Professional jealousy and the interpreter.

August 14, 2014 § 32 Comments

Dear colleagues:

In the past we have discussed the human relations of the interpreter on a professional level; this time I want to share with you an experience that I had quite some time ago with another colleague. It involves professional jealousy and perhaps envy. I decided to share this story because I truly believe it is important, as it goes beyond the simple emotional reaction we all have gone through when we do not get an assignment and we think we are better than those who ultimately got it. Sometimes I do not like it when I see an assignment go to somebody else, and sometimes I love it when I am not selected for a job because of the subject matter, the dates of the event, the location, or even the colleagues in the booth. Just like everybody else, I have many flaws as a person, but perhaps due to my self-confidence, professional jealousy or envy has never been one of them. This case goes beyond that.

Long ago I had a good friend and colleague. We used to work together very often. We were comfortable working as a team and everybody thought we did a very good job. For a long time we shared all kinds of assignments. Even when we were not hired as a team, the one who was hired would immediately request the other one in the booth. Then life happened; we continued to work together but less frequently than before. Each followed a different professional path.

Years later, after quite some time of not working together, we found ourselves sharing the booth once again. I thought it would be like old times. I was wrong. From the moment I saw my long-time colleague I sensed something was different. My friend seemed distant and guarded. I dismissed the feeling and we talked for a few minutes before the assignment; we were catching up after all these years. During a break, the lady from the agency that hired us came over to greet us. We both got out of the booth and talked to this person. Apparently she had worked with my friend a lot more than with me. They spoke of old clients and trips for assignments abroad, and about how much she admired the work done in the past. My colleague just bragged about these assignments and the difficulties they had to overcome to do a good job. Apparently, my long-lost friend had turned into a self-centered individual who loved adulation. Of course this is nothing unusual in the interpreting world, but it surprised me; that personality trait had not been there in the past. At one point, the agency representative turned to me and asked if I was happy to be working with such an excellent and famous interpreter as my friend; I said that I was delighted indeed. That was it. We went back to the booth and worked the rest of the day.

That evening, as we were leaving the venue, we ran into the agency lady once again. This time she addressed me directly and asked about my career. I told her of the great opportunities I had in the past, and I shared some of the events and clients I had worked for. She seemed very pleased and also a bit surprised. She told me she had no idea of what I had done in the past, and that she was very impressed. She had barely pronounced these words when my colleague injected himself into the conversation and quickly changed the subject so that he was again the center of attention.

The following day during a coffee break one of the speakers, who was about to present after the break, recognized my colleague and approached us. He greeted my friend very warmly, and he introduced me to the speaker as his colleague in the booth. The speaker turned back to my friend and told him that he sure was glad to have him as his interpreter, and commended him for having a “new interpreter helping him” in the booth. My friend smiled and replied that I was a good “sidekick” just like the ones he had worked with in the past. The speaker then mentioned a couple of names I recognized as other interpreters who I consider pretty mediocre. Needless to say, I did not enjoy the comparison, but I kept my mouth shut. My colleague seemed to like my restrained reaction.

That day during the lunch break, I went to the venue’s restaurant where I found my colleague surrounded by a crowd and telling them some war stories, explaining how pure talent carried him to the top of the profession. That is when he saw me and called me to his side. “This is a pretty good guy, and knows exactly how to support me so we can do a great job” I was not thrilled, but still calm to that point. Then he added: “It’s like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, like the Green Hornet and Kato.”  Unable to keep quiet any longer, I spoke and said in a low calm voice that I was nothing like those characters, and shared some of my professional experience with the crowd. I should have acted more professionally but I just could not remain silent any longer. My friend did not like it, but constantly putting your booth colleague down to boost your personal reputation gets old very quickly. After lunch, my colleague turned to me and with a big smile told me that it was wrong to mention my credentials to a client that was not mine. I replied that I did not appreciated being called a “sidekick”, and that I was merely telling them who I was, no lies, just the facts. Things got more complicated towards the end of the week when the agency lady told me in front of my friend that she had googled me and had read some of my work on line. She even said, that she was very happy to have me on board. I thanked her, and told her that she now had an excellent team of two very seasoned interpreters. She agreed.

A few months later, working together for another event organizer, I was recognized by a foreign dignitary who has known me for a long time. Apparently this person recognized my voice, looked for the booth, and saw me there. She came all the way to the booth to say hello to me. I introduced her to my colleague, but I could see that he did not like it at all. Since that time, I have learned that my colleague has made unflattering comments about my work, and that when asked about me for a possible assignment he has proposed other interpreters instead. I also heard from other colleagues who he has also discarded from the booth because of their (great) resume. Although I do not particularly enjoy working with this person anymore, I have never done that. Some colleagues from his home town who work with him all the time have told me that they believe that he is jealous of my career and the career of some other very accomplished colleagues; that he dislikes to work with someone as experienced, or more experienced than him. Apparently, he likes to work with people he can impress with his stories.

