Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

two group’s dynamics

January 18th, 2007

I’ve had a few interesting gigs lately. Each job was for a large “small group” – 20 or more persons but with the expectation of interaction, not just one person giving a presentation. One group had a minority of Deaf persons (roughly 20%) and the other group had equal numbers of Deaf and non-deaf participants. Both groups were composed almost entirely of people who knew sign language – even the non-deaf participants (varying degrees of fluency).
There were two noticeable differences between the two groups. In the former, with the minority of Deaf persons, the dominant language was ASL: interpreters were hired to provide access for the very few non-ASL users – essentially a “one-way” communicative arrangement. In the second group, which was half-and-half, interpreters were needed to provide communicative access both ways – from the visual/gestural to the auditory/spoken and from the spoken/auditory to the gestural/visual.
Several dynamics “flowed” from these distinct demographic and linguistic configurations. Maintaining a steady flow of communication back-and-forth “across” the language difference – the auditory and visual channels – was most challenging in the evenly divided group, however with strong facilitation a surprising amount of equity was established. The ironic part, from my vantage point, is that this group included non-deaf people with little knowledge or personal experience with the Deaf community and/or interpreted situations. “Typical” meetings like this, when non-deaf persons call upon the Deaf community to share information, do not often evolve into such lengthy and detailed discussion.
I say that the success of the half-Deaf/half-non-deaf group is ironic because it included non-deaf members with little to no prior experience. The irony is in contrast with the other group, where almost everyone signed and the participants are all familiar with interpreted situations. This is the second noticeable difference between the two groups. In the uneven group – uneven demographically by Deaf and non-deaf status and also uneven linguistically in that ASL was the dominant language and voicing into English was an event that occurred “on the side” (so to speak) – was the extent to which this experienced group failed to take into account the access needs of the persons requiring interpretation.
I’ve been observing this dynamic for some time, now. This group is not unique, rather, they are typical of groups who have functioned with interpreters for many years. Somehow, the (old) messages of interpreters to “ignore me”, “do your own thing,” “don’t change anything, we’ll take care of it” (and messages to this effect) have become ingrained in practice such that the habit of NOT “paying attention to the interpreter” is so deep as to be outside of awareness.
I’ve been playing with how to rephrase that kind of advice for non-deaf folks using interpreters for the first time (not to mention trying to find ways to talk about this with members of the Deaf community)….the thing is, it isn’t that we interpreters need people to pay attention to us-in-ourselves. What we need people to pay attention to is if the communication is working, by which I mean (and possibly others would disagree): Are relationships being built across the language/culture difference?


Categories: Interpreting

2 Responses to “two group’s dynamics”

  1. Steph says:

    I thought about this some more….actually, there were the same number of non-signing people in each group. The difference was that in one (the “evenly divided” group), the non-signers were the ones who organized the meeting. This means they had a certain amount of power (at least status) AND that everyone else was talking TO them. This made those shifts between visual/gestural to auditory/spoken more valued (if that’s the best term?).
    In the other group, the non-signing people were participants, in the position of “receiving” information, so perhaps this “de-valued” the possibility of (as in the sense of needing or desiring) their participation?

  2. Steph says:

    (uh oh…on a roll of talking to myself!)
    I don’t share these thoughts to try and pinpoint “blame” or anything superficial like that. (Saying one or more persons are “responsible” or “guilty” is – in my opinion – the easy way out.) What I do hope to accomplish is an open conversation about how this kind of dynamic can be recognized and changed. By labeling it a “dynamic”, I’m saying that these behaviors, or patterns, or whatever we call them, are something created by The Whole Group All Together. In other words, I’m thinking of “lack of awareness” as a form of cooperation.

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