Dealing with certain kind of difficult interpreters on a professional level.

October 23, 2014 § 9 Comments

Dear colleagues:

This time I am going to refer to a problem that many of us have encountered during our careers: The individual who is also an interpreter and he or she is difficult to deal with at the professional level, not when we go out and socialize, but when we are doing our job. I am not talking about the lazy interpreter, the self-centered know-it-all interpreter, the bad interpreter, or even the vulgar disrespectful interpreter. My colleagues, this time I want to discuss a situation where a colleague gets an assignment, job, or promotion and has a personality change.

We all know colleagues who have made career changes or have received a promotion; that is great if that is what they wanted to accomplish and I think we would all agree that this makes us happy for that person. In fact, many of these changes have benefited the profession at large because these colleagues are now using their new position or status to improve the quality of the service and the working conditions for all of us. They recognize that one of the reasons for their hiring or promotion was the fact that they have been interpreters in the past: they have walked the walk. These changes have contributed significantly to the advance of our profession. Unfortunately, not everybody reacts the same way.

Some time ago I was in an interpreter social gathering with many old and new friends. As it often happens, some colleagues began to talk shop and it was not long before quite a few of them were talking about an interpreter who had recently been hired or promoted (I did not get all the details) to a position that now rendered this individual as the one with the power to hire interpreters for assignments; This person was now in charge of assigning interpreters, negotiating pay and other labor conditions, and setting protocol and procedure for those who wanted to work with that organization. Apparently, this person had been another freelancer until recently and had been a good colleague, maybe not the best interpreter, but certainly a very reliable one. The person was well-liked by the professional community, so the hiring (or promotion) was received warmly by the other interpreters. It all seemed to indicate that this was going to be an excellent choice for everybody; one of those changes that I was referring to at the beginning of this piece. Unfortunately, it did not happen that way.

Apparently, the freelance interpreters saw many changes once this person was hired and became part of the company’s staff. They all received innumerable emails with memos that were setting rules and policies for everything imaginable: How to report the status of an assignment (right in the middle of the event!) how to get paid, how to invoice, how to write a cover letter, how to dress for work, and many others. These interpreters were not happy. Remember: They were no rookies; most of them were practicing their profession way before this newly hired individual decided to become an interpreter, and they were doing a good job; there were no complaints.

When some of them questioned the newly hired “supervisor” on these changes, the person responded by saying that these changes to the system would help the company’s clerical staff as they would make it easier for them to understand what the interpreters were doing. He never even addressed the fact that this would require of more of the freelancers’ time because they were being asked to do part of the employees’ work for the same fee. Everyone knows that to a freelancer time is equal to money.

According to this policy, they now had to do extra work for the same pay. In other words, by implementing all these bureaucratic rules and policies, the first thing this person did in the new job was to give the interpreters a pay cut. This reminded me of the time when, for a brief period of time, I was part of the system and the first thing I was told was that from that moment on I was a corporate entity and all my decisions and actions should be geared to protect the employer, regardless of what happened to the interpreters. I was told that it was us against them. Needless to say, under that philosophy, I barely lasted a blink of an eye at that job.

After listening to this heartbreaking story, I told the interpreters at the social gathering to diversify even more, to try to work for that individual as little as possible, to reject the bureaucratic memos, to continue to provide a quality professional service, and to keep in mind that although time is money for the freelancer, the rule does not apply to those like this person who will make the same paycheck regardless of how they spend their time. I mentioned that even though this person may be socially friendly and nice to them, they must remember that somewhere deep inside, these individuals are always aware of their professional limitations, and consider that promotions, like the one the individual got in this case, are the zenith of their career; I reminded them that even when we don’t see their job that way, they do, and they will defend their newly acquired status with everything they have. I told them that this strategy of versatility and widening our scope of practice is exactly what I have been doing throughout my career. Eventually, we should always use these nonsensical circumstances as motivation to grow as professionals and look for newer and better professional opportunities. I now ask you to share your personal experience with individuals in similar circumstances to the ones described in this post, and to tell us what you did to either adjust and cope with the circumstances, or to get out of this situation.

