Conflicts Between Interpreters and Clients: When You’ve Tried Everything.

Facebook ImageIt’s fitting to start this workshop summary off with a question: How did you get to this article? Most likely you followed a link from Facebook or Twitter. Maybe this came up in your social media news stream. Social media is part of a sign language interpreter’s everyday life. However, as Wing Butler writes in his article, Does Social Networking Impair Sign Language Interpreter Ethics?, most interpreters have a distorted view of how social media impacts their professional brand, so we know we have a long way to go in understanding the ethical impact of social media.

Conflicts Start with Social Media

In their workshop, “Conflicts Between Interpreters and Consumers: When You’ve Tried Everything,” Pamela Whitney, Matthew O’Hara, and David Bowell note that most ethical complaints stem from some sort of perceived violation of the Code of Professional Conduct via information shared on social media websites like Facebook. Pamela Whitney recognizes, “It is a huge problem – I mean a problem!”  A small, misguided comment has the potential to make a big, lasting, and unintended impact. David reminds attendees of the popular phrase, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Ethical Intelligence

This workshop emphasizes the importance of Ethical Intelligence. Just because a sign language interpreter has twenty years of interpreting experience doesn’t mean they have 20 years of ethical maturity. Managing a dialogue with colleagues and consumers requires both emotional and ethical intelligence. It takes emotional intelligence to recognize that there is a problem; it takes ethical intelligence to do something about it. How often do interpreters notice something that feels wrong, but don’t do anything about it? Maybe you have seen a colleague post something on Facebook that seems innocuous to the poster, but you see a potential conflict with the Code of Professional Conduct.

Sign language interpreters are well aware that conflicts occur every day. When an interpreter only has 30 minutes to get from one job to the next, addressing a concern with a colleague can seem practically impossible. Pamela encourages interpreters to think of it this way: Each person is a holder of unique information. We do the best we can with the information available. Sharing this information can lead to greater collaboration and stronger community.

Here is a challenge: Do you operate on the basis that the members in your community have the best intentions and care about our field? When we look at “conflict” as clarifying the intent of someone’s message, we demonstrate the desire to support our community. Conflict resolution is part of our legacy – when we handle conflict ethically and respectfully, it shows that we care about relationships between and within the Deaf and interpreting communities.

The Role of RID

It is also RID’s duty to care about ethical conflicts within the profession. Furthermore, it is their responsibility to take action when members of the Deaf community have experienced harm. Matthew O’Hara, RID’s Director of Ethical Practices System (EPS), encourages participants to sit down and discuss a perceived infraction in the moment when suspicion arises that a violation of the CPC has occurred. He states this “immediate dialogue” can clarify and diffuse the conflict immediately. Matthew goes on to explain that RID is here to support professionals and the Deaf community when they need a mediator for this type of conversation. Filing a complaint with the EPS, he notes, should come after an initial conversation between the two parties has taken place, if possible.

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Session Made Possible With Support From TCS & Associates

Ethical Practice System

If the two parties can’t resolve the issue on their own, RID’s Ethical Practices System is an advocacy tool at the disposal of the Deaf and interpreting communities. The EPS is put in place to facilitate conflict resolution between the two communities. Most of the information related to the process of filing a grievance with the EPS is posted on RID’s website under the EPS grievance filing flowchart (page 18). Pamela, Matthew, and David provide a short rundown of the process: 1) Complaint intake (complaint submitted, reviewed, and accepted), 2) Mediation session; If there is no solution, then, 3) Adjudication, and finally 4) Appeal or final decision.

Matthew explains that RID has placed a new focus on the mediation process. The goal of the EPS is to resolve an issue before it escalates to the adjudication phase, and mediated dialogue between the two parties can often accomplish that goal. Mediators are individuals who have been formally trained in conflict resolution – and are very patient. The assigned mediator makes no decisions, but facilitates discussion to bring the real content of the complaint to light. The two parties involved are completely in control of the outcome at this point in the grievance process. Therefore, parties should come to mediation with an open mind, a clear sense of the desired outcome, and a willingness to resolve the issue. Only when mediation fails to resolve the issue does the grievance process move to adjudication.

In Conclusion

In closing, Pamela reminds attendees that sign language interpreters make many split-second decisions every day. Sometimes decisions can have unintended impacts that need to be addressed in our communities. Before rushing to a conclusion about an action or a statement, Pamela reminds attendees, it is prudent to clarify the intent.

So, how should interpreters go about dealing with perceived conflict in everyday life? Pamela says, “just don’t have conflict!” This of course elicits several giggles from the room. How? It is possible. Here is what Pamela suggests:  Keep the little things little. Know your impact. Figure out another’s real intentions by ASKING. Remember that often conflicts take place because of initial erroneous assumptions.

Pamela concludes the session with a quote from world champion boxer Muhammad Ali: “The best way to avoid a punch is not being there.” Again, laughter from the room. Interpreters are professional communicators, and we can maintain a legacy of effective communication by always thinking the best of our colleagues and taking responsibility to resolve conflict individually or through the tools at hand, like RID’s EPS.

* Special thanks to Street Team members, Diane Lynch and Lindsey Kasowski.

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(New York)