Editors at Work: Don’t Let Them Give You the Stuffed Monkey

By Jack Limpert

While learning to be an editor, one of the mistakes I made was letting writers and editors come into my office, tell me about an editorial problem, and then leave. I thought that’s what editors did—fix problems.

Then I read that letting people hand you a problem and walk away is one of the most common mistakes managers make. The author likened it to letting someone bring a stuffed monkey into your office and leaving it on your desk. I then had small kids so I brought in a small stuffed animal and put it on a shelf in my office as a reminder to not let people just hand you a problem and leave.

The way to handle the situation, of course, is to ask, after the problem is presented to you, “What do you think we should do?”Asking that question means we both now own the problem and together we have to work to fix it.

It seems simple but it took time to learn to do it. Before long most people knew they’d be asked the “What do you think we should do?” question.

I also tried to convey—suppressing any homicidal thoughts—that I appreciated their letting me know about the problem. Better that you know about potential trouble early than to be surprised later by a letter from a lawyer.
For more on how to not let being an editor drive you crazy, here’s a post about what an editor can learn from the legendary Ben Bradlee.



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