“Can I give you some feedback?”

Feedback feels like a dirty word in the land of performance evaluation in the interpreting field. It makes students and even seasoned practitioners shudder to imagine being evaluated and provided “feedback” on their work. In my 20 plus years of work in this arena, I think we fundamentally misunderstand what feedback means and how to incorproate it in our work. 

We have not learned how to provide or receive feedback from colleagues, nor have we created an effective way to solicit actionable feedback from consumers impacted by our work.

I was recently in a discussion about supervision for professional interpreters when the term of “feedback” came up. We explored what it means to us and our relationship to the term. I then went to the internet to find the dictionary definition:  “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.” (https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/ retrieved 3/17/2021)

Feedback is not about telling anyone what to do and/or how you would have done it differently. But rather it is about sahring your reaction to whatever they are presenting you. As the dictionary says – a product or performance. So, saying, “I would have signed xyz” or “You could have said lmnop” is not feedback. Feedback might look a little bit more like, “I was confused about the connection between xyz and lmnop” or “I could really feel the tone of anger from Sally.” 

Then as the practitioner, I can collect that data – the reactions – and make meaning of it to improve my work product. So, I may learn that a consumer was confused about the connection between xyz and lmnop – and realize that I, as the interpreter also missed the connection. Meaning I could have asked for calrification, or I could have looked to my team for insights, or….any number of other control options. 

OR

Maybe the connection was clear in the source language but my process management was at capacity and I missed making the connection overt in the target language. This could lead me to brainstorming how to better manage my process, or relying on my team to monitor pieces, or following up with the consumers to clarify, asking the speaker to pause, etc. 

When we solicit and collect feedback based on the reactions of consumers, we end up in a much more fruitful direction than when we get feedback that tells us what to do and how to do it. Sometimes the root cause of an issue isn’t apparent to observers, it requires me, as the professional practitioner, to reflect upon my process and identify where I need to strengthen things. 

There are many different ways that we collect feedback – the example above is a direct sharing of that feedback. However, we also get feedback from facial expresssions, responses within the interpreted conversation, and even our own sense of “reading the room/people.”

Questions to deepen your practice: 

  • What sources of feedback do you attend to on a regular basis?
  • What is the message you are getting from those channels?
  • What are you making it mean? 
  • How are you implementing improvements and testing them? 

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