What it Really Means to Observe

October 17, 2016

I’m the kind of person who can’t stand having someone looking over my shoulder. It’s the hovering that really gets me. If I’m writing, and I know someone is there, I freeze. My brain refuses to scoot an inch further. Perhaps it’s insecurity in knowing that they’re looking at imperfection—I haven’t revised anything yet.

Funny, isn’t it, that I chose a profession where being observed is in the job description. I mean that literally; our CPC tells us to observe each other:

Tenet 5.2—Work cooperatively with team members…monitoring the accuracy of the message while functioning in the role of the support interpreter.

On top of working with at least two pairs of eyes glued to me, I don’t get the chance to revise my message. I’m stuck with whatever I initially put out there. As a writer who believes that the first attempt is always a rough draft that needs to be revised, this is terrifying. Seriously, what was I thinking?

And while working under a microscope can be an adjustment, it is just as challenging to be the observer. Of course, there are two different scopes here. There is the interpreter observing for professional development, and then there is the team whose responsibility it is to support and monitor his or her colleague. Regardless, it can be difficult to know what to observe for, and it can feel uncomfortable to put down what could be perceived as flaws on the part of the working interpreter.

The more I’ve interpreted, the more my perspective has changed. I’ve learned that it gets easier as time goes on. The more rapport I have with a team, the more comfortable I am with being observed and observing. In fact, it can become a security blanket, knowing that my team is supporting me and helping me to improve. Part of the reason for this shift is a result of my perception of hierarchy. If I placed my team on a pedestal, I was more likely to freeze up and feel uncomfortable being observed or providing feedback. If I viewed my team as a colleague—an equal—observation became a confidence boost. We were there to help one another with our rough draft, either assisting in the moment or providing feedback for future work.

It wasn’t until recently that the meaningfulness of tenet 5.2’s categorization finally clicked in my head. It falls under tenet 5.0 Respect for Colleagues. Think about that for a moment. Wouldn’t it make sense for the responsibility of monitoring the accuracy of the message to fall under tenet 4.0 Respect for Consumers? It seems obvious that it is a matter of respect to our consumers that, as a team, the interpreters provide an accurate message. It could have even fallen under the tenets for professionalism or conduct. Instead, the decision was made that the responsibility of observing each other’s work for accuracy is a sign of respect to our colleagues.

When I monitor your work for accuracy, I’m not criticizing you, I am showing you respect. When I offer sign suggestions or step in for an assist, I’m not engaging in a power struggle, I’m showing you respect. When I provide feedback or points for discussion, I am not belittling you or looking down on you, I’m showing you respect.

This also means that when I ignore your work by staring at my phone or zoning out, when I neglect to support you by providing ideas and feedback, I am disrespecting you.

Of course, it is important to ensure that the manner in which I provide feedback and support is done respectfully, too, but it is helpful for me, both as the observed and the observer, to know that the heart behind the tenet is a sign of respect.

I want to get more into the details of how to observe. I know how difficult it can be to know where to begin. Observing sounds like a passive activity, but it’s not; it requires conscious effort. Next time I’m going to break down the more practical aspects of how to engage in observation. If you have any ideas or tips and tricks that work for you, feel free to comment on them or send me an email, and I will be sure to include it in the discussion.

By: Rachelle Clifford

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