My original plan was to write one Note to tackle Interpersonal Dynamics: Deaf Client; Hearing Client; and, your 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, micro-audism and the interpersonal dynamic that exists between the interpreter and the Deaf Client in previous Notes.
So let’s talk about the interpersonal dynamics between the interpreter and the hearing Client.
How do you, as the interpreter, relate to the other actors in the communication event?
The Hearing Client
Author Douglas Adams wrote a scene in his book Dirk Gentely’s Holistic Detective Agency wherein the reader is given insight into a horse’s opinions on its rider. The author clearly states that it is not a super-intelligent horse or magical in any way. This handsome but quite normal horse formed opinions about its rider because:
It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion on them.
But, the author also observes:
On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.
What’s the point?
People who are Deaf tend to know a great deal about hearing people. However, most hearing people have no idea what it actually means to be Deaf in a hearing world.
That, of course, has never stopped any hearing person from expressing an opinion on the matter. I have heard hearing people expound at length on how, if they were Deaf, they would be “too self-sufficient to demand that someone else provide [them] an interpreter.” (That is an actual quote from an office manager at a medical clinic).
Against my better judgement, because you can’t fix the arrogance of privilege, I responded by quoting the first stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s poem Padgett M.P.
The toad beneath the harrow knows exactly where each tooth-point goes,
But the butterfly upon the road preaches contentment to that toad.
I don’t think she got it.
It is easy for one removed from the struggle to advise quiet acceptance to those who live the struggle every day (by the way, find the poem I quoted. It’s a fantastic exploration of watching someone who loudly expresses an opinion, on a topic about which they know nothing, becoming “educated”).
As a hearing person who has lived, worked and studied the Language and Culture of people who are Deaf, I can safely say that I don’t understand the experience of a person who is Deaf navigating a hearing world day in and day out. I never will.
But, I do know how to interpret between a person who is Deaf and a person who is hearing. I can say without fear of contradiction or false aggrandizement that I am an expert in that area. I can and will speak to hearing Clients with authority about what I, as the expert on communication in the room, need in order to do my job.
I’m not shy about advocating for the things I need in order to do my job (affording effective communication) And I am always professional about it.
It is important to clearly explain what I mean by being “professional.”
I always begin very politely, but, I am direct.
I am clear.
I am firm.
If needed I will be blunt.
But always polite, unless the situation calls on me not to be.
Make no mistake, there is a place for directness to a level that some may mistake for rudeness within the definition of professional discourse.
My measure for when it is time to move past blunt is when a lay person, who knows nothing about my job (outside their uninformed assumptions), attempts to “correct” me on how to do my job (specifically when they assume incorrectly).
I first attempt to educate, then to explain, but, if needed, I will correct their erroneous assumptions without negotiation.
Let me emphasize that again. Never forget that as an interpreter you are the expert regarding interpreting. That is why you are there; they called an expert to facilitate communication because they could not do it without your expertise.
That is the purview of the person who is Deaf.
Definitely defer to the person who is Deaf.
Anything regarding the process of interpreting is the area of expertise of the interpreter (If you are working with a CDI, and I hope you have had the benefit of that experience, it is amazing, then defer to the CDI). If (when) the hearing Client tries to insert themselves into your area of expertise handle it as the professional you are.
As I’ve said, “professional” doesn’t always mean the same thing as “polite.”
“Respectful” doesn’t always mean the same thing as being “deferential.”
On one occasion for example I had to educate a nurse who kept telling me how to do my job. I went through the steps I listed above, but to no avail. She just kept giving me orders, to the point that it was becoming impossible for me to do my job.
No one prevents me from doing my job.
My job is too important to allow that. So I finally said:
“I think see the problem here. You mistakenly believe that I work for you. Let me assure you, I do not. I’m an independent contractor that the hospital hired for my expertise. If there is an immediate medical emergency I will defer to your expertise, but, right now I have a job to do. You are interfering with my ability to do that job. That will stop.”
And it did.
In the end just keep in mind that the hearing people who hire you tend to come in two types: Those who know how to rely on experts to do the jobs they need done but don’t know how to do themselves, and those who assume that they are naturally an expert in all things and feel the need to direct the work of everyone else.
If you want to reduce problems and arguments during assignments you need to speak and act as the expert you are. Ninety percent of real problems that come up during appointments happen because we didn’t speak up when we felt like we should. The other ten percent happen because we say too much. There is a fine line between professional self-advocacy and arrogance. I find that line lies at the border of “this is what must happen to do my job” and “listen to how much I know.” Finding that line is both a science and an art. Staying on the right side of it is an imperative.
The key for me is asking myself a simple question. “Am I stating clearly to this hearing person what I need to do my job or I’m I arguing with a jerk.”
Never argue with a jerk, even if the jerk obviously wants to argue with you. You don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to.
Be clear, be direct, be professional and when in doubt remember Rule 8!