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.

Words From the Eye of Hurricane Harvey.

As I write this, at home in Houston, Texas in the middle of Hurricane Harvey, I am trapped at home surrounded by feet of water encircling my house. 

But I am safe, the house is prepared, no water is getting in and I have power.  So I will write and tell you the interesting phrases and terminology I hear throughout this five day event.  You may be interpreting it for other media, or you may be hunting for expressive terms for your own creative writing, forensic writs and communications or you may be a terminologist. Full disclosure: some tongue in cheek humor has found its way into my writing.

Rain event–   I heard this a lot the first day. And yes, Harvey started out as that but then the rain became a flood and then spawned many foods.  A “Rain Event” is used in a comparative sense to describe a weather storm event in which rain is predominant. The comparison is to the other damaging elements such as high wind, tornados, storm surge, and flooding.

Lengthy wait.  Waiting for drinking water, gas for your car, waiting on a freeway for the water to go down at your exit or in line at grocery stores finally open after three days in a hurricane is subjective.   This term was used to describe waiting in line to check out at a grocery store as 2 hours by one person and 5 hours by another. People called it a lengthy wait when they waited -overnight- on a high point of a freeway before they could get off the freeway.

Mandatory evacuation.   You have to leave. City officials and law enforcement get involved.

Tornado Watch     A watch is issued when conditions are favorable, for example, either for a severe thunderstorm or tornadoes.

Tornado Warning   Warnings mean that severe weather is imminent. It is on you now.

Cabin Fever   This is restlessness because you can’t leave a location your home or a shelter.  It can lead to dysfunctional or really useful productive behavior. It also leads to being Slap Happy and writing great comedy and inventive games. Another relative term is Stir Crazy.

Shelter In Place   This means stay where you are.  I think this term is problematic because you could be under an overpass or in your car on a highway in a dangerous storm.  So I highlight the emphasis on Shelter- you need to be sheltered by your location and don’t be wandering around.

Stay Safe.   This is the universal pleasantry uttered by people who are not themselves facing any form of risk, danger or inconvenience.

Impassable Roads.   Your car will not and should not get through. They really need to replace this word with more of an impacting visual term: Totally Blocked or Walled Off. The reason I say this is we had several people drive into areas declared Impassable and they drowned in their cars.

Trapped.  I have learned that you can be trapped in a bad place or in a good place. So the word is grounded on the location being safe and not the lack of freedom or confinement. I feel lucky to be “trapped” in a flood water free home with power compared to being trapped in rising water in a car or in your house.

To Underestimate. This is constantly being used to describe the supposed thinking of people who drove into high water and didn’t survive. It is also being stated by people who got stuck on the flooded roads when a reporter catches up with them.  My point is this, the root of the word is estimate, which should involve appreciable thinking. In so many ways this seems doubtful.

Five Career Boosting Lessons I learned from Attorneys

 I have worked with some of the best attorneys and Judges in the nation.  And I love watching them work.  Sometimes I am lucky enough when on subsequent cases, they reflect back on a trial or a proceeding and they explain to me what they were doing and why. These  lessons can be applied to  any interaction, conversation or discussion you have .

1.   The Value of Preparation

  •    Knowing the answer before you ask the question gives you the opportunity to observe and learn about the person you are questioning and allows you to stay on top of the conversation.

 

2.   Poise Under Pressure

  • People are more inclined to listen to you and believe you when you are calm and collected.

 

3.   Integrating the rules into your standard routine. 

  • The rules governing a Q&A are inherently agreed upon when opposing sides are brought together. Therefore, no matter how much disagreement there is, basing your statements on that point of agreement maintains a reminder of a potential agreement on more contentious points.

 

4.   Patience

  •   Never be impatient with a long-winded client or fact witness. If you wait long enough you will hear what you need to hear.

 

  •   Take the time to word critical questions and run them by someone before you put them on the record and the respondent hears them. Having to restate or deflect objections is a sloppy dance that shows you as unprepared and out of control.

 

5.   Balance client representation with judicial ethics.

  • Filter all the needs and requests of a client through the ethical rules that govern your work. It is only a matter of time before those rules will be the judge of your performance.

Best Negotiating Strategies from Women Who Shaped America.

