Note from Uncle Dale: What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do?: Interpersonal Dynamics-Hearing Client

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.

Culture?

That is the purview of the person who is Deaf.

Language?

Definitely defer to the person who is Deaf.

But.

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!

https://uncledalesrulesforinterpreters.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/rule-8/

Note from Uncle Dale: The Wheel? I’m Pretty Sure That’s Already Been Invented.

Hello! It feels good to be back and typing furiously with my thumbs!

I love working with teams. I always learn something by watching how another interpreter handles tricky linguistic issues or does the simple things better.

There is no such thing as plagiarism when it comes to interpreting. No interpreter has a copyright on a great way to interpret “that” no matter what “that” is. If you see something you can use then collect it for your toolbox and use it when you need it.

Stop looking at other interpreters and wishing you had the skills that he or she has. Figure out what they are doing, that you wish you were doing, and start trying to incorporate what you observe into your own work.

“It’s that simple,” you ask?

Well, yes. And no.

It’s as simple as opening your eyes and ears and mind. But, so many things block our ability to observe and incorporate breakthrough skills we see into our own work.

Number one barrier? Petty jealousy.

As I get older I have to admit more and more that the next generation of interpreters will be better at this than I could ever have hoped to be in my lifetime.

And that is a great thing. They should be better. Their skills and abilities should pass me by. That each generation of interpreters accomplishes more than the previous is good for the Deaf community and good for the profession.

It’s also to be expected because they have something to help them develop their skills that I never had. They have me.

I don’t mean me personally (though I try to do my share in the classroom) I mean they have the wealth of understanding contained within collective experience of my generation like I had the benefit of the giants who came before me. The next generation should build from the beginning on the solid foundation of the mistakes that taught me and crafted me into the interpreter I am today. They should not need to make the same mistakes I made to learn the same lessons I learned (though that is sometimes unavoidable). They should start above the noise and confusion by standing on my shoulders. This leaves them open to learn their own lessons, deeper mysteries of language and culture that I never got to because I was dealing with the lessons this profession had for my generation.

I have grown used to being the one who dazzled by reason the ease with which I handle difficult concepts. It is sometimes hard for me to admit that this young interpreter has produced a more clear concise interpretation than I.

It’s hard to admit that I still have things to learn. And harder to admit that this kid has something to teach me.

But that is the beauty of this profession, if we are willing to learn there is always something we can learn.

Our best resource is the Deaf community. If I have one lesson to pass on to working interpreters it’s this-prosody.

Take every opportunity to observe how people who are Deaf make themselves understood. How do they indicate the beginning of a new idea? How do native ASL users show the end of an idea? I’m not talking about grammar or vocabulary, I’m talking about dynamic functional punctuation.

When we look and really see how people who are Deaf transition between ideas or indicate turn taking or emphasize a point or refer back to a past idea… any myriad of structural linguistic guides that they produce with subtle shifts and facial expressions so naturally that these markers are almost imperceptible in flow of communication, but without which there would be no flow of communication, we quickly see how ham fisted and awkward our attempts to accomplish the same thing using crass signs are.

It’s art.

It’s beautiful.

The economy of movement is inspiring. A native user can often accomplish with a nose wrinkle a meaning takes an interpreter 5-7 signs to produce in equity.

If we look and really see the structural perfection of it all we cannot help but say, “why aren’t I doing that? I should be doing that!”

And we can do “that.” We can do “that” if we are willing to see, process what we’ve seen and incorporate it into our work through applied practice.

There are always lessons to learn. There are always opportunities to be better at what we do, if we are willing to be taught.

Rule 750

When the phone rings at 1am and you know you are working a 8am, kiss your significant other and your bed goodbye, tell them both how much you will miss them, and remind yourself that you are doing a job you love and you will see both of them again… eventually.

Rule 748

Solid truth at a panel discussion in my class.

Question: Do you like interpreters?

Deaf Consumer’s Answer: I generally I like all the interpreters I work with.

Q: Do you trust interpreters?

DCA: (grin) Which interpreter?

Note from Uncle Dale: Dear Interpreting Student (RID Views, Fall 2019)

One of my favorite Notes!

https://rid.org/note-from-uncle-dale-views-fall-2019/

Denver Here Comes Uncle Dale!

This weekend I will be presenting at Colorado RID

I will give two workshops on Saturday:

Leaving Literal Translation Behind; and,

Ask Me Anything: Interpreting in Civil/Criminal Legal Settings

I will present Ask Me Anything: Interpreting in Civil/Criminal Legal Settings again on Sunday

(I may even try to look in on the student conference on Thursday 😋)

I am so very excited that CRID is partnering with DOVE for this conference. https://www.deafdove.org

I work with a sister organization, Sego Lily Center for Abused Deaf, here in Utah as often as I can. I cannot say enough good things about these organizations. They deserve our time and treasure and I am thrilled to do anything I can to support DOVE’s great work.

http://www.coloradorid.org/crid-conference-2019.html

Thank you for the invite CRID! Can’t wait to see you all there!

Rule 746

Interpreters sometimes get stuck in moments of error.

They set up a little research camp in that moment, and stay to more fully examine the mistake.

Sooner or later it requires permanent mental structures to house all the energy needed to roll the mistake over and over in your mind.

All the while the text has moved on and suddenly the interpreter realizes they are well and truly lost.

So they run after the text.

But don’t worry. They come back to the mistake on vacation, at about two-thirty the next morning, wide awake, in their bed.

But you don’t need to. Just remember this simple Rule:

If you’ve learned from a mistake you don’t need to dwell on it.

Rule 744

Don’t ask other interpreters questions you know they CAN’T answer:

“Are you here interpreting?”

“How did your appointment go?”

“Are you interpreting for (insert event, speaker or performer here)?”

Are there Deaf people here?

Have you ever interpreted for (name)?

Note from Uncle Dale: What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do?: Interpersonal Dynamics-Deaf Client.

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.

“Yes.”

“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.