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Your Co-Interpreter Has Fallen and Can’t Get Up

Brandon Arthur reflects on a team interpreting experience and shares some insights for sign language interpreters to consider in acting as the colleague they’d like to have.

While interpreting a short pro bono assignment over the weekend, I found myself working with an emerging interpreter.  As the meeting progressed—discussions grew more intense and participants became more interactive—I noted that both her confidence and effectiveness as an interpreter began to unravel.

I was as supportive of this young interpreter as the environment would allow; fortunately the outcome of the meeting was not negatively impacted. Since the experience, I have wondered what I could have done in the moment to reinforce the confidence of this budding interpreter.

It occurs to me that there are some “do’s” and “don’ts” when attempting to reinforce your team interpreter’s confidence while on assignment. At the end of the day the “do’s” and “don’ts” offered here are anecdotal, but I hope they give you something to consider in the event you find yourself in a similar situation.

When you see your team’s confidence begin to unravel,

Definitely Do

  • Actively work to anticipate your team’s need for support
  • Provide support in an unobtrusive, non-demoralizing way
  • Positively reinforce your team’s good decisions and choices
  • Model strategies for navigating the information from the “on-chair”
  • Maintain a positive, personable, and professional demeanor
  • Remember you’re still accountable for a complete work product

Definitely Don’t

  • Escalate your engagement to further differentiate your skills from your fellow interpreter
  • Disengage when your team is actively working in the “on-chair”
  • Dismiss your personal accountability for the outcome of the meeting
  • Be critical of your colleague to meeting participants
  • Give in to one of the three temptations of a sign language interpreter
  • Patronize your team when discussing the assignment on breaks

As every interpreter inherently understands, one’s confidence is critical to effectively doing their job.  Consequently, we have an obligation to support our team when they begin to feel defeated and no longer believe in their ability to meet the demands of the assignment.

Let’s Remember

We have all found ourselves in at least one situation where we have questioned our ability to do the job we were hired to do. Further, we can recall with great appreciation the colleague that picked us up, dusted us off, and helped us get back on that horse.

Let’s be that colleague.