Holding space

Holding space can seem a very vague and “woo-woo” term, but it just means being with someone non-judgementally in whatever they are doing, experiencing, or needing.

This requires actively setting aside our own preferences, interests, and opinions in order to create space, a non-judgemental space, for the clients to entertain and engage with one another’s thoughts, preferences, interests, and opinions. It does not mean I don’t matter but rather this isn’t the place for them. It requires that I truly engage the value of autonomy and activate my belief that the many “right” ways to be a human are beautiful, and to recognize the honor and privilege I have to bear witness to them. 

Barriers to holding space:

  • Judgement of what is occurring
  • Preferences about what should be occurring
  • Belief that you are responsible to fix it

Questions to deepen your practice:

  • What barriers do you experience to holding space for consumers? 
  • What do you need to be able to hold space for others?
  • What is the relationship between your interpreting and/or teaching practice and the idea of holding space?

Interpreter Presence

In my coach training, we have been learning about the professional credentialing body of many coaches internationally (International Coaching Federation). We have started in earnest to collect our practice hours and start having individual feedback sessions with our teacher. In a recent session, we were discussing the rubric used to evaluate coaching session recordings by ICF. There are a number of categories, as you might imagine, but I want to talk about “coaching presence,” and the potential applications I see to this concept of presence for interpreters and interpreter educators. 

According to ICF, coaching presence is defined as, “Being fully conscious and creating spontaneous relationships with clients, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.” Some of the criteria used to evaluate is: 

Competency 4: Coaching Presence

  1. Coach’s questions and observations are customized by using what the coach has learned about who the client is and the client’s situation.
  2. Coach inquires about or explores the client’s use of language.
  3. Coach inquires about or explores the client’s emotions.
  4. Coach inquires about or explores the client’s tone of voice, pace of speech or inflection as appropriate.
  5. Coach inquires about or explores the client’s behaviors.
  6. Coach inquires about or explores how the client perceives his/her world.
  7. Coach is quiet and gives client time to think.

It seems to me a helpful frame that may be missing from interpreting and interpreter education. We do talk about impartiality, and being skilled but not about how we show up to the job and hold space for the communication event for which we were hired. We do not talk about the active work that it is to be present and yet withhold judgement, hold space for whatever needs to happen. It isn’t just a matter of being “neutral” (which we could argue about for eons and its impossiblity), it is about living out, actively, our values of non-interference, autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice (see Beachamp & Childress 2001). 

How we show up in a space need not be happenstance, it actually requires active cognitive and emotional work to be present and make space for the interaction that we are responsible for, to hold space, regardless of our own preferences, opinions, etc. It is tapping in to a belief that its not about what *I* think should happen or needs to happen but rather about what the interlcoturs need to happen.

Developing an interpreter presence mantra, questions to deepen your practice

  • What do you believe about ways of being human? 
  • What do you want to remember about your function as an interpreter in other’s interactions? 
  • What do you want to contribute to the space? Anxiety, calm, openness, etc? 
  • What do you want to characterize your presence as an interpreter in interactions? 

Potential mantras:

  • I am a calm presence.
  • I am open to the communication that occurs here today.
  • I understand people who use sign language and English, and they understand me (modified from a workshop participant recently). 

Connecting the Dots

Recently, I was listening to a pastor talking about connecting the dots to see the picture- seeing a page of seemingly random dots numbered on a page looks like a bunch of chaos. But once you start connecting the dots in number order, a picture is revealed. 

I was immediately struck by this analogy, and as in most things, I see implications for interpreting and interpereter eduation immediately. This analogy of connecting the dots to reveal the picture, feels very relevant to the puzzle that is meaning transfer across languages and people. 

One way of using this analogy would be thinking about the processing of the langauge itself, if we get the main points but not the details perhaps it is a rough representation of the picture at the level  of only 10 dots to connect. But if we get the main points, details, tone, and intent then we end up with a detailed and intricate picture that required connecting 100s of dots. 

Expanding upon the idea that language is a tool in the job, not the job itself, the analogy could be used for that. If I only connect the language dots (let’s say every 5th dot), the picture will be close but out of whack,where as if we connect the language, perception, interpersonal, communication, peopling dots, we get the whole picture in all its detals. 

The analogy certainly falls apart at some point, but I think it is an interesting idea to play with to conceptually get the impact of missing details when you don’t have an actual consumer you are practicing with or the details seem inconsequential anyway as there were not significant negative consequences to missing them – they still matter as the picture is still incomplete. 

Question to Deepen Our Practice 

— What is the connection between “connecting the dots” and providing language/communication access in your work? 

— What do you believe about language and meaning making between people? 

— What else comes to mind as you read this?