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§ 9 Responses to Dealing with certain kind of difficult interpreters on a professional level.

  • Armando Ezquerra Hasbun says:

    A case of poachers turned gamekeepers.
    Wearing different hats with the ensuing conflicting loyalties is a difficult balancing act and only a secure and enlightened person can see the benefits of bringing both sides closer for their mutual benefit rather than accentuating their differences. Hopefully time will temper the attitude of the former interpreter so in addition to losing the talent she doesn’t lose the friends. On a side note, if the freelancers’ are being assigned extra tasks and their work is being regimented by a management that tells them how to perform it, then the interpreters should remind their ‘supervisor’ those actions are getting coming very close to changing their independent contractors status to that of employees, with all that it entails. That might rein in the enthusiasm of their former peer.

  • zinnesther says:

    We have experienced the same thing in our area. Once again, we had to diversify as the one source of income was being managed by one former interpreter who had his own ideas of how an interpreters’ office should be managed, or micromanaged. There’s nothing like this experience to “motivate” us to look for greener pastures elsewhere. It is very sad to see how a new position affects friendships.

  • Israfil Khakiyev says:

    There could be an easy solution to the issue in question – set up an association or a professional body uniting interpreters and make your voice heard. Briefly, stand at attention!

  • Consuelo says:

    I used to share the booth with someone. All of a sudden, she is an AIIC precandidate and she has changed a lot. I will no comment any further, but you can imagine. Disgusting!!!

  • We are facing this problem in our area. It involved forcing freelancers, as well as employee interpreters to stay until 5 o’clock even if there is nothing pending. It does involve a former colleague who otherwise is really nice. Someone (interpreter) made a comment that if we were to all get fed up and leave the profession, where would they be. I’m hoping this situation is temporary. Also, although I often work at this location, I don’t always. I hate to put all my eggs in one basket.

  • Dwight says:

    Very well written.
    Let us all remember that sometimes the newly hired person is being told how and what to do by top level management or owners.

    Sometimes it is not their decisions that are being meted out, they are just performing the duties as instructed.

    As you pointed out, those newly hired, or at least the one’s who care about the profession, do not last the blink of an eye when this is the case.

  • André Csihás, FCCIu says:

    Hi, Tony!

    The person who’s had nothing will usually go bananas after getting some “power” over others in any capacity given them. Gold fever is alive and well in those people. You can clearly see it in the corporate world and in any other context in which someone has had any authority over others.

    Remember the saying by Abe Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.

    We cannot change human nature, so this is a prevalent malaise in people of this ilk.

    André Csihás, FCCI

  • indextran says:

    Some decisions are undoubtedly passed down to interpreters’ immediate supervisors from higher up, but there are surely many cases when a new hire, having been given a fair amount of leeway, immediately makes sweeping — and not always welcome — changes on his/her own initiative. If a generally well-liked person proves to be a good friend but not a great supervisor, are problems posed by a rise in the ranks always inevitable? Maybe I’m being overly optimistic here, but I wonder whether and to what extent such problems could be prevented by encouraging the individual to enroll in management courses and/or workshops. Management training might not prevent all or most corruption brought on by exposure to power, but surely it could at least help reduce management errors committed out of ignorance. Just my two cents’ worth.

    In the business world in general, much has been written on the subject of what does and does not make a successful manager (in this case, an interpreters’ supervisor). The perils of micromanagement have been covered in business literature. It has long been recognized that excessive rules and regulations can drive workers away, something managers need to keep in mind if they don’t want to lose people. As Dale Dauten once put it, “If you got no followers, you got no leader.”

  • Well written. Thank you. Unfortunately, some government people have NO IDEA what they are doing, can’t compete in the free market very well (which is why they work where they now work), got their low-paying job because of friendship with someone (or worse), have NO aspirations to make more than $70k per year to be able to contribute to society, AND, these mediocre employees will hire an interpreter to do managerial work even when the interpreter-turned-boss has NEVER managed anything well before; thus we have the interpreter coordinator who micro-manages ex-colleages and frustrates interpreters, etc. FLY HIGHER. IT IS THE ONLY ANSWER. Also, we MUST fight for our profession.

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