26 Sep 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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