You Made a Mistake, What Do You Do?

You need to act immediately to salvage your client relationship and your good name. I have made mistakes. And when I ran a T&I agency, I received complaints about subcontractors. In both cases, here is what I learned  about resolving issues fairly.

Start by knowing the impact to your client.  A mistranslation in an evidentiary document may make that evidence inadmissible.  Delaying a deposition by arriving late costs both sides money and time. Interpretation errors change testimony and can alter the outcome of the case.

Be the first one to tell your agency scheduler or your direct client, if you think you have made a mistake. Be honest about the mistake. Avoid downplaying it or shifting the blame to anyone else. Offer to help resolve it. There is a possibility they will dismiss it as insignificant.

Neutralize your mistakes before they affect anyone else.

Translation errors.  Don’t just offer, go ahead and send the corrected document with a notice of revision along with your apology for the mistake. Do not charge for the correction.

Interpretation errors. These are corrected at the time they are made. In a deposition the interpreter should correct their English target language errors on the record, speaking in the third person. “The interpreter respectfully requests to change the interpretation from X to Y.” If asked for the source term, say it and spell it. I’ve never had an objection to this request; lawyers are more understanding of the honest approach to mistakes.

Mistakes in Business Conduct. The most common are being late and invoicing errors. These are quickly forgiven and forgotten if you admit and apologize. If you cost the client time or money- discount your fee. Call if you think you are going to be late, and apologize if you are late. Tell the agency you arrived late before you invoice them.

If you think you can get away with a lie; you won’t. I’ve heard some doozies.  A client called from a deposition saying the interpreter I had subcontracted hadn’t shown up. I confirmed the time and location with the client. I took a break from my job to call her but had to leave a message. The client called that she finally arrived (45 minutes late) and that she told them she had the wrong address. I discounted my fee to the client, apologized and he still hires me. Without returned my calls the interpreter invoiced me her full rate.  When I finally reached her, she claimed a train crossing the freeway made her late. I checked her route and saw trains don’t cross that freeway. She was busted lying to both of us. I never hired her again, refused to recommend her and I heard similar reports abut her from other attorneys. Her lying is an indelible stain.

Act quickly, honestly and be humble about your error. Even with high standards, we all make mistakes in this field. Then move forward to an even more successful career.

You made a mistake. What Happens Now?


You know that uneasy feeling that you may have made a mistake in your interpreting or legal translation ? You aren’t sure if anyone caught your mistake since you haven’t received a complaint…yet.  Maybe while you were interpreting in a deposition, an attorney objected and then asked to have a question and answer and your interpretation read back. Maybe it was an unfamiliar phrase repeated throughout a translation and every time you saw it, something bothered you about the term you were using. But you made the deadline and it is already in the hands of the client. In both cases, the more you think about it, the more you feel that you made a mistake. At this point, your conscious won’t leave you alone.

That sense is a good thing. It means you care about your work product.

When a mistake is discovered, here’s what’s probably going to happen on the client’s end.

If you were working for an agency, they will hear the complaint from their client.  A professional agency should give you a chance to tell your side, so they will contact you and ask you about the job. Some will tell you exactly what the client complained about. If you work with the agency to help them rectify the problem, then you help them keep their client. If they keep that client, you have a better chance of staying on with the agency. If they have to resolve the problem without your help, you could easily lose them as a client. Often the agency will need to discount or not charge their fee to keep the client.

Fact: The agency can replace you with another freelancer much easier than they can replace a paying client.

Fact: Legal translation offered as evidence can be objected to in court if errors are found. The client they may send back the translation and ask for a correction. If you are at fault, don’t charge them.

Fact: Most interpreters don’t realize the repercussions to the client of misinterpreted testimony.

Fact: Many Court Interpreter Regulatory bodies have grievance protocols that can result in certification suspension or termination.

Interpreters may not hear complaints about mistakes they make at all.  Lawyers are super busy and don’t like the task of questioning people about errors.  But they do  tell other lawyers about bad experiences with interpreters, which snowballs, and your reputation is shot. You will begin to notice that specific client doesn’t schedule you anymore. Then your overall work load drops off.

If your mistake affected their witness’s case, the firm has to act quickly and according to the rules of civil or criminal procedure. They may hire another interpreter to review the transcript and give an expert opinion on any errors. You won’t find out unless you are called to testify if a motion is made to throw out the transcript or statements in question.

