You know the drill… Smile. Make eye contact. Offer a reinforcing head nod. Appear confident and interested.
As interpreters, we work hard to internalize the behaviors that help us appear approachable. This is a necessary and required skill in order to accommodate the myriad of personalities we encounter on the job. Though it hasn’t been statistically proven, at least to my knowledge, we intuitively understand that interpreters who master this skill are busier than those who haven’t.
Being an expert does have its side effects.
The Side Effects
While it can be completely exhausting to be “on” day-after-day for extended periods, I believe there is a more harmful side effect to this internalization. We have trained ourselves to be conflict adverse. By working to be uber approachable, we have simultaneously internalized a conflict avoidance strategy. What I will call the “if I do nothing, this issue will go away” approach. We know it works because when the assignment ends we are done, and may not be back there for a number of months. Problem solved!
The Ugly Head of Avoided Conflict
Inevitably though, we get hired for a long-term assignment or as a staff interpreter, and suddenly a strategy that has worked like a charm is now working against us. By avoiding conflict in these environments it only intensifies, and when addressed—and at some point it will be—it’s ugly and uncomfortable. It can result in people losing or prematurely abandoning work opportunities. Worse, it can significantly damage reputations and destroy an otherwise healthy environment.
Address Conflict Quickly
Because most people have had no formal instruction on resolving conflict, we use strategies we have learned by example or draw from our own experience. The considerations and strategies offered below are a few that have served me well.
- Recognize that conflict is inevitable
- Remember that conflict is not inherently bad
- Address conflict immediately (in most cases while its minor)
- Address the person directly before seeking assistance
- Be honest about your role in the conflict
- Consider the mood of the person prior to addressing
- Appearing emotionally distant serves no one
- Ask yourself, “is the approach I am about to use the best one to resolve this situation?”
Remember, while you may never find conflict comfortable, you can learn to effectively navigate through it.