A gift in honor of  International Women’s Day. Wednesday March 8, 2017

http://womenwatch.unwomen.org/international-womens-day-history

You want to learn from people who have achieved success on a path similar to yours. You can be encouraged by people who have faced and overcome obstacles that you fear.  I learned a lot and I was very inspired and encouraged reading the in depth accounts of women who ultimately shaped my country, The United States.   The lessons I learned from the trailblazers of the past were reinforced by the interviews of women who are trailblazing today. The toughest part of success is negotiating successfully.  My gift to all women in business are these best negotiating strategies by a few women for whom negotiating became pivotal in American history. I quote directly from this fabulous book:

American Heroines. The Spirited Women Who Shaped America by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson https://www.amazon.com/American-Heroines-Spirited-Shaped-Country/dp/0060566361

Ann Legendre Armstrong: First woman US Ambassador to the Court of St. James.

“Learn as much as you can about the person you are negotiating with and then look at things from his or her point of view.”

Dr. Antonia Novello: First woman and first Hispanic American to serve as Surgeon General.

“I use the element of surprise as my best negotiating strategy – knowing the pros and cons of an issue before I even enter the room”.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee:  Track and Field Olympian and Sports Illustrated Woman Athlete of the 20th Century.

“Always go in there with a game plan and know what outcome you want.”

Geraldine Ferraro: First woman to win the nomination for Vice President of a major political party.

“I think the most important thing is to listen to both sides. You’re trying to be the person in the center.”

Sandra Day O Connor:  First woman Justice appointed to the Supreme Court.

“I think the most important thing there is to learn is how to listen to people with an open mind and then weigh things subjectively and see what you can put together.”

Condoleezza Rice: First African American woman to serve as National Security Advisor.

“Be absolutely certain where you want to come out. Know where your true red lines are and don’t keep moving them.”

Powerful Words of Change

The Day The US Government Ordered the Overhaul of the Court.

GovernmentThe sense of a contentious divide in the United States today concerns me.  But I found comfort while volunteering to preserve historical documents at the Historical Document Room  at the Harris County courthouse, (Houston, Texas). I came across this soul stirring entry in the minutes of the court, made at the end of the Civil War.  These are the words of the Judge who had just received the order from the US Government mandating the overthrow of the Judges, Supreme Court Justices, Jurors and instilling new laws with which to rule on cases already filed in the court.

I could feel the anxiety of the court clerk as he wrote the words spoken by the Judge. I could imagine the agitation of the Confederate Judge who knew he was being unseated.   I could imagine the sense of uncertainty of everyone in the courtroom who heard them.  Events show that in order to fulfill this order the new Union Judge and the Confederate Judge worked together on the cases before the court to preserve the primary principles  of our country.  See how our justice system flows in the best and the worst times of history.

Book K. Minutes of the 11th District Court of Harris County, Texas. 

Thursday,  June 1, 1865.

At our early day of  the present term, it was announced that an order would be made to call for trial at the next term, all civil cases filed since January 1862.  And but since the events in the history of the country have transpired which render it unnecessary to limit the call to any particular portion of the docket.

It is therefore ordered that at the next term of the court, the civil and criminal docket will be called for trial and disposition in full as in ordinary times.  This order is entered now that all parties in interest have due notice.

Judge James A. Baker.  Presiding Judge of the 11th District Court of Harris County Texas. 

The importance of the dates noted in this order:

January 1862   Texas seceded from the United States on March 2, 1861 and became a Confederate State on March 23, 1861, which was during the first term of the court under the Confederacy and the new laws under the Confederate constitution. The Judge of the 11th Court, Judge  James Addison Baker was an elected Judge. His great-great grandson, James Baker III would be US Secretary of State.

June 1, 1865   The Civil War had already ended on April 1865. But Confederate General E. Kirby Smith, didn’t surrender in Galveston, Texas until May. A Proclamation of Peace between the US and Texas wasn’t  declared until August 20, 1866 over two months after the court order. Judge James A. Baker was the last district court judge in Harris County to serve under the Confederacy. The court’s docket had remained inactive from 1861 to the spring term of 1865 because of the war, so only five criminal cases and no civil ones were tried in Harris County. In Texas, the transition from the Confederacy to Reconstruction was anything but “ordinary.” Slavery was overturned , federal troops occupied Texas, and for the very first time the constitutional rights of former slaves were protected by  the amended federal constitution.