Mistakes are made in your work or in your business performance too.

Being late and delaying a deposition costs both parties in time and money. Not making a deadline on a translation can set back the client’s production schedule. This is why clients react so strongly to mistakes we make.

Don’t spend time agonizing over a mistake. Instead take action to correct it and be honest  and fair with the client.

When you work to resolve it, you will learn how to never make that mistake again.

Let’s go down Resolution Road together. Look for two more posts: what you can do to resolve a mistake and what to do when the client wrongly claims that you made a mistake.

Taking the Snide Witness in Stride

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines snide as: slyly disparaging.

Canon 1 of The Texas Court  Interpreters Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility states in part that”  The interpreter shall render a complete and accurate interpretation without altering, omitting or adding to what is stated and without explanation. The register style and tone of the source language should be conserved “

This is why when a witness is snide, the professional interpreter repeats the tone and the wording spoken despite the rudeness to the attorneys and the obstructions to a smooth deposition that attitude creates.  It is really not fun for us either.

It is also important for the interpreter to prepare to not be affected in any way by the rudeness that ensues. Instead you can prepare for delays, duration and a hostile environment. This way you can avoid any associated discomfort, fatigue or impediments to your performance.

Here are scenarios from when I interpreted for and observed several snide witnesses.

The witness: The tone is sarcastic. The pace of the responsiveness is either dragging, with long pauses or fast paced with sharp and snapping responses. For a fast paced testimony, it is best to interpret simultaneously.

The questioning attorney: may take a contentious tone or a passive one, In the latter situation they wait patiently for responses to questions.  Either of these approaches extend the deposition. Finally they may request/insist that the lawyer representing the witness intervene.  If the witness’s attorney does not intervene the deposition may be cut short.

The attorney for the witness can either intervene by instructing the witness to respond or take a break and do so privately. Otherwise, the attorney for the witness can ignore the situation entirely. In said situation the questioning attorney may respond more aggressively than is usual in depositions. The attorney for the witness may object as badgering. In my latest experience, there were no objections and the questions became faster, more compound and demanding. The witness became even more aggressive.

All persons who are on the record:

  • Expect a lot of gestures such as eye rolling to exaggerated sighs, turning to co-counsel with expressions of shock/disbelief, head shaking and long deep stares with furrowed brows. Note: Interpreters do not convey or indicate gestures.
  • There can be raised voices, talk overs and cursing.
  • There can be reactionary behavior like pounding on the table, exhibits slapped on the table, exhibits tossed or pulled away.

When a witness replies refusing to state the requested information, the questioning attorney may remind them of the obligation they have to provide information in depositions. If the witness continues to refuse, the questioning lawyer may call the Judge to intervene and instruct the witness. The interpreter needs to stay until the deposition is officially ended on the record. Even then, the issue may not be resolved.

If you were contracted by an agency, you should notify them afterwards of the incident to keep them apprised. Do not comment in any way that can be considered your opinion on the situation. Do not show any displeasure or frustration to the attorneys.

Know that attorneys are trained for these situations. The best attorneys I know take it in stride. I suggest you perform like the best attorneys and continue to enjoy your work.

Either Way, It’s The Same Horns. My Take Away from a Lawyer’s Rant.

Longhorn reciprocal scan0001Knowing what your client needs and expects from you is a baseline for providing a great product or service. But when you  learn the inner workings of your client’s work experience, you will be able to turn that insight into empathy and  resolve problems and save a worthwhile client relationship.

My market is the judicial field. Non-paying or slow paying clients is the most common complaint I hear from colleagues, both freelance court interpreters and Translation and Interpreting agencies alike. I’m not immune to this experience. I have perfected rates and terms that meet and surpass the high standards set by the judiciary and lawyers. I deliver them whenever someone enquires about my services or availability and I politely require acceptance in writing before I accept an assignment. But as much as I study my client’s industry and keep up with their regulations and legislation, I haven’t found the magic tactic to guarantee on time payment.

Then I read the post by a lawyer who was really angry at clients who don’t pay him. http://lawfirmsuites.com/2013/10/shop-talk-deadbeat-clients/

He had me at the title of the post Clients Who Don’t Pay Piss Me Off. Notwithstanding the irony of the source of the complaint, after reading that post, I can honestly say I felt his pain.