Since that time, we have worked together when the agency or event organizer retains us separately. I have paid special attention to the bidding process of all big events that interest me so that I don’t miss any of them even if this person leaves my name out of any proposed team, and I have talked to the major agencies and all my direct clients so that they know that I am available for assignments. I will protect my business as you should when facing a similar situation. We have not requested the other one in the booth anymore. I am a professional and I will work with this individual if needed, but I will never understand the motivation behind the actions of this Othello of the interpreting world. Finally, I would like to disclose that, for legal reasons, the individual this post refers to is a fictitious character; he is a composite of many different colleagues I have encountered during my practice who have this professional flaw. The episodes described in the article have been modified and compounded, but they are real. The characters are not. With this in mind, and without exposing yourselves to any liability, I invite you to share with us your experiences with jealous interpreters.

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§ 32 Responses to Professional jealousy and the interpreter.

  • Nelson Zapata says:

    Gabriel,

    Esto me llegó hoy en el correo. Me pareció interesante. Tal vez a ti también para que lo compartas…

    Nelson Zapata Certified Spanish Court Interpreter C-08118 (678) 852-7746

    Date: Thu, 14 Aug 2014 08:28:35 +0000 To: nelzapata@hotmail.com

  • John KARANJA says:

    Hhhmmnn. Sound very familiar. Hey Tony reading your experience one would have thought you live and work in Nairobi (Kenya). The situation is very similar to what you have described.

  • weinterpret says:

    Welcome to our world Tony!
    I find a lot of satisfaction and peace knowing that I am a real professional in the field like you, and I abide by the rules of our profession. Nobody can steal from me my professional experience, hard work and ethics. I am a firm believer that when we hurt others we only hurt ourselves. And the opposit it’s true also.
    Thanks for sharing this aspect of our professional world. Unfortunately being a good, seasoned professional interpreter is a threat and challenge for some colleagues.

  • Lorenia says:

    As always, I love your posts and how you share with us your anecdotes and exoerience. I have been there myself, taking a long deep breath when being minimized by another interpreter who feels threatened or is just plain jelous, things have never gotten to the point where I have to speak out, but I will if needed! Your post does bring some light to me and I will be prepared if I ever have to speak up. Thanks!

  • I love recommending colleagues and I have not yet experienced what you describe, Tony. I hope not to go through that.

  • André Csihás says:

    Hi Tony,

    Unfortunately, there will always be jealousy in this business. The federal exam is a prime example of it, as those who don’t pass it feel that “it was rigged” or that “it caters” to a certain strata of people.

    I’m not any kind of wizard or anything like it by a long shot, but I once heard advice from one of my mentors who replied when I asked her about what it took to get federally licensed: “You’ve got to want it bad enough!”.

    To me, that was the key: I figured out that the only time I had to really study without interruptions was very early, and I mean very early, like 0430 hrs, and I studied non-stop until 0630 hrs for about 6 months until I felt capable enough to handle anything thrown at me. Well, guess what?: I passed the federal oral exam! Needless to say that by the time I got through it, I didn’t know whether I was a boy or a girl, but by golly, I did it!

    My advice to those who are “jealous”: Make a real, and I mean REAL sacrifice, no whining, no bitching, no nonsense, no self-deprecation, no excuses, damn it! Get your derriere out of that bed, stumble to your living room, crack open those books, turn on those tapes or recordings, take notes and do it, dadburn it!

    Once you’ve achieved your goal, you’ll be able to rise at 1000 hrs and scratch your belly button in eternal bliss. Trust me: I do it once in a while just because revenge and the taste of victory are sweet!

    André Csihás, FCCI

  • I also know of an interpreter who, for no reason whatsoever, gets herself into positions in which she talks down to other interpreters. She is very much disliked in the profession. I recently worked at an event at which the client (an agency) referred to her as the “lead interpreter” and informed the other interpreters that if they had any “interpreting issues” they could refer to her. Fortunately, she was interpreting in another part of the building (she was interpreting at the plenum, I was in one of the break-out sessions) so I did not need to ask her anything. But what is far worse than this is when – as happened to a colleague – a conference is cut short for some reason and the agency asks the interpreters if they will agree not forego payment for that day when not required and one interpreter says yes and the other says no! I know an interpreter who is extremely well off, she doesn’t need the money for interpreter though most of us do, and she reduces her rate and agrees not to be paid for days when her services turn out not to be required, thus hurting her colleagues who need the money.

  • Glyn Haggett says:

    I am a translator rather than an interpreter, but so much of what you say riings true to me.

    I think our professions harbour more than their fair share of egomaniacs. I have always put that down to the “siege mentality” and the need to justify our existence to managers and others in high places who just don’t “get” the need for our services. At that point, what is intended as a necessary degree of assertiveness can very easily tip over and end up looking like arrogance.

    However, as times have become tougher over recent years, there seems to be an increasing tendency to do down colleagues who might approach the same problem in a different way. For example, the “peer review” system, which is a great concept in principle, can be waylaid and become a way of impressing one person’s view upon another’s.