What followed :

In August 1865, Judge James A. Baker is removed and replaced with  Judge Colbert Coldwell by the Military Governor of Texas, Andrew Jackson Hamilton. The minutes show that all sitting Jurors were replaced with Union loyalists.  All of the Supreme Court justices were  removed from office as “impediments to Reconstruction” and replaced by order of the occupying Union government.

Judge Coldwell spent six days a week, pouring over a docket of disputes filed over the previous four years of the Civil War. Together he and Judge Baker bridged the legislative crevasse between the old and new constitutions. All this took place in the aftershock of a nation that had been at war with itself.

You can see these documents online at http://www.hcdistrictclerk.com/Common/HistoricalDocument/HistoricalDocuments.aspx

Sources:  Texas State Library and Archive Commission  https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/secession/index.html) and Texas Historical Commission http://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/publications/tx-in-civil-war.pdf

The Confederacy’s Collapse  and Houston’s Reconstruction By David Furlow http://www.hbaappellatelawyer.org/2014/03/the-confederacys-collapse-juneteenth.html

Skip These Seven Hassles for a Serenely Successful 2017

 

 

devils-bridge-in-kromlau-germany_n 

  1. Skip the stressful “offer “ of  insulting rates and oppressive terms .

Introduce yourself with you rates and  terms backed up with your certification and training. If being offered an assignment , ask for acknowledgement and acceptance in writing of your rates and terms  Add a dose of manners by offering to answer any questions they may have.

 Stress Buster : Develop a couple of templates of polite  responses for  when unacceptably low     rates are offered. Save them in your drafts and you will avoid the irritation felt when  writing a new one every time.

   2  Skip the embarrassment of being taken advantage of.

Research the market and  match your experience and qualifications for equal ranking of pay.

  1. Skip the stress of hearing that the prospective client that wants you won’t pay what you’re worth.

Look up their website and see how they promote themselves to the market If they claim to have the lowest rates then how do you think they make a profit.

Inquire from colleagues on professional forums, on both Linked In and Face Book , what kind of an experience  anyone has had with said a client. Share your experience in return.

  1. Skip the stress of a job with terminology and procedures that stump you.

Don’t accept an assignment you have never done before until you have observed the interpreted proceeding in person or reviewed a few source and target translations of the same subject matter. Do this until you are comfortable that you can perform quality work.

  1. Skip the stress of hassles caused by a client uneducated in your work.

Look for the red flags waving: when translator and interpreter is used interchangeably, when your availability is asked without  identification of the proceeding, whenever a translation has no word count or deadline…  And my favorite when you are asked to be at a location over 100 miles away in a half an hour.  Decide the value of your time required in “babysitting” this kind of client.

  1. Skip the embarrassment of being labeled as unqualified and unprofessional.

Research the market and  match your experience and qualifications for equal ranking of pay.

  1. Skip the stress of payment disputes.

Send your rates and terms ( learn what these are) in writing and ask for acknowledgement and acceptance in writing.  Add a dose of manners by offering to answer any questions they may have.

Inquire from colleagues on professional forums, on both Linked In and Face Book , what kind of an experience  anyone has had with said a client. Share your experience in return.

Assess the client agency by their reputation among their employees and contractors. Listen and weigh both the accolades and the complaints. Complaints reflect poor management and instability and that leads to non-payment of freelancer’s invoices .

Questions that Sink and Questions that Float

Big JoyYour question is hanging in midair and the witness, in the sworn proceeding is looking at you, gape mouthed. Was the question clear?  Or maybe the witness is deciding what part of it to answer. You could be facing  a cycle of delays and frustration. This occurs whether the proceeding is interpreted or not. But it does seem that as the interpreter, I can see the disconnect happen before the questioning attorney catches on.

The fault lies in the broad wording of the question that allows for a flexibility in responsiveness. Add a nervous, reluctant, or even impatient witness and you have Q&A chaos. I’ve even got a name for it: the “Who’s On First” scenario after the famous Abbott and Costello comedy sketch.