I have heard a lot about the business of law and I have paid attention. I listen to shop talk by clients who are personal friends and I ask questions. I grew up in a family of lawyers that includes two Supreme Court Justices. In my continuing education classes, I teach interpreters to pay attention to the business of law. But the raw resentment expressed in this man’s post is exactly how I feel when I have to enter into the ugly phase of collecting a fairly earned fee. The fact that collecting from law firms is a regular component of doing business for me and my colleagues makes this lawyer’s perspective all that more valuable.

Every situation that he describes in his post has happened to me. I have endured clients not paying, delaying payment and not responding to late notices or phone calls, and even clients asking you to cut the already agreed upon rate after the assignment is completed, His sense of betrayal and having been disrespected is all too familiar. It is disrespectful to not be paid your hard earned fees.

When I read his advice to lawyers: You shouldn’t do business with clients who do not respect the value of your services, I wondered if he had read my articles or attended one of my classes.

My take away from that post was that I can now apply a layer of empathy to my terms policy. I can approach clients from a more shared experience. We are both giving our best services to the client. We are held to an oath and regulations most professionals wouldn’t tolerate. And we both truly respect the judicial system that we serve.

But the most significant take away I got from that post is knowing I can say to my client, ”I understand”.

When You Suffer from Acyrologia, We Suffer Right Along With You.

 

I recognized this condition right away. I have suffered at the hand of those who suffer from Acyrologia. Yes it happens in other languages too.

When I am on the stand or in a deposition and I am sight translating a document in Spanish out loud in English, I am following the word sequence of whatever is written to be able to process the translation correctly. And when the words in the document stop making sense, I am halted in my flow.  What usually happens then is the quizzical looks and even an objection- directed at me and my interpretation of which I am innocent.

And no matter how funny the words sound, we are not allowed to laugh, as per our regulations. Even if everyone else in the courtroom is laughing.

So this  is not just the result of untrained translators or online translation apps, but people writing without proofreading. So, now attorneys and Judges can put a name to this condition.

So it was a relief to know there is a condition with a root cause and behavioral symptoms of the author of a source document that causes difficulty in my work. Now maybe if they can come up with a cure.

This description starts serious and then gets funny.  See if you can count the malapropisms.  But the truth is, a lot of us legal translators on a regular basis see this in the most sensitive of documents.

 

 

When Speaking to People, are you Self-Sabotaging ?

Count your Uhs and Ums.

Whether you are speaking to an audience of three or three thousand, you want to be taken seriously. In an interview, an interrogation, questioning a witness in a deposition, addressing a jury or even on a first date, you want to make the right impression. You want to be believed and you want to hold the attention of your audience. You can’t rely on the content of your message alone. You also have to rely on your delivery skills.

I’ve become very aware of how a speaker’s message is distorted by interruptions such as “uh” and “um”, because my simultaneous delivery of the words spoken is also interrupted.  If the statement is evidence, I see first hand how it is perceived and accepted or not by the listener.

If you are filling their ears with “uh” and “um” and “eh”, most people will quickly tune you out.

This the message you are sending:

  • You don’t know what you are talking about.
  • You are making it up as you go along.
  • You are not familiar with the subject enough to speak continuously.
  • You have to throw in words to your sentence as fillers.
  • But worst of all, you are telling the listener that you don’t care about what you are talking about.

(So why should anyone else care?)

The solution is easy.  By yourself, practice making a point that you would in a short casual conversation.  As soon as you catch yourself saying “Uh” or ‘um”, start over.

Replace every “uh” or “um” with a silent pause. Keep repeating the same point until you do not interrupt yourself with either a pause or an “uh “or “um”.  This will give your brain the practice of speaking without theses interruptions.

Now, move up to a prepared statement and follow the same routine, without reading it word for word. Add convincing body language and you are ready to fly, nonstop.

Three Career Lessons I’ve Learned from Judges

Listening Skills

Judges have taught me that you have to know the subject matter you are listening to and then you have to know what you are listening for.

Judges are charged with following who is speaking,   what is said and how it is said while making sure the Rules of Civil or Criminal Procedure are followed. That means they are listening to everyone speaking and applying the basis of their role and their words throughout the litigation process.

When it is a bench trial they are going to rule on the evidence presented. So, they apply their knowledge of the law and precedents in such cases.

That is a lot of knowledge to keep up to date. It is also a lot of filters to keep in place.

Patience

Judges have taught me to evaluate a situation and the intent of a person who is disrupting a proceeding before reacting.

