Steven R. Covey, in his famous book that outlines The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, stated that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. Interpreters, however, understand that listening to understand is fundamental to the work we do. Without proper listening, vital information can be missed, and the message can be misconstrued. Listening allows us to properly intake information and sort through it, in preparation for changing the incoming language while still communicating the original message.
An Interpreter’s listening skills must be sharp, as there can be immense pressure to do one’s job with speed, accuracy, and all while likely having an audience. Listening skills can also be helpful in other professional ways, such as engaging others and potentially gathering more clients and business opportunities. The following suggestions are potential ways to hone or practice these skills.
1. Clearing the mind of “other clutter”
When we can clear our minds of information that is competing for our attention, this helps us focus better on what we are required to do. If you have difficulty clearing your mind of competing thoughts, as most of us do, a simple visualization prior to starting may be helpful. Visualizing keeping the other stuff that is in your mind to one side temporarily, and in the forefront is where your task at hand is. For some, visualizing containers within the mind is helpful. In these containers you can place the other mental content, close the lid, and reassure yourself that you will come back to these items later.
2. Preparing body language
Non-verbals and other body languages are the primary way we communicate. Being consciously aware of what we are communicating through our body is essential from the get-go. This allows the other person to see us as prepared and engaged in what they have to say. A quick scan of your body prior to beginning may be helpful. Starting at the toes, scan upward while thinking about open body language can be helpful. Likewise, body language in the other person is important to gauge as well. What is the other person doing? Are they leaning forward and engaged? Or leaning back for some distance from you? This is also important to assess to determine if you are on track. Open body language can even encourage the other person to open up.
3. Having the right tools
This may seem obvious, but necessary and worth mentioning all the same. Having the right tools for interpretation is essential for listening and having what you need prepared shows that you are ready.
4. Practice summarizing to assist with consolidating information
An interpreter’s role is not only switching spoken word from one language to another, it also includes the ability to condense information when necessary. The skill of summarizing information is essential, here. This is where an interpreter takes the incoming language and shortens it, while still ensuring the message of the statement is clear and is communicated. Not only does this get a message across, but a good summarizing statement can leave a listener feeling as though they are listened to and understood. Practicing this in everyday communications can be essential to sharpening it.
5. Practice empathetic listening
Interpreters are often in situations where emotions are at a high. You act as a window between two languages, and thus between the two communicators. Empathy, which is the ability to both understand the feelings of another person, and further, to communicate that you understand, can help mediate these situations.
6. Find a method for managing stress
The pressure to perform is intense in an interpreter’s world. Having methods in place to manage this is essential. When we are under stress, our bodies and minds react in ways that may be beyond our control and may impact our ability to do our jobs. Preventing this from occurring, through relaxation exercises or mind clearing strategies similar to point 1 can be helpful. Find what works for you!
As a bonus, not only are listening skills valuable for the basis of what interpreters do, but they can also help in other areas of life. Most of these skills can be applied to our personal relationships, and can help deepen these connections as well.