Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

“clear and ambiguous”

June 9th, 2006

This was how the interpreter’s role was described by the leader of a group responding to a direct curiousity about the interpreter’s experience of interpreting in this particular setting. “Wanda” and I were given the amazing opportunity to, as she said, “discuss with a group that we’re not members of how we aren’t members of their group.”
It was awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s the last day of a training seminar in which one of the themes is the on-going development of the group (yes, I have been in heaven!) As they are checking in, the last person to do so says that she’d be interested in the interpreters’ experience. The leader runs with it. She summarizes a range of issues/questions using it as a teaching moment: are members of the group more attentive to individuals or the whole group, where is the boundary of the group, are we “in” or “out” of that boundary, what does it mean to notice/not notice us, etc. [I didn’t even pay her to ask these questions!] [I’d have given some kind of bribe, though, to have been able to tape it!!!]


So then she asks me if I’ll share. I said no. Ha! Of course I was thrilled! I too used it as a teachable moment, talking about sightlines, and the challenge of being there/not – how to manage the role of enabling relationships between the deaf and non-deaf without getting in the way of it. I did, also, share a wee bit personally, about my communication studies and that I’d also gone through the “stages of group development” along with the group, being affected in my own way according to my stuff (I didn’t elaborate) except to say that my schedule (not being there every day) was probably just right for me and what I could manage without compromising the quality or integrity of interpretation.
TaWanda took her turn (in her spiffy suit) and reiterated the point about trying to decide how and when to make sure the deaf person receives instructional information intended for the whole group while not getting in the way of interpersonal interactions progressing without interpretation. She also said something about the challenge of taking on what other’s are feeling and saying, which – if people are feeling something intense – can be quite intense!
Group discussion then ensued with several members discussing what they’d noticed or wondered about, and the leader summarizing key themes about the presence of two languages and how one remains aware of interpretation without overly tending to the interpreter (or something like that – how to acknowledge members who are/aren’t members). There was also some cool discussion between and among the deaf and non-deaf members of the group about the relationships that were built across the language difference. ๐Ÿ™‚
THEN the group engaged in an activity where one of us interpreters needed to be seated centrally for all the sightlines to be clear and there was a bit of experimentation with our roles – were we now “more” a part of the group than we were before? Would we take up our roles differently? I would say the seduction (!) failed, me and Wanda are pros. {Big grin to Wanda!!} Perhaps our own personality inflections were somewhat heightened, or the way we mirrored (!) the group became more visible? The group did give us some very nice “belonging” kind of energy in acknowledgement of both our persons and our work, and I’d wager that our responsiveness in accepting the invitation to share demonstrated our “membership” in a satisfactory way.
On another note, parallel with the development of affection in the group is the way that Wanda and I have also become closer. We’ve had bonding experiences in the past (ahem) but we hugged each other several times throughout the day during breaks. It just felt right. ๐Ÿ™‚ The reasons varied from happiness to empathy to celebration…I don’t know what labels she’d use but overall I’d say warmly collegial and affectionate. It is So Nice to like your team!

3 Comments

Categories: Interpreting
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3 Responses to ““clear and ambiguous””

  1. phyllis says:

    I enjoyed reading your entry about our (notice the use of “our”) group and our day together. It is really amazing how much I felt (feel) your presence…. in the sense of feeling like I know and was impacted by you…… even though part of your job was to be semi-anonymous. Some things are just non-verbal…… yes?
    {Printed with permission from email.}

