Feedback

2 February 2017

I genuinely want to add new interpreters’ names to my website. I have a process in place, whereby interpreters who want to be listed start off by providing references from 3 listed interpreters and 3 experienced Deaf clients. But I will also take other soundings. And ideally I will want to have seen the interpreter myself. Now that I’m retired, this is a more realistic possibility.

Ultimately it’s my judgement that counts, It’s my website, and my reputation that’s on the line.

Recently I was contacted by an interpreter, asking to be added to the site. Despite good references, I didn’t think that they fit the profile of interpreters on my site. I happened to have seen them working, and I had several other respected opinions to draw on, so it wasn’t a marginal decision.

I took a long time to compose a rejection email, including my reasons. Naively I supposed that this was more constructive than rejecting without cause.

I got a vitriolic response. This convinced me of the rightness of my decision. It tells me that this person doesn’t like feedback. That’s a major failing in an interpreter.

The best interpreters are constantly evaluating their own performance. They look for ways of developing themselves – videoing, asking for feedback, discussing and copying good practice, etc. At the heart is a humility – that we are often less than perfect, that there are some situations which don’t suit our skill-set, and that we can change for the better.

When an interpreter asks for feedback, or is given unsolicited feedback, I think the best response is simply to say, “Thank you.”

To attack the person giving the feedback negates the concept of feedback, no matter if the feedback is wrong (in your view) or hurtful. How can feedback be meaningful if essentially you’re saying, “Only say nice things about me”? What use is that to an interpreter?

On the home page of this site I say, “As with any profession, there are variations in ability. The people listed on this site are ‘can-do’ interpreters, whose work is respected by experienced colleagues, and by experienced Deaf users of interpreting services. These are interpreters who know what they can and can’t do, and will admit it.”

The last bit is really important. Not everyone is competent in every situation. The skill is to pick and choose the work you do. Ideally you can work this out for yourself, but humility and feedback are essential, especially if you get it wrong and you don’t realise it yourself. Not every interpreter is suited to every situation.

And who should you ask to give you feedback? Probably not your close friends. And probably not people you have worked with regularly and who like you personally. Regular clients get used to your foibles and deficiencies.

Choose someone who can be more objective, and preferably someone who knows how to package the feedback in a way which enables you to look at yourself anew, and enables you to work on improving your service to clients.

My feeling is that in the current climate of squeezed interpreting demand, especially for those who aren’t yet at the top of their game, has made more interpreters take on work that’s beyond them. The BDA recently reported that 2 trainee interpreters had been sourced for a meeting with DWP officials. Goodness knows how that came about, but I know it’s just one example of under-powered interpreters who bring disrepute on themselves and the profession.

I surmise that few interpreters are blissfully unaware of their deficiencies. The majority though should be going through personal anguish as they struggle to make themselves understood in BSL, or to understand their clients’ BSL. Such interpreters will restrict the sort of work they do. They will actively seek feedback and opportunities for professional development.

But then there are the complacent ones who can convince themselves that they have made it, and spit feedback back. These won’t end up on my website.