There will always be participants in a trial that have no clue about courtroom protocol or rules of the judiciary. Sometimes first time lawyers fall into that category. It is difficult to fulfill your responsibility when the smooth flow of order is upset. Just three words will exemplify the full range of possible tests of patience:  Pro Se Witness.

Realizing a Passion to Serve

Judges have taught me to pull the curtain away from the somber rituals and courtroom décor and know the history of the purpose of service in the judicial system.

When you look at the history of the development of our judicial system, you learn the depth of the value for such service. If you take the time to consider each participant, from Bailiff to Court Reporter, from Interpreter to Lawyer, you will realize that we are all walking a road paved with hard work and dedication to justice. I truly enjoy that honor.

Blueprint for a Credible Apology . Tasks for the Receiver of the Apology

There is such a thing as a credible apology. I have seen it given, heard the words and witnessed the very moving acceptance. I saw this happen many times. So I have compared what I witnessed to the thousands of non-credible apologies that fall flat. I broke down all the aspects and preparation performed to create a credible apology. The Receiver of the apology will benefit from preparation for hearing and deciding how to react to an apology.

In my line of work, the biggest obstacle of most apologies I see is that the apologizer is prohibited from admitting guilt. I am a forensic foreign language linguist in the judicial and law enforcement fields. My clients, top lawyers, detectives and mediators clear that hurdle with this same process which also works for apologies in your personal life.

You may not be able to accept or benefit emotionally from an apology where the Giver has not admitted guilt. And that is not only understandable, it is your right to not accept an apology. If it shows that the Giver recognizes how you can feel the way you do and that you both have an analogous view of the event and offers regret for the outcome that will take space in the void of not hearing anything at all. Focusing on expectations that the Giver will say exactly what you want to hear sets you up for disappointment. If the giver of the apology is in a position of power, lives a sheltered existence and/or has a large ego may have no experience being wronged in such a way as you were. That type of person needs to be enlightened before they can have empathy.

Part One: Empathy Development

Start with finding out what you don’t know. Why do they feel they did nothing wrong? This will take research and investigation on your part.

·        Define and qualify “wrong” in their terms not yours.

·        Know that the Giver will approach the wrong as qualitative, not quantitative.

·        Know that if the Giver personally committed the wrong then it is a personal event now in his or her life also.

·        Know that if the Giver is a representative or head of the company that committed the wrong that all participants will know about the apology.

The Receiver of the apology should be able to reiterate the POV of the Giver comfortably in their own words.

Part Two

·        Spend the time needed to get comfortable hearing about what stopped the Giver from avoiding or impeding the event from taking place. 

·        Acknowledge the level of difficulty in making such an apology for this specific person.

Part Three

·        Know that you need to acknowledge the apology. But you get to decide if or if not you will accept it.

·        Don’t expect reparations or amends as a part of an apology.

·        Acknowledge the change being made to bar such an incident ever happening again.

·        Express appreciation that they apologized.

The Blue Print for a Credible Apology

Not everyone will apologize, even when facing imprisonment, the destruction of their career, or an established corporation. Many times I’ve seen representatives of Fortune 100 businesses apologize for their role in events to the level of the death of a loved one. And the accepted apologies diffused potential devastation. An apology takes preparation, for both the Giver and Receiver.

The tasks for the Receiver are outlined in a separate blog post.

In my line of work, the biggest obstacle of the apologies I see is that the apologizer is prohibited from admitting guilt. I am a forensic foreign language linguist for the judicial and law enforcement fields. My clients, some of the best lawyers, detectives and mediators clear that hurdle with this same process which also works for apologies in your personal life.

Tasks of the Giver

Part One: Empathy Development

Start with finding out what you don’t know. What do they feel you did wrong?

·        Define and qualify “wrong” in their terms not yours.

·        Approach the wrong as qualitative, not quantitative.

·        Spend the time needed to get comfortable hearing about the Receiver’s circumstances that led to their sensitivity. 

·        Take special steps to assure both the credibility of the wording and body language if a public/media statement will be made.

The giver of the apology who is in a position of power, lives a sheltered existence and/or has a large ego will need to work out the apology in a setting with only a few people who are not subordinates.  Such a person may have no experience being wronged in such a way, so it will have to be introduced and explained in a non- judgmental way.

Others can realize what was done “wrong” from the POV of the Receiver with a simple explanation.

