Sign Language Interpreters and the “F” Word

December 8, 2015

Receiving feedback is as much an art as giving it. By crafting opportunities to receive feedback, sign language interpreters can begin to erase the negative connotations that often accompany the “F” word.

 

Several hours after a recent interpreting assignment, I received an email from my team interpreter that simply said, “Can we chat about today?” I had an immediate hunch that I was soon to receive feedback about my performance and, despite the year of study I’ve committed to better understanding accountability and the art of receiving feedback, I froze.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Thanks to Sheila Heen and Doug Stone,1 I had the tools to prepare me for this feedback conversation and so I found a spot to sit that was free of distraction and called my colleague. For the next half hour, we successfully navigated what could have been a stressful conversation. As it turns out, I behaved that day in ways that were off-putting, and though I’d like to believe these behaviors were unrecognizable to an outsider, what mattered was that all of them impacted how my colleague experienced the day.

Sign Language Interpreters and Accountability

As sign language interpreters and engaged citizens of the world, we have countless daily opportunities to both give and receive feedback, which means we also have countless opportunities to have conversations that are a success, that go awry, and that fall somewhere in between. Let’s pause for a moment. Can you recall the last time you:

  • worked with an interpreter whose product was not up to snuff;
  • associated with a colleague who didn’t walk the talk in her or his commitment to the Deaf community;
  • were booked to team an assignment with a colleague who is notoriously late; or
  • worked with someone whose behavioral decisions were a turn-off for Deaf and hearing people, and drew undue attention?

Turning the tables, what about the last time a colleague thought you were any of the above? I believe if we are all better prepared to try on ideas that may at first seem off-point, that we’ll develop a more nuanced capacity for empathy and learning, which will in turn make us more proficient practitioners.

Feedback: Challenge or Opportunity?

Feedback is certainly not always a challenge to receive. It “…includes any information you get about yourself. In the broadest sense, it’s how we learn about ourselves from our experiences and from other people — how we learn from life. … So feedback is not just what gets ranked; it’s what gets thanked, commented on, and invited back or dropped.”2 Because we’ll come into contact with solicited and unsolicited feedback every day, from colleagues and not, practicing the art of receiving it is a worthwhile investment for all.

The real leverage is creating pull.”3 

Yes, it’s true that if everyone was more adept at sharing feedback, then we may be able to devote less attention to the art of receiving it. One might make the case, however, that because feedback comes in many forms and from many different people, the only control we will have on how “appreciation (thanks), coaching (here’s a better way to do it), and evaluation (here’s where you stand)”4 are delivered is in how they are received (in other words, we have no control on how feedback is delivered). The giver can be as eloquent or offensive as they choose; it is the receiver who decides whether or not to listen to what is said, how to interpret it, and what to do with it.

Shifting the Feedback Dynamic

With this awareness, I’m hopeful that the sign language interpreting field can begin to shift the feedback dynamic. Instead of investing most of our energy in refining the art of giving feedback, let’s get on board with the receiver soliciting feedback and guiding its provision. In fact, seeking feedback, for better or worse, supports one’s job satisfaction and allows more creativity to solve problems more easily.5 With a job that has been deemed the most cognitively complex task of which humans are capable,6 it’s likely useful to free up some mental energy for problem-solving.

“Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity, and even when the feedback seems wrong, how to find insight that might help us grow. It’s also about how to stand up for who we are and how we see the world, and ask for what we need. It’s about how to learn from feedback—yes, even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood.”7

Let’s move forward together — toward a place where we are genuinely interested in being held accountable and one where we seek feedback of all sorts, so as to enrich the practice of interpreting across the profession.

Managing Relationship, Truth, and Identity Triggers

Despite one’s uneasiness at receiving honest observations about their work, actions, and the impact these have on others, it is possible to remain present during the course of any feedback conversation. It’s common to feel triggered into resistance and self-preservation when receiving feedback, but if you can be aware of the reason behind the trigger, it becomes a tool for engagement and inquiry. Heen and Stone outline three different types of triggers: relationship, truth, and identity.8 Your connection to and thoughts about the feedback giver, the truthfulness of the feedback content, and what you believe it says about you can all derail an opportunity for growth, but they can also be managed so as to optimize learning.

