Friday, September 07, 2012

The Importance of Being Frank

With great power comes great responsibility. Or, something like that. As a tutor, I have a certain amount of power over the tutee, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m here to help them, as long as they’re willing to work with me. Unfortunately, the very fact that they’re in an unfamiliar situation is enough to turn even the coolest of people into a nervous wreck. Things are compounded by the fact that people are often self-conscious about their writing. Even the best of writers can have a difficult time showing their hard work to someone else, especially if what they’ve written has some personal meaning. A ton of papers that come through the Writing Center are based on emotional experiences or on topics that people feel very strongly about. And, as a tutor, I’m in the unique position of being the guy who gets to critique their emotional output. The last thing I need to do is offend someone who’s already on edge by saying the wrong thing about their paper.

Having observed a smattering of sessions already, as well as having been tutored myself, I can honestly say I’m not nervous. What I’m most concerned about is my natural tendency to come off as a lot more harsh than I mean to. I’m known for being blunt, with some people having even gone as far as to count it as a character flaw, calling me callous or rude. Personally, I’d say it stems from my preference for others to be frank with me and just tell it to me straight rather than spend all day trying to break it to my gently. I generally don’t have the patience required to deal with that. There’s also a common misconception that being blunt and being frank are the same thing, when in reality they’re totally different approaches. Both focus heavily on no-nonsense honesty, with the major difference between the two being the tone utilized. While being blunt isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, it generally has a more hostile tone to it, whereas being frank is considered to be more neutral. And, in a situation where I’m giving someone advice on how to correct a mistake, I think frankness is the way to go. It lets the tutee know right off the bat that I’m on their side, but they’re going to have to listen if they want anything to get done. I’m not here to hand them the answers and my critique is there to help them learn, not just tear down their work. Everything is fair, and it’s entirely up to them whether or not they’re going to learn anything.

    Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of people out there who are going to walk into the writing center expecting to be coddled. They don’t want to know how to write, they want me to fix their paper so that they can pass. There’s not much I can do about these kinds of people, seeing as how it’s not my job to write their paper for them. And, odds are they’ll stay stuck in the mindset that they walked in the door with. If anything, I’m nervous about running into someone like that who will confuse my frankness for belligerence or, worse yet, ends up completely offended because I managed to say something the wrong way. I’m definitely going to watch what I say for the first few sessions, just in case.  On top of that, I clearly need to brush up on my own writing a bit.


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