Blog Trust building

When there are codes that dictate our behaviour and relationships with clients, building trust can be a delicate task. We know that trust is integral to effectively carrying out our work and are comfortable setting our own professional boundaries, but what happens when we bring an interpreter into the scenario?

A client may feel an instant connection with their interpreter due to shared language or culture. A good interpreter will be professional, but there is lots of room for lines to blur. Picture an elderly woman waiting to see her doctor. She meets the interpreter in the waiting room and they instantly hit it off. When called into the doctor’s office, the granny wonders why she has to explain her knee problem all over again! I just told it all to him, she says! The doctor frowns and starts his spiel.

Prepare for the unexpected

You’ve done all the right things to set up your session. It’s the beginning of your appointment, and your client and interpreter meet. They greet each other by clasping hands, changing their grip, then clasping again. They’ve held hands much longer than you would with a client. You wonder if they know each other. Has this crossed a line?

What you don’t know is that this is a common greeting in parts of South Africa, which is where your client is from. They each hold their elbow while they clasp hands, as a sign of respect.

While we can’t be across all customs in all cultures, we can maintain an open mind while communicating with people who identify with cultures different to our own. We can challenge our assumptions and consider whether something is truly ‘crossing a line’ or simply a result of how we communicate. Sometimes these things are crucial for building trust with your client – for example, allowing them a few sidebars with the interpreter, or adapting your communication style.

Be a good host

It’s good practice to brief your interpreter separately before they meet with the client. This will give them a background on the context, goals and roles and expectations for the meeting.

The second introduction you will make is directed towards your client, and should happen after you have briefed your interpreter, once everyone is there. The purpose of this is to ensure that both they and the interpreter are clear on their roles and expectations. The interpreter may even interpret this so that it is clearly understood by your client.

Your introduction checklist:

  • Who is there and who does what?
  • Expectations
  • Reason for meeting

Here’s an example:

Good morning [client], I’m [name], and I will be leading this discussion today.

We have an interpreter, [name], here to help us make sure we understand each other clearly.

The interpreter won’t share anything we talk about with anyone else. They will be neutral and won’t favour you or me. Their goal is to translate what we say word-for-word so we can communicate effectively. If the interpreter doesn’t understand something, they will stop and ask me to explain.

Today we are going to talk about [topic]. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns by saying ‘stop,’ so that we can address it.

If you feel that the conversation is getting out-of-hand, you can pause the conversation and reiterate the points you mentioned in your introduction, though a good introduction should help to keep you on track from the beginning.

Talk it over

Lastly, don’t forget to debrief with your interpreter after the session to discuss how it went and express any concerns. They often give valuable insight to help create more positive outcomes in the future.

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Andrea and the CEH Training Team