  2. Steph says:

    Hi Phyllis, I most certainly did notice the use of “our” group, smile, and I’ve got questions, if this is a format where it feels comfortable to answer them? One thing that struck me immediately about this seminar in terms of group relationss theory & applied practice was the daily change of instructor. I’ll try to write this clearly, as the questions must be raised in sequence even though they all operate simultaneously and more or less ‘equally’ in real life.
    What I observed (and experienced, smile) is the interaction between the hypothesis that a group has to restart the stages of group development whenever the membership changes (someone leaves, someone joins). Every day, then, there were two changes in membership: the instructor changed, and one of the pair of interpreters alternated. I also witnessed, and experienced, the group’s continuation through progressive stages, as if the changes in membership had little actual influence. This would be the hypothesis of structure, that once norms are established the group becomes more powerful than any individual.
    I’ll use the language of joining, storming, norming, performing to describe the common (western) stages of group development to a framework with points of reference. Monday, everyone had to deal with (on whatever levels, pace, etc) the issues of “joining”. Tuesday, the instructor and another interpreter had to do this from scratch (so to speak), coming into a now already-established group; and the group had to accommodate/adjust to the change.
    Wednesday, only the instructor was brand new, as I returned.
    Thursday, again, the instructor was fresh, but the other interpreter returned.
    Friday, only you were totally new, I was back for the third time. Yet, we were both somewhat “out-of-place” or “out-of-time” with the group BOTH by dint of our varying degrees of previous absence and by the ambiguity of our roles. You – as instructor, leader, guide – must also maintain an ambiguity of role. You need to be sensitive enough to read the group’s energy and respond appropriately, but not so open as to lose yourself into the group’s process. Your boundaries are therefore in some alignment with those of the interpreter, different in function yet similar in terms of effect… yes?
    During the day, I was aware of your attentiveness to me in particular. I framed it, at the time, as an indicative of your skill in reading the whole group: you had not placed the interpreters “outside” of the group in any way whatsoever. I still think it was/is an indication of your skill. ๐Ÿ™‚ And, I wonder about your stance/orientation to us in comparison with that of previous instructors: did they consciously conceptualize our presence, were they respecting the conventions (!) of acting as if we’re more-or-less ‘not there’, or were they aware yet our (my?) energy wasn’t yet of significance to the group-as-a-whole?
    Here is where it gets both tricky and totally fascinating. ๐Ÿ™‚ Wednesday, the day which was characterized as “the emotional day”, I became triggered by my own stuff. Luckily (from the point-of-view of the professional need to maintain proper composure and job performance), it happened in such a way at a certain time that it went unnoticed except by my teammate. She checked in with me (thanks TaWanda!!) which was both hard (I had to leave as I couldn’t stop weeping) and good (it nudged me into the outlet that enabled me to get over it and move on).
    When your attention was drawn to me on Friday, I thought you had somehow picked up on my own woundedness (for lack of a better term) and understood it not “personally” (at the level of me as an individual) but at the group level (me as the repository for the group of a certain constellation of emotion). I also wondered if maybe someone had seen me struggling; obviously the ‘Knowledge’ of it was “in” the group, however it was conveyed or sensed. In this regard, I was able to “accept” the ministrations of the group as not only about me (although I soaked it up, grin), but also about some crucial part of generating closure, leaving nothing important undone.
    I would have left it at this, except for your comment about having made an assumption about why I moved before speaking as myself to the group. As you responded to Theo’s curiousity about the interpreters, you sortof talked yourself into a recognition of an opening – at least, that’s how I observed it. You “thought out loud” about us, interpretation, the presence/use of two languages, speculated about our participation, and eventually came around to asking us to share. I was aware of this process because as soon as Theo raised the question I braced myself (as I’m sure my esteemed teammate did) for a role shift.
    I thought it was pretty cool! I assumed you were deliberately opening up an instructional moment for us, especially when you noticed my walking before I spoke – because I had explained the crucial, foundational significance of maintaining a sightline between the deaf person(s), the actual speaker, and the interpreter before the session began. I was surprised, later, when you said you’d made a false assumption about my movement. What could it have been? This gave me a clue that something else was also going on, something at a less conscious level.
    My hypothesis of the moment, having now labored through this explanation (grin), is that we performed a kind of pairing. What do you think? Is it something we can/could/should (?) try to continue? Not as in seeking to maintain those roles, but investigating them on behalf of the group-as-a-whole and those members who will go on to place themselves in the position/role of instructor/leader? There are different issues (temptations, pitfalls, etc) involved when one is the leader over time, rather than in the one-shot mode utilized in this seminar.

