And you won’t even be aware you’ve done it until they stop responding to you. That’s when you have to start retracing your steps and asking yourself at what point did you put your foot in it.

Yes creative people are more sensitive than others, so in this industry sometimes it feels like all you’ve got to do is look at somebody the wrong way, and feelings have been hurt or someone is annoyed. But often there are a few commonalities to the situation and where feelings get hurt the most is when you are asking for advice and favors – most particularly when you are unaware of someone’s credentials.

Sometimes we ask too much, sometimes we think we have a friendlier relationship than we do and take liberties we might not otherwise. And sometimes we go back to the same trough one too many times because our colleague is the best bet we’ve got. Particularly if you’re just starting out or in a new city we tend to glom on to the friendliest person we can find because they feel like a life raft in an otherwise turbulent sea.

The thing to realize is you’re taking up somebody’s time, skill set, energy and patience when you’re asking for something. Professionals get paid for their time. Yes it’s hard when you don’t have a lot of money to throw around but a gift card can go a long way or the offer to hire the person as a consultant and pay them an hourly fee if you are in fact taking up that much of their time.

When things just aren’t one sided and people know you recognize and acknowledge their value and opinions, you will have a much healthier relationship. Sometimes saying thank you just isn’t enough.

So be aware of what you’re asking and how much you’re asking. Be sensitive to when you could be over stepping a line and take a step back and re-evaluate. The last thing you want to do is burn a bridge with somebody you really like and respect, because you’ve stepped on their toe without realizing it.

And going further with not understanding someone’s credentials I would also say be fully aware of who you are talking to and do your homework. If their CV isn’t publicly available on a site like LinkedIn or IMDB ask them about their background. Often when we don’t know their history we tend to overlook them as potential partners, or people we could hire in the future when the opportunity arises.

I came across this recently where I realized I was asking someone for recommendations on people who had made family films because I was looking for a partner, and then it dawned on me for all I know this person has that in their background it’s just not evident on their public profiles….so I should have asked instead of hurting feelings, because it appeared I was not interested in working with them, when the exact opposite is true. I would jump at the chance if they had the history I was looking for and a bit of experience in an arena I’m still hoping to gain.

So approach it in the right way – not that you are being nosy – but that you are interested to know their history and what they’ve done so you know where and when you could use them if you find money to spend. Everybody is looking for a job! Don’t kid yourself. Nobody wants to be overlooked never mind after you’ve picked their brain half to death. Give consideration where consideration is due. One hand washes the other. If they are doing you favors do them a favor back and give them a credit on your project, or pay them whatever nominal fee you can afford. It’s the gesture that means everything!

This is an industry built on relationships and you have to do whatever you can do to maintain them. Relationships built on mutual trust and respect are sometimes hard to come by, but if you start your career with this in mind this is how you will continue through your career. People come first, the job second! Look after people and they will look after you. So do what you can to avoid offending people. Once it’s happened it’s hard to recover from.