I think verbal online attacks feel worse because you don’t really get a sense of argument or discussion, as much as you do when you can see a person in real life and talk to them calmly. In real life, discussions usually tend to go both ways, there’s a back and forth, and almost always people can come to some sort of agreement or middle ground. Online though, it feels like people have their minds made up from the start, and since everything that’s said is permanent, they need to defend their point of view to such extremes that there’s no budging on anything, to not run the risk of looking like the “loser” in the written discussion.
As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview Sean Patrick Hopwood, President and CEO of Day Translations, Inc.. Sean decided to set up Day Translations, Inc. in 2007 because, he strongly believed a new company with a different vision could better approach the language needs of individuals and corporations throughout the world. He always knew that he wanted to start his own business and work towards his dream of promoting world peace through education, tolerance and cultural awareness, and he finally had the courage to do it alone. Day Translations is named after Sean’s grandfather, Francis Day, who was an inspiration to him and his family, and one of the people who most influenced his life and personality. As an ex-marine officer, his grandfather was a disciplined man and instilled values in Mr. Hopwood that he still adheres to today: hard work, professionalism, formality and respect. The Day name continues to motivate Sean and his legacy lives on in his company’s work ethics, core values and everyday initiatives.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Sean! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
It seems like everything that I’ve done in my life has led me to build Day Translations. Everything that has happened to me has prepared me to build an international language company.
My passion for languages started when I was five or six years old. I lived in a neighbourhood with a lot of Spanish speakers, and I wanted to understand everything they said. One time a little kid told me I was loco and I said “Are you calling me crazy?” That was the first interpretation I ever did in my life.
From that point on, I became obsessed with languages. All throughout high school I studied Spanish and French, and in college I studied Arabic as well. I also tutored Korean students in English.
After I graduated college, I became an interpreter at a law firm for these languages, and after my MBA, it was inevitable. I knew I was going to work with languages.
I started Day Translations in 2007, and the rest is history. We offer translation services, certified translation services, interpreting services and localization services for any industry, and companies of any size.
People seem to find this very strange, but I love watching foreign films, spoken in languages I don’t understand and without subtitles. I guess it is a little strange, but I absolutely love picking up on subtleties, body gestures and social cues.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There was a woman from Canada that had travelled to the Galapagos islands and fell in love with a snorkeling instructor from there. She asked us to translate all the love letters she would send him throughout the following year, and the responses she got back from him.
This went on for about a year and a half, and I believe they met again after that. She was very grateful for the service we had provided her, because even if she was a small client, we treated her the same way we would treat anyone representing a big company.
This is something that I firmly believe in. We treat all our clients, no matter if they’re from Fortune 100 companies or looking for help with a personal matter, exactly the same.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started, there was a client that owed us $700. He kept saying that he would pay, but months went by, the work had been done, and he wouldn’t pay. After many rejected calls, I suited up and went to his place to ask him to please pay us. At that time, Day Translations was just me and two other employees.
It turned out that he was a disabled US veteran, which made me feel terrible. He told me he had been having a hard time lately, but he ended up writing me a check. We had a pleasant conversation after that.
Even though that went well, I would never do this today. From that point on, I decided to establish a Payment Collection team for this sort of situations.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We just launched our full suite of international marketing services: we work on everything from global web design, to multilingual social media management, ppc advertising and SEO optimization. We provide companies the full suite of digital marketing services to target any market, no matter the culture, no matter the language.
We’re also working on the Day Awards: a yearly event where we celebrate the projects, individuals, and tools that have taken the language industry by storm during the year. We’ll host the ceremony on our Youtube channel on September 30, 2019, to celebrate International Translation Day.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?
Managing a company is about balancing the happiness of the clients with the happiness of the employees, and one of the hardest things to do is to let go of an employee.
We had one language professional working for us that was difficult from the very beginning. When she was terminated, after we paid her what we owed her, she started attacking us on social media, and sending me private messages at all moments of the day and night. This went on for about three months. I never involved the law or the police, I just kept asking her to stop until eventually she did.
Working with people from all over the world can be a blessing, but sometimes that can cause these problems because you don’t get to meet the person beforehand.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
My employees are a huge support system for me. They help me put things into perspective, they know how to do that. This hadn’t happened before, but as we keep growing, we expect that it will. I’m also trying to share my personal profile as a businessman, so I know that this sort of situations might come up in the future.
The best advice I can give for shaking off hateful comments and situations like this, is turning frustration into motivation to keep growing.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
Not really. I try to keep my opinions to myself, as much as possible. I feel like the internet has turned into a very divisive place as of late, and people expect everyone to have an opinion about everything so they can put you in either one box or the other. And since, for most topics, I don’t consider myself to be on either box, I prefer to remain quiet.