    Ultimately, language, for all its beauty, is a practical tool and an imprecise science. That requires flexibility, versatility and open minds from those using it professionally.

  • Consuelo says:

    There are many examples of the character your described where I live. It is a sad situation. I think those interpreters are pretty pathetic. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  • Dwight says:

    Are you sure you are not a sign language interpreter?

    It seems this disease of professional jealousy crosses language and type of interpreting and translating.

    So very very sad that some seem to need to cut others down to make themselves look and feel better.

  • DeanaBe says:

    One-upmanship is the strategy brandished by those whose main personality traits are pettiness and rancor Petty is never pretty and doesn’t overcome the test of truth. It is an approach that divides and seeks to nullify the other, an ignoble action.

  • Janeth says:

    I agree with Dwight…very unfortunately, indeed! I’m a firm believer of the infallible law of “Cause and Effect”, so, as a norm, I leave it up to karma…as I heard some one said once: “Los molinos de Dios muelen despacio pero finito”…yes, it may seem that karma takes for ever to do justice but, when it does, it does so wisely!

  • Carlos Solis says:

    All my respect to you, Mr. Rosado. It takes a great deal of character to stay calm and quiet when your tongue is about to explode when you are a victim of unfair “attacks”. I know that it is no mystery to you that this is a direct result of how insecure people are sometimes. And this of course takes a leading role in any other profession or other aspects of life, like relationships!
    Thank you for sharing this great story full of fictional characters!

  • Rosemary Rodriguez says:

    I guess it’s a matter of trying to understand that green eyed monster of jealousy. Interpreting is the skill that we work so hard for; we have spent countless hours, months and years practicing not to mention all the money we have invested.

    For many of us it’s our dream job and if we perceive competition we feel threatened and our claws come out. I think as human beings we all are susceptible to those feelings of pride, boastfulness, and jealousy it’s a character flaw most definitely.

    I think your attitude is commendable. All of us need to take a hard heart look inside and see if that green-eyed monster has taken residence in our heart, unfortunately it’s easier to spot in someone else than in ourselves.

    Thanks for the eye-opener.

  • […] Dear colleagues: In the past we have discussed the human relations of the interpreter on a professional level; this time I want to share with you an experience that I had quite some time ago with a…  […]

  • blogtendi says:

    Reblogged this on BLOGTENDI.

  • I’ve had run-ins with this type before, too. Like you, I was baffled by their behavior.

    In my case, it often took outside parties to point out the jealousy component before I believed it. I generally set such a high bar for myself that it never occurs to me that I might be doing well enough to illicit envy.

    The undermining tactics that insecure manipulators use are inefficient at best and vocationally devastating at worst–why waste all that energy when it could be put towards synergistic ideas that benefit the entire field?

  • André Csihás, FCCi says:

    Wow Tony, I’m blown away by the replies to this particular segment of your blog!

    I sincerely hope it continues because I think that a lot of interpreters want to express their opinion regarding matters that have troubled them for some time, but have had no platform on which to express it.

    I personally think that I have what is normally classified as a “dream job” and so far, I’ve been very fortunate in living out my dream.

    I’ll be my privilege to make myself available to help and advise anyone who feels any need for comments, questions, opinions regarding our very special profession, and (with your permission), I’ll be more than glad to do whatever it takes to be part of the solution.

    Best regards to all these wonderful people who have voiced their opinion on this very important blog.

    Thank you, each and every one!

    André Csihás, FCCi

  • Romy says:

    Though I’m not an interpreter this was an interesting read. It’s a sad thing that people get so competitive. I’d think friends in the field is more important than lonely “achievement”.

  • Lola San Sebastián says:

    Yes, it append to me, but at the end the truth always comes out. Interpreters are the most generous crowd of professionals I have known. And anybody that is halve way professional is only competing with oneself, because we always want to do our best. Poor miserable, interpreters, that choose to carry all the tension that the job entails as well as trying to impress everyone they are the only able person in the whole group to do a good job. One has to feel sorry for these people.
    Tony! keep it up.

  • JS says:

    Excellent piece! I have recognized this type of work character and they are quite deceptive.

  • Hi. Jealousy is that monster that pops up from nowhere. And well, to be honest, I’m the one getting jealous because I don’t feel good enough. However, I’ve come to realize that I value friendship more. That other guy must be a real piece of work to exhibit his feelings so blatantly.

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  • When you are passionate about your work and others are not. It does happen.

  • Harbans says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Professional jealousies are the common amongst colleagues and it deteriorate to a point of no return when you are very intimate with the person concerned. This break brings a feeling of despondency and illwill ultimately.

  • Learning is a mystery but not through experience.

  • Povonte says:

    Thanks for telling us your story.

  • […] Dear colleagues: In the past we have discussed the human relations of the interpreter on a professional level; this time I want to share with you an experience that I had quite some time ago with a…  […]

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