  3. Steph says:

    Phyllis responds (again via email, granting me permission to post):
    “I unfortunately don’t have time to comment on everything you wrote/asked, and the answers are quite complex… nothing is black and white…. so I’ll respond briefly…”(in caps; Steph’s responses are lower-case):
    KEEP IN MIND THAT ROLES MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE HERE, AS YOU ALLUDE TO. THE LEADER ISN’T REALLY A PART OF THE GROUP, YET IS…. KIND OF LIKE
    INTERPRETERS… OR AT LEAST, THE LEADER HAS SOME FLEXIBILITY AS TO HOW THEY DEFINE THEMSELVES– FOR EXAMPLE, DO THEY TAKE PART IN SHARING THEIR
    RESPONSE OR DO THEY ONLY OBSERVE, FACILITATE. IT SEEMS TO ME IT’S LESS AMBIGUOUS, AT LEAST IN THEORY, FOR INTERPRETERS.
    The similarity I draw here is the exercise of power. You, as leader, have a huge range of latitude in what you chose to do; as do interpreters. Yes, there are constraints and limits imposed by professional codes of conduct and standardized social expectations regarding what it means to be ‘a professional’. The difference, perhaps, is in whether or not your decisions are challenged by the group? I may have missed the evidence of “storming” in this group, they seemed to leap quite rapidly to performing in an interdependent way. Yet, this could be a result of careful guidance that worked with the group’s energies and the tools of the trade to such an extent that storming was avoided, bypassed…I’m just speculating. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Challenges to interpreters take a range of forms (as I’m sure they do to you and other group leaders), and I am often surprised when they don’t occur.
    I CERTAINLY DIDN’T CONSCIOUSLY KNOW MUCH ABOUT YOU OR YOUR ‘EMOTIONAL’ EXPERIENCE IN THE GROUP. ON ANOTHER LEVEL, I MAY HAVE PICKED UP SOMETHING. AS I SAID, I DEFINITELY FELT A CONNECTION TO YOU THAT SURPASSED THE SITUATION.
    Or, was facilitated and/or otherwise created by the situation? I guess there were some perceptual seeds there, and for whatever reasons – possibly the similarities in our roles, possibly the function or effect of role I’d somehow taken up/been given as a group member (!), which I’m distinguishing from my role as interpreter – led to a certain power or intensity that drew attention?
    BRACED YOURSELF AS IN EXPECTING SOMETHING NEGATIVE? HARD? IS THERE SOMETHING INHERENTLY DIFFICULT ABOUT SWITCHING ROLES…DO YOU THINK THAT IS THE NORM FOR INTERPRETERS? I MIGHT CHECK THAT OUT.
    Hmmm. Expecting something negative? Not necessarily. It sure is a tricky situation to be in, however. It is definitely a norm for interpreters to resist being pulled out of role in that way, for a range of reasons. Some are functional:
    – if folks develop a relationship with the interpreter this can interfere with their developing a relationship among the speakers of different languages that is the reason we are even there
    – too much self-presence interferes with representations of those we interpret
    – often, to accommodate the group, interpreters revert to a combination of speaking and signing that usually satisfies English speakers but comes out as gibberish for ASL speakers (I was quite proud, btw, how TaWanda and I spontaneously interpreted for each other, guaranteeing linguistic access both ways, in both languages.)
    Other reasons are historical and have to do with things like how Deaf persons have experienced oppression, and very paternalistic behavior from untrained/unprofessional interpreters.
    I think it doesn’t need to be “inherently difficult” to switch these roles, but our training emphasizes the risks of doing so and our professional code of conduct more-or-less prohibits it. So, the “bracing” had to do with – what is the potential impact on the group if we do/don’t respond to the request? Sometimes it is better for a group for us to participate “as ourselves” and other times it isn’t. Largely I would say this depends on the timing and circumstances of the request, as well as its specifics.
    The second part of “bracing” is determining what’s appropriate/not appropriate to say “as myself.” Because of my own experiences with group relations I thought it was a way to demonstrate membership by flexing the boundary enough to add information about my emotional experience. (My training emphasizes the need for individual information to circulate in the system in order to make the most sense out of whatever transpires.) My teammate kept a line that was closer to the professional ideal.
    I THINK I WAS INITIALLY THINKING YOUR NON-VERBAL BEHAVIOR (MOVING) WAS REFLECTING A SHIFT IN YOUR ROLE BUT THEN I REALIZED PERHAPS IT WAS JUST
    ABOUT LINE OF SIGHT. MAYBE IT WAS BOTH!
    I think it was both. The movement was motivated by the need to maintain a sightline but it provided more space for me to consider my words. ๐Ÿ™‚

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