Two Effective Communication Tips for Translators


Communication comes naturally to us as humans; in fact, it comes so naturally that a large part of our communication is non-verbal and even subconscious. We are prone to expressing ourselves and being able to communicate with others, but in a business setting, that communication requires a little something extra: effectiveness. Effective communication is about a lot more than just exchanging information or ideas; it’s about building stronger ties with others and improving team-work and efficiency. In a previous post, we said that it involves listening, understanding, acknowledging, controlling emotions, efficient decision-making, and problem solving.

As someone who sometimes subcontracts translators for specific jobs, there are two main effective communication-related weaknesses in my fellow linguists that make me not want to work with them again: inability to control emotions when communicating and inability to communicate problems and focus on solutions.

Mastering your words and emotions

Some translators take things far too personally! When a client questions a choice in terminology or style, it is not a personal attack against the translator. When a client tries to negotiate rates, it is not a personal attack against the translator. When a client asks about a translator’s credentials, it is not a personal attack against the translator. Read carefully: nothing in a business setting is a personal attack. Business is business. People in business are simply looking after their interests. Taking things personally puts too much emotional charge on any message you are attempting to convey. You will lose focus if you let your emotions control you, and when you lose focus, you lose effectiveness. I have been guilty of