Heen and Stone offer eight strategies for managing truth, relationship, and identity triggers:

    1. Separate Appreciation, Coaching, and Evaluation9to ensure alignment of the giver’s intent and the receiver’s understanding;
    2. First Understand10to examine “how to interpret feedback—where it’s coming from, what it’s suggesting you do differently, and why you and the giver might disagree”11;
    3. See Your Blind Spots12to acknowledge that the challenges to seeing ourselves as we really are can be overcome, and develop the tools to do so;
    4. Don’t Switchtrack: Disentangle What from Who13to help you remain open to learning even when the feedback is poorly timed and delivered;
    5. Identify the Relationship System14because “understanding relationship systems helps you move past blame and into joint accountability, and talk productively about these challenging topics, even when the other person thinks this feedback party is all about you”15;
    6. Learn How Wiring and Temperament Affect Your Story16to more fully appreciate why our emotional responses to feedback vary so greatly and why we recover from it in different ways as well;
    7. Dismantle Distortions17to unpack the feedback we receive and, absent of our emotionally-laden framing, understand what it actually means; and
    8. Cultivate a Growth Identity18for those who may hold back from seeking feedback, and because we connect with the world, each other, and ourselves differently, it is useful to “move from a vulnerable fixed identity to a robust growth identity that makes it easier to learn from feedback and experience.”19 

For the sake of word count and reader attention, I will not go any further into these strategies for this article. I will, however, elaborate more on each of these and their application for interpreters (and more) at the StreetLeverage – Live 2016 event in Fremont, CA.

Seeking Honest Feedback

In addition to the strategies briefly outlined above, Heen and Stone offer a question we can ask our colleagues, friends, and other loved ones. If we are truly invested in bettering ourselves and shaping our interactions with people who work with us, we can ask this one question to solicit honest feedback: “What’s one thing you see me doing, or failing to do, that’s getting in my own way?” 20

The next time we’re with an interpreting colleague and/or another Deaf individual with whom we’re working, let’s ask them, “What am I doing that is inhibiting my language choices and production?”, “What am I doing that is getting in my way, in terms of my commitment to the Deaf community?”, “What am I doing that is leading others to say I’m notoriously late?”, “What am I doing – or failing to do – that’s drawing this undue attention from the Deaf and hearing individuals at today’s assignment?” or another question that helps us appreciate the way in which the world engages with us as compared with how we see ourselves engaging with the world. The more we ask this of one another, the more we will shift the way we look at feedback. I predict it will become less of a “four letter word” and more of an open and ongoing conversation that allows us to remain accountable to the Deaf community, one another, and ourselves.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Think back to some of your most successful feedback sessions as an interpreter. What were the conditions that contributed to their success?
  2. What were some of the conditions that contribute to less successful feedback sessions and how might you change those conditions in the future?
  3. How can sign language interpreters support and promote honest dialogue in our local communities based on the model presented here?

Related Posts:

Accountability: A First Step to Harmony Among Sign Language Interpreters? by Sabrina Smith

Vulnerability: A Collaboration Killer for Sign Language Interpreters by Laura Wickless

What Role Does Civility Play in the Sign Language Interpreting Profession by Carolyn Ball

References:

1Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood). Penguin Group USA.

2Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014a). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 4). Penguin Group USA.

3Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014b). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

4Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014c). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 18). Penguin Group USA.

5Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014d). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

6Steiner, G. (1975). After Babel: Aspects of language and translation. New York: Oxford University Press.

7Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014e). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 6). Penguin Group USA.

8Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014f). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 16). Penguin Group USA.

9Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014g). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp. 29-45). Penguin Group USA.

10Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014i). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.46-76). Penguin Group USA.

11Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014h). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 28). Penguin Group USA.

12Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014j). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.77-101). Penguin Group USA.

13Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014k). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.102-122). Penguin Group USA.

14Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014m). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p.123-144). Penguin Group USA.

15Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014l). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 101). Penguin Group USA.

16Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014n). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p.147-164). Penguin Group USA.

17Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014o). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.165-182). Penguin Group USA.

18Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014q). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (pp.183-205). Penguin Group USA.

19Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014p). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 146). Penguin Group USA.

20Stone, D., & Heen, S. (2014r). Thanks for the feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood) (p. 258). Penguin Group USA.

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33 Comments on "Sign Language Interpreters and the “F” Word"

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Member

Don’t give me unsolicited advice. If I ask, then it means I trust you to give me a fair critique. And I do ask for feedback. And I know how to implement it. But let me ask you for help. Too many terps are disparaging just to make themselves look better. We are in a business that eats their young so I have to safeguard myself. What a shame.

Member
Terri Hayes
Kevin not all interpreters “eat their young”… (and not all interpreters “pander” to them either)… but unless we can figure out how to create a critical mass of support (without hipocracy)… you might do well to keep your safeguards intact. I do not give feedback. I work with interpreters (in a teaching/mentoring capacity and will give instruction – and feedback) but if we are working in a job – I do not give feedback. I try to be a good team… and I let my team do their job and if there is a mistake that needs fixing – I… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart
I’d like to see a drastic shift – one where being a good team means we’ll ask for our colleagues’ observations in a timely manner instead of biting our tongues or sitting on our hands. We’ll guide those conversations by remaining curious. I also envision a profession where the feedback we will know looks nothing like what we’re use to, because we will all take responsibility for seeking it. …Your point about not giving feedback made me think of some posts I’ve seen over the years on social media from members of the Deaf community asking us to step up… Read more »
Member
Thank you Jackie for an excellent article. You are absolutely right- WE are in control of which parts of the feedback we wish to receive and take on board. However I understand where Kevin is coming from- some interpreters have this notion that they have the right to ‘impose’ their feedback on colleagues. Ideally the individual concerned needs to be asked. I will not automatically provide video recorded evidence of my work to someone who just happens to ask for it (which I have been) I need to feel safe, comfortable and have the belief that what I will receive… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart

Mark, I agree that the openness is key and I would also take it further to say that the ideal we can co-create is, instead of the “giver” asking permission to provide feedback, the “receiver” seeks it in the first place. I wonder what you see as a difference in our (future) profession where we are all regular seekers/receivers?

Member

Thanks Jackie. I think through further reflective practice interpreters will feel more comfortable in seeking feedback which is certainly on the increase here in Melbourne Australia. Both Participation in RP groups and feedback seeking- this can only contribute to an increase in EI emotional intelligence, greater understanding of ourselves and others which will inevitably enhance the interpreting profession.

jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart

Do you have a sense of the “tipping point” with respect to RP groups and the growing interest? It occurs to me that participation in RP groups and seeking feedback may be a chicken/egg situation, whereby one is interested in further developing their craft when they are actively engaged in ongoing professional discussion and one who is engaged in an RP group may be so encouraged to seek feedback. How can we enter that cycle at any given point and/or is there a way to capture what’s moving things along over in Melbourne?

jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart
Kevin, did you see something in the article that supported the idea of “unsolicited advice”? I’d love to know more about what you’re seeing in what I wrote. I don’t intend to reinforce anything unsolicited, in fact I’m aiming for quite the opposite. My goal is that our professional culture will shift so that we’re all asking for observations, support, appreciation, coaching, and evaluation on a regular basis. When that shift becomes our reality, our colleagues won’t give any unsolicited advice (and we won’t need any safeguarding) because all forms of feedback will be solicited on a regular basis. What… Read more »
Member
Suzanne Terrio
I always say we interpreters have to be masters of communication theory, not only with our clients, but with each other. Read the old, but still relevant, softcover textbook, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, which shows a model of how communication succeeds or fails with one another. In summary, the theory is diagrammed as “parent/child/adult” interaction, regardless of who you are in reality. For ex, you are waiting a long time at a bus stop and the script can go either way: Child response: I’m waiting forever, this bus never comes! Parent response: Yeah, you poor thing, you re so patient… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart
Thanks so much for your post, Suzanne. To your last point about recognizing why the disharmony occurred, I couldn’t agree more and fortunately, the strategies that Heen and Stone explain help us do exactly that. It’s essential that both parties understand what is intended and what is coming across as they navigate any discussion about feedback. For several reasons, there are plenty of opportunities for the discussion to get off track, so it’s worth making the plan explicit in the beginning. That way, when either party pauses to check-in, it can serve as less of a surprise and more of… Read more »
Member
Rachel Bavister