When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?
There are two components to the feeling one gets, I think: first, the initial shock reaction that comes when seeing that somebody that you don’t know took the time to personally write down something mean about you or your team can be disconcerting and painful.
And I think the second reaction comes immediately after, when one tries to understand what the other person means when he or she writes such comments. Do they have a point? What made them this upset? How can we remedy this situation?
Lately, I’ve been working hard on getting to the second reaction sooner, instead of staying in the painful stage of feeling attacked, because the truth is, when we get shocked like that, we get paralized, and in that state, there’s nothing we can really do or control. In that sort of situation, I try to take control much faster, almost automatically, instead of dwelling on the painful feelings it might have generated.
Do you think a verbal online attack feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
I think verbal online attacks feel worse because you don’t really get a sense of argument or discussion, as much as you do when you can see a person in real life and talk to them calmly.
In real life, discussions usually tend to go both ways, there’s a back and forth, and almost always people can come to some sort of agreement or middle ground. Online though, it feels like people have their minds made up from the start, and since everything that’s said is permanent, they need to defend their point of view to such extremes that there’s no budging on anything, to not run the risk of looking like the “loser” in the written discussion.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
I think it depends on the situation, but typically, positive comments are more common than negative ones, so it’s silly to get stuck on a single negative comment. However, I know some brands have experienced major problems because of online attacks, because the digital “word of mouth” spreads so fast.
The rule for me is to always show that you’re working on fixing things, rather than defending yourself with vague statements. Understand what people are going through, empathize with their situation, and do what you can to fix it, and show how you’re doing it.
Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?
The first reason why I think this happens is that there are no real consequences to one’s actions on social media. You can virtually say anything, and it’s very rare that the social media platforms will punish you for it.
The second reason is the anonymity of it. You don’t have to be yourself on social media, you can be whoever you want. You can even pretend to be someone else, which adds up to the “no consequences” reason I mentioned before. If there’s nobody to blame for something, then people feel like they can say absolutely anything.
And the third reason why people are meaner online, I think, is because it’s trendy. It’s cool to be mean and polarizing, and a provocateur.
If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?
- Don’t overthink written words. Besides the fact that some people really are meaner online, sometimes we make them out to be. Some people simply don’t know how to express themselves through written words the same way they do in person. Some comments online might appear cold, but they are actually far from it.
- Consider the possibility that social media gives us. Social media can be a wonderful place, and I believe that’s what the initial goal of most platforms is: to be a place of encounter, to meet people with your interests that you wouldn’t be able to meet otherwise. We might find some mean people here and there, but the truth of the matter is, those are the exception rather than the rule.
- Be empathetic. Ask yourself: What is this person’s comment trying to tell me? Do they have a real argument behind it, or are they just trying to get a reaction out of me? If it’s the first, try to be empathetic. Consider this person’s background and context. And if it’s the second, then simply realize that if somebody took the time to write something mean without any real reason behind it, then this person’s life must be pretty dull to begin with.
- Kill them with kindness. As far as your response goes, I don’t think there’s anything more empowering than being extremely nice to somebody that clearly wants to get a reaction out of you. This might make them even angrier, but it will put you in a poised position of being the “bigger man” in the situation.
- It’s cool to be nice. I often wonder what would happen if it suddenly became cool to treat people nicely. What would happen if we acted so confident in our kindness that others started imitating it, and social platforms just became a place of complete understanding and encouragement?
Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?
I believe that free speech is important, but there comes a point where we need to be careful that it doesn’t become damaging to others.
Social Media should allow us to express ourselves freely up until the point it disturbs the rights of other people. This is the point where companies need to intervene and control that this doesn’t happen.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
When signing up for any of these platforms, besides signing the Terms of Agreement, I think we should state more clearly that these are culturally diverse places, and that by deciding to join in, you accept to respect absolutely everyone, regardless of sex, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, etcetera. This should be made abundantly clear, and with the use of algorithms, we should be able to detect when these agreement is violated, and take action.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My grandfather was the inspiration behind Day Translations, and he shared with me the quote that I live by today. He said to me: “You are looking at one star when you could have the whole galaxy.”
I will never forget this quote. It does not only represent ambition for me, but perspective. Sometimes we get so focused on one issue, on one challenge we are facing, that we forget about what truly matters. But if we take a step back, if we’re able to see the big picture, we realize that the problem might not even be a problem at all, and just a minor star in a whole galaxy.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Jack Ma. I admire him so much — he’s incredibly humble and speaks very publicly about his own mistakes and the adversities he faced in his bumpy road towards success with his company. I think he’s brilliant and genuine as a human being.
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Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!