The Couch

The Couch: Can’t quite put my finger on it…

The Couch is a place to exchange ideas and brainstorm, not only for its contributors but also for our readers who engage in the ensuing discussions. A common fallacy in our time is to say that nothing is real unless you’re able to explain it. But sometimes, even though you can’t quite put your finger on it, you know there’s a problem. Thank you to this week’s contributor for the Couch idea.


You have just been hired as a full-time permanent staff interpreter in a large courthouse. The pay, the benefits, the 401 (k), your colleagues, and your working conditions are excellent; you feel challenged enough to find your job continually stimulating, and you have been told that with immigration influx, the demand for interpreting is very likely not to drop anytime soon. The interpreter coordinator gives the team a great deal of leeway as to which assignments they take each day in the courthouse, provided everyone does their fair share; no one is breathing down anyone else’s neck, and everyone wants to keep it that way. In other words, it’s your dream job; “I intend to keep this until I retire,” you tell yourself. Things couldn’t be better.

The colleague who recommended you for the position also works with you daily. You and he were acquaintances before this. He’s a stand-up guy, neat to talk with, and generous with his time, and you and he get along. But after a few months, you notice something. Sometimes he just disappears (he’s neither in a courtroom nor in the interpreter lounge); he’s often late for hearings, but just by a minute or two – such that the most irritated parties are the interpreter colleagues, much more than courtroom staff. No client (i.e., judge, lawyer, LEP, etc.) has complained about him so far because he has such an affable character – his social skills are top notch. And yet something is wrong. The rest of the interpreting team is annoyed with his behavior. He always appears to be busy with something other than work when he’s not interpreting. He sometimes takes more than an hour to answer text messages on his phone – and you all need to be promptly reachable during the day because the team needs to be in many different hearings at once.

Almost a year has gone by at your dream job. Your colleague has been confronted by his, shall we say, lack of transparency, punctuality, and communicativeness a few times, but his response is systematically defensive: I take my commitments very seriously; I’m insulted that you should imply I’m doing a subpar job; you should lighten up and not take things so seriously; etc. The problem is very difficult to discern, again, because of his overall positive demeanor and disposition. He is cheeky and knows how to talk himself out of sticky situations, including with management who has also approached him about the issue. The mere attempt to define the problem is beginning to be exhausting. You are tired. But the problem is not going away.

Is it just that the rest of the interpreting team has a chip on its shoulder against this colleague? It doesn’t appear to be so. You are all reasonable people. The problem remains, and whenever asked by colleagues to justify his fault, he (after the fact) alleges obligations related to family or other areas of life, rather than sending a quick word to a colleague in advance (“Hey, I’m going to be five minutes late; can you cover for me?”). It’s starting to weigh down on the team’s morale.

What do you do now?


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Body picture “That’s marvellous” from The Big Lebowski at Radiator Heaven, under CC BY-NC 3.0

8 thoughts on “The Couch: Can’t quite put my finger on it…”

  1. Sylvia Andrade 301736 says:

    Need more information. Is he a single dad?

  2. M Leslie Tabarez says:

    It’s difficult to deal with these situations. We live in a world where emotional intelligence and the ability to get along with others is considered much more valuable than anything else (experience, skills), and this person you mention has been getting jobs and being able to keep them for a long time because he is easy to get along with. Some people would be dismissed in a heartbeat if they behaved as you say this colleague is behaving, even if they are only occasionally late, occasionally found to be goofing off, etc. As a newer person on the team, I would grin and bear it, but do my best to set an example with my own behavior, rather than “rat” on my colleague. You like your job and would like to keep it. I believe there are people like that colleague all over, but we must learn to live with them or risk our own jobs.

  3. I believe in Fact Findings,, prior to sit for a formal warning write up .
    We are hire to stand and deliver.. dream job y the jod that you don’t work. Every comes with responsibility ,and sacrifices.
    Is always great to have a jump start performance retreat!! Once in a while.

  4. ArnaldoB says:

    Nothing. Live and let live. He basically got you the job, after all. And if your employer doesn’t issue one, you should never be contacting colleagues (or supervisors) on you personal cellphone for court business, imho. Work long enough as a staff interpreter and you might develop a bit more empathy for your colleague/acquaintance, who got you the recommendation for the job, after all. Did I mention he helped you get the job?

    1. Ilka Smith says:

      I found ARNALDOB’s answer quite disturbing. I can understand if he thinks that the colleague who is bothered by the other’s unprofessional manners should keep his cool. However ARNALDOB mentioned many times that “after all he helped you to get the job.” This should not be an excuse whatsoever. Just because someone received a favor it doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye to this person’s poor principles and standards.

  5. Chris Verduin says:

    I don’t think it’s my job to police colleagues, unless there is a larger incident that comes up because of it that has a negative effect on a case. However, I do like the idea of seeing if there are other factors in his life that may be affecting his performance. I know it’s annoying when others don’t seem to be doing their job effectively, but i can only be responsible for my own performance.

  6. Helen Duffy says:

    That is the job that the bosses signed up for and are paid extra to do. I didn’t sign up to police my colleagues and they couldn’t pay me enough to make me do it.
    If he is causing trouble for the rest of us the most I would do would be to suggest some change in work structure that would help us all.

  7. Michael Zen says:

    Interesting fact pattern and one that invites opinions. So, here’s mine. As a preliminary matter, if you saw professional impropriety, you should say something. However, this fact pattern (e.g., routinely late, etc.) indicates more a lack of professionalism. One is bad act, while the other is bad form. For example, if someone walked in to a store and took something from the shelf, and left the store without paying, that’s a bad act. If that person threw the money at the cashier as he was walking out the store, that’s bad form. Whether “the rest of the interpreting team is annoyed with his behavior” is one that should not be of your concern — unless you’re his supervisor, which you’re not.

    So what do you do now? If he’s a friend, or just an acquaintance who recommended you this dream job, I would tell him that I consider him a friend, and I would also tell him that if there’s something on his mind, or if there’s something I could do, I’ll be there for him. But if I see professional impropriety, I’m sorry to say, all bets are off.

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