My original plan was to write one Note to tackle Interpersonal Dynamics: Deaf Client; Hearing Client; and, Team. But there is a lot to unpack in all these topics! So much that I split it into three.
I get calls and emails and texts (oh my) weekly-all asking the same question:
“What would you do if…”.
The details tend to diverge at that point, but the idea is the same.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do?
I addressed ethics and micro-audism in previous Notes. So let’s talk about interpersonal dynamics.
How do you, as the interpreter, relate to the other actors in the communication event?
The Deaf Client
There are all kinds of discussions to be had on this topic but the most interesting question I have been asked recently is:
What do I do if the Deaf Client doesn’t seem to like me?
The short answer to this is, “your job.”
Do your job and do it damn well. You are not the hearing world hospitality coordinator. There is no requirement that the Deaf Client likes you.
That thought is often WAY too much for some interpreters to handle. The idea that-gasp-someone may not like you plagues some interpreters to the point of eyes-wide-open-in-the-middle-of-the-night distraction. But here is the hard truth, nobody has to like you all the time, not your significant other, not your mother, not a stranger on the street and certainly not the Deaf Client.
The Deaf Client does not have to like you. They just have to trust your skills.
I have discussed this before so I ask you to indulge my saying this again, but it is important. There is a level of ambivalence that always exist between the Deaf Client and the interpreter. This cognitive dissonance is factory installed in the Interpreter/Deaf Client interpersonal dynamic.
Deaf Clients, no matter what relationship they may have with you as a person, tend to greet your work with both appreciation and frustration (it is entirely possible to hold two varied feelings about the same thing with no contradiction). In other words, it’s fine to feel conflicted without any conflict.
Why? Well. Think of it this way:
Imagine that, in order to breathe, you must employ the services of a person who touches the end of your nose, a person who is specifically trained and endorsed to do so-a Certified Nose Toucher.
Now, it may not be that you can’t breathe without the CNT, but in order to breathe effectively, and specifically at times of stress or when breathing effectively is vital, the services of a professional, certified “Nose Toucher” is needed (can’t do it for yourself, oh and you have horrible memories of the education system trying to teach you to touch your nose with your elbow, and everyone seems to have a suggestion of installing dubious microchips in your nose, but I digress).
So, how would you feel toward the “Nose Toucher?”
You would of course appreciate the CNT each and every time you took a clear and effective breath. But, you would also resent the fact that you had to depend on this other person for something so basic as breathing, resent that the world, as it is, forces this reality.
You would surely be angry each time someone talked to the CNT instead of you, as if you were unable to think instead of breathe.
Out of necessity you will spend a great deal of time with a CNT and so you may develop a relationship of sorts-maybe outside of the realm of “nose touching.” That relationship may even develop into a friendship (but that can lead to problems of its own. A blurry line between friend and professional can be dangerous).
Of course sometimes you will be assigned a CNT that you just do not like. That’s a whole new level of frustration.
In the end no matter how much you appreciate the work of the professional, Certified, “Nose Toucher” and despite perhaps liking some of the CNTs, they are people you MUST be with, not people you choose to be with. Every time they do their job you are grateful for it and at the same time reminded of the fact that you are inescapably dependent on them.
Appreciation and frustration.
Sometimes the frustration wins and you want to go into the bathroom all alone-just accepting that you will choke. Sometimes you would rather just choke.
I have had newly certified former students mention in passing that a Deaf Client (don’t worry-I taught them not to mention names or details) left the appointment without saying goodbye or thank you.
“Did you get paid?” I ask.
“Then you’re fine. You can expect to get paid or get a thank you, you will sometimes get both, but you should never expect both.”
In the interests of full disclosure I did not come upon this zen attitude all at once or even overnight. I grew up with raging ADHD in an era where that was not well understood. I was tested in school over and over without conclusive results. It was finally determined that I was clinically obnoxious and they just went with it. I learned that many people were willing to remind me that I can be irritating.
But I’m not irritating or obnoxious. I’m funny, I’m excited and I’m interested in many things (often at the same time) they are irritated by me and I am under no obligation to change me-but I should change my behavior in situations where it would not be appropriate to be… well… too much like me (but again, I digress).
There are many Deaf Clients who request me but I know for a fact don’t like me. They request the skills not the person.
On the other hand I have shown up to appointments to interpret for friends who are Deaf and been told, “not you, not today.”
I know that there are a thousand possible reasons that this Deaf Client wants an interpreter other than me for this appointment, and, luckily, every single one of these reasons is none of my business.
In the end it doesn’t matter in the slightest who you and this person who is Deaf are to each other out in the world, friend or foe or neutral, in here you are the Interpreter they are the Client and the dynamic needs be no more complicated than that.