It’s no fun for any of us to go down that bumpy road. Sometimes the lawyers get irritated at each other as the objection, “Non Responsive” triggers the objection: “Asked and Answered” over and over. Other times I’ve seen the questioning attorney instruct that the question be certified because the opposing counsel will  refuse to allow the question to be repeated after several attempts. Fact witnesses and Pro Se witnesses, who are unfamiliar with the questioning process, can quickly stymie whatever progress has been made when the “Who’s On First” routine starts up.

In such cases that there is an interpreter, professional interpreters know to simply be patient, show no reaction and continue interpreting accurately and completely. These situations are not a challenge to an interpreter.

In 1999, Claims Magazine, the national publication of the Insurance industry, published my article titled, What do You Mean by That? Specific Terms in a Q&A Produce Direct Responses. You can find the article on my website here http://www.linguisticworld.com/books_and_articles.html.  At the date of this blog post it is a full 17 years later and I still see many of these examples of questions that sink.

The most common culprit is the compound question. This is a question that contains two or more questions being asked. Often it offers alternative responses much like a multiple choice question. This kind of question is standard for casual conversation but in a Q&A setting, where the person is under oath, a single yes or no to such a question encompasses more factors. Another form is when the subject action is maintained but extra dates, times and persons are added to the single event.

Unfortunately, even a seemingly simple question can be compound.  The Yes or No to “Do you know if the light was red for the other driver?” could be responsive to the light being red or not, or it could be responsive to the witness knowing or not. Several clients of mine offer a follow up question to that one with a “No, you don’t know or no, the light wasn’t red?” And surprisingly, the response is the complete answer that contains the question.

The solution is to break down the question as soon as you see the witness is not able to transition to compound questions smoothly. Limit high register legalese terminology that will trigger confusion. The result will be more concise responses and a well-connected communication.

How Distance Protects You : The Witness Outburst

Legal interpreters are taught to keep an emotional distance with the witness to guarantee the witness complete access to the  judicial process, as if they spoke fluent English. It also benefits the interpreter  to have a sole focus on the linguistic components of the statement  while monitoring the content.  Certified interpreters are  bound  by our Code of Professional Responsibility to not show any emotion or bias  in reaction to the statements we are interpreting. In order to do this we have to remain oblivious to the base problem  between the parties.distance-can-protect-you380w

Sometimes maintaining  distance can protect us too. By virtue of being a party to a lawsuit,  some witnesses are facing a very difficult phase of their lives. No matter if they are the plaintiff or the defendant.  The setting exposes the interpreter to a witness whose perception of the difficulty  can range anywhere from an inconvenience to a  life changing crisis.

For example, in a civil matter where a business agreement was not honored, the party will suffer compromise of the investment of time and money.  A personal injury affects one party’s physical and emotional life yet may affect the financial life of the other. Family law and criminal cases easily display a strain on either party and often it is on both parties.

The interpreter can’t predict aggressive questioning or  know how a witness will react to a probing Q&A process.  Establishing the distance at the start of the proceeding is  a good safeguard. In my introductory spiel I include that I have nothing to do with the case and that my work is regulated by state law.  Not making eye contact reinforces the distance. Most outbursts in a courtroom are quickly diffused by the Judge. But that is not the case in other discovery proceedings.

I’ve had a 6’7 Stevedore pick me up by my shoulders and yell in my face, angry at the pointed question I very accurately interpreted. I’ve had several witnesses dissolve into tears in my lap when reminded of the loss of a loved one. I’ve seen witnesses curse and yell  at everyone in the room. I’ve seen a witness knock over the videographer’s camera. One angry witness hit the court reporter’s steno machine to stop writing what he said. The most memorable was a divorce mediation and the wife announced she was a witch, whereupon she went around the table putting a curse on everyone. When she got around to me, I reminded her I would have to interpret the curse and it would fall back on her.  I was spared.

Interpreters need to understand the lawyer’s obligations to their client. Lawyers are trained to evaluate their client’s personality so they can best represent them. Lawyers can assess their client’s responsiveness patterns during deposition and trial preparation.  But we interpreters need to  be prepared for outbursts  from the start of our career. We also need to be comfortable knowing that in such an eruption that we can and should reference the event as an impediment to our performance. We can ask for a break. And we can address the issue with the attorney. We can protect ourselves and our good work.