I’m a Deaf consumer and have met numerous interpreters over the years. Very few (I can count them on one hand) have ever asked for feedback. Too proud? Think we’re not qualified to evaluate you, or what?
I do have a list of interpreters I do not want to work with. However, there are times when it’s not for me to choose.
As a consumer, I wish interpreters would ask. I don’t bite, nor do I eat my young. RB.

jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart
Rachel, you make a great point. For the few interpreters who have asked you for feedback, do you recall what types of questions they asked? Were they of the “was my interpretation clear?” variety? Or something specific? Also, what do you think about interpreters telling a Deaf person before an assignment (when appropriate) that they’d like to ask them for feedback afterward, as compared to waiting until an assignment is over to solicit feedback? I think it would be wonderful if we could get more guidance from more people on do’s and do not’s of asking Deaf people for feedback,… Read more »
Member
Suzanne Terrio
In my experience my CDI teams are likely to debrief afterward, as well as to pre-conference beforehand. With all teams, hearing or deaf, we talk about the process, more than the individual interpreter. Refer to the acronym I.O.U. Exceptions: “I” statements would be used by an interpreter who, let’s say, was a few minutes late, as in “I’m sorry I was late, I got a flat tire, I was given the wrong room number”, etc. Objectivity: “O” Objectify the linguistic, cultural, and cognitive process, as in the Demand Control Schema. Delineate the physical, intra,interpersonal demands and discuss the controls. “U”… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart

I’ve seen the same comments from other colleagues, with respect to who engages in pre-conferencing and post-assignment discussions. Why do you think that is? Also, thanks for this useful acronym. When do you find this most helpful – when you’re on the giving or receiving end of a feedback conversation (or something else altogether)?

Member
Amanda Spangler
Right now I am still in college studying how to be an interpreter. This article was amazing. I don’t really know how I would feel getting feedback. I guess it would depend on the situation. I hear about interpreters getting feedback all the time. One time an interpreter told me she felt so awesome and amazing and she really thought she did well, until she got feedback and it was so negative! If the feedback is given to help me I think I would do a lot better. There are some people that will just put you down and call… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart
First, congratulations on your pursuits to enter the interpreting field! I wish you all the best in your studies and beyond. When you said that you don’t know how you’d feel getting feedback, it made me think that perhaps you may already be getting it and just not calling it as such. I offer that because feedback can mean so many things – anytime you offer a classmate help and they thank you, when you get a grade back from your instructor, when members of the local Deaf community show you how they sign concepts, and other experiences I would… Read more »
bcolonomos
Member
Hi Jackie, Thank you for bringing this issue into focus. I stopped using the “F” word myself a number of years ago because, as you illustrate, it almost always involves criticism. Addressing ways to glean something positive from negativity is no doubt helpful, as long as this is the way interpreter’s continue to talk to each other. Even if “feedback”is offered in a respectful and kind manner, it is still problematic. For one, it is an opinion and judgment from another person (regardless of the validity of the opinion) which is subjective and evaluative. Do people learn by being told… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart
Hi Betty! Thanks so much for your post. I agree that there are multiple layers to the state of affairs when it comes to interpreters talking with one another. Could you share more about why you chose to stop using the word “feedback”? I ask because I’m dreaming of our future field where interpreters take back ‘feedback’ and reframe its use. Our future won’t be about one person sharing her or his observations with another in a one-way manner, but rather the reflective practitioner will guide the conversation when seeking data about her or his decisions, interpretations, comments, behaviors, etc.… Read more »
bcolonomos
Member
Dear Jackie, Thanks for your comments. I would like to further respond to your question regarding my not using the word “feedback”. I might feel differently if our field had an agreed upon definition of interpreting. People who observe and share on the basis of a model can understand where the comments come from. Lacking this, it boils down to how one interpreter thinks (or was taught or is in the habit of doing) is the right/best way to do things. Even justifying one’s decisions to another based on years of experience may not be driven by careful analysis and… Read more »
Member
Darcy Smith
Jackie, I am truly encouraged by your article. I find that both Betty’s response and your reply to Amanda sum up what I long to see more of in the field. We don’t learn from criticism. Such a simple truth. I try to engage in discussions like the one you framed for Amanda. “Hey I notice X in my work/interaction/decision, did you see it too? What can I do to address that?” (or something of that sort).” I also make it a point to THANK my colleagues who START these sort of reflective conversations. My fellow interpreters who are willing… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart
Hi Darcy! My apologies for not replying sooner. I’m grateful for your post and for the energetic shift that posts like yours help to create in our field. While I find myself disheartened by the stories of “non-constructive criticism,” I believe there is tremendous power in expressing authentic gratitude. Your reference to our colleagues as heroes made me think of a Story People print I recently saw by Brian Andreas, which says, “Anyone can slay a dragon, he told me, but try waking up every morning & loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” …I… Read more »
kdecker
Member
Kelly Decker
Appreciating this discussion wholeheartedly. Admittedly I am weary of the “F” word. As previous comments have pointed out there is a wide variance of what that word means in our field that, for me, that it (the word) has lost its utility. With that said however I do believe that act of reflective dialogue about the work we do is critical. This article points out the willingness is on the behalf of the recipient to be open and requesting the dialogue. I couldn’t agree more. I’d also like to add the underlying ability to have these types of dialogue is… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart
Hi Kelly! I’m sorry for not responding sooner; I’m grateful for your post and I hope this finds you well. Also, I look forward to hopefully seeing you more in 2016 than I managed in 2015! 🙂 What you said about trust is brilliant. Thank you for that. I’m grateful to be in a field where there are so many folks like you who are committed to the conversations and the growth. I’m especially grateful that you bring a framework you’re so passionate about that allows you to connect with us, your colleagues. For me it’s less about which one… Read more »
mvincent
Member
Michele Vincent
This is a great article and I love the thread as a whole! Its interesting how our professional dialogue between colleagues regarding the work is often seen as personal. In many other professions, talking about mistakes or mishaps doesn’t equate to personal attack. Why is it so different? Wouldn’t it be more productive to look at our work as a product and willingly admit the mistakes? There is nothing wrong with being a second language learner and transparent with errors or mistakes. Rather than receive information as feedback/critique, being open to what happened, addressing our own weakness in discussion, allows… Read more »
jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart

And thank you, Michele, for adding your perspective to this conversation! I appreciate you mentioning other professions, and how they look at mistakes and mishaps. I wonder what we have to learn from them – what is it about these other fields that allow mistakes to be examined without fear or insult? What do they have, do, practice, learn, etc. that we could look to and perhaps borrow? If we were to choose one of those professions and note the characteristics that support their critical analysis of their work products, what do you think we would find?

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Member
Suzanne Terrio

“If we made the magnitude of mistakes found in let’s say, the medical profession, there would not be an interpreter left among us”.
Suzanne Terrio

Member
Suzanne Terrio

…”for we have zero tolerance for mistakes made by an interpreter”. Suz

Member
Angela Barefield

Feedback/ Criticism is often hard to receive. It is important to put our guard down at times and listen to the things we could do better or different. Great article!!!

jemmart
Member
Jackie Emmart

Thanks for your note, Angela! All the best to you and yours in this new year. 🙂

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