Then discuss and explore facts that support or negate the possibility of an exaggerated baseless claim. The giver should air those out and resolve concerns so they don’t seep into the apology. If an apology is warranted you can apologize for what is based on facts. 

The Giver of the apology should be able to reiterate the POV of the Receiver comfortably in their own words.

Part Two: Create the Apology

·        Outline how the actions aided or contributed or caused the impact suffered by the Receiver.

·        Demonstrate these by describing the incident scenario without said actions and note the different and more desirable result.

·        Practice eliminating justification for your actions and replacing it with optional behaviors or processes.

·        Practice eliminating expressing self-defense and replace it with the responsiveness of the apology.

Part Three: Delivery

Display proper body language that are naturally indicative of sincerity.

The timeline of a credible apology.

·        Start with relating the incident, factually without adverbs or adjectives. This shows that there is a mutual familiarity of the event.

·        Express the role/actions in the incident.

·        Acknowledge the impact on the Received.

·        Express regret.

·        Finally express the change being made to bar such an incident ever happening again.

·        Express appreciation that they gave you the time to apologize.

Scope of Regret 

The Giver will have to regret their actions and the impact of those actions. When damage is more than emotional, do not simply express regret for how the Receiver feels.  That is not an apology it is a rude deviation and it eliminates any perception of regret.

Connecting With Clients in a City Under Water. Speaking “Houstonese”.

Your first contact should be a welfare check on your clients’ wellbeing, not  a search for a paycheck.

The truth is I am writing this in response to a LinkedIn Connection from Georgia who messaged me asking me to help her find paying work here, in Houston, in light of the storm. I still had five feet of water surrounding my house and was stranded. Power came and went. Rescues of my own neighbors and friends were being conducted by people who came in from all over the country. The death toll was slowly rising with the water. I was stunned at her insensitivity and ignorance. Then I realized I can only do something about the latter.

Start with What You Don’t Know. It’s about what people are facing.

You have never lost your house to a flood. You have never been rescued by a helicopter from your roof or been evacuated.  You have never seen your house or office with feet of water in it and you have to clear it out now before more damage sets in. You have never had your company close either indefinitely or for over a week due to something your boss has no power over.  The people you are calling are living this reality.

Businesses are all codependent. One may be up and ready to start work but stopped by raw materials or services they need not being accessible. Transportation will be hindered. Banks and other essential programs may be off line. Infrastructure may be damaged. There is a chorus of “No”, “You can’t” and “We don’t know when.” that we in Houston are hearing every day now.

When a business can open, they have to count on their employees. And they have to concern themselves with how these people fared from the flood.  Can they get there?  Did they lose their car in the flood? Are the streets on their route flooded? Can they get gas?  Can they perform their tasks at work? Are they struggling emotionally in the turmoil? Are they preoccupied with losses at home?  In Houston today, you cannot find anyone unscathed from Hurricane Harvey so Houstonians have little else on their minds.

That is what is on the minds of the people you contact.  So read up on that kind of experience before you contact them.

Communicating in the new language “Houstonese”

We are all speaking a new language here and you should learn it before contacting your Houston clients.  You start by asking whomever answers the phone with “How are you and your family?” And then you listen.  Acknowledge tragedies with sympathy and losses with encouragement and support. Ask how their company is faring. Don’t even try to compete with your own close calls or extended comparison of an event unless you live in Houston or surrounding communities.

Don’t spend too much time on the phone. We all have five times the responsibilities today that we had two weeks ago.

Don’t ask what you can do. When tour clients answer the questions above,  you will learn what they need and what you can do.  Being familiar with their services means you are a step ahead and can see the gaps that you can fill.

Now for the sticky part. Offer help that is free. Volunteer your services.  If these words sent a shockwave through you, you don’t speak “Houstonese”.  I am practicing what I preach. I am interpreting for free all client contact being made by my client law firms who are reaching out to their Non English speaking clients.

Show Business Kindness.  If you have a standing contract with a Houston company then offer to delay invoicing, or lower your fees for a period of time.

If you have contract labor in Houston, make advance or early payments on their services.

If you are a national agency please consider the Houston labor pool first. We are ready to work and as survivors we are going to give you peak performance.

Houston will come back stronger, more financially dominant and vibrant. We will be a prominent source of work and top paying jobs. You will be remembered for what you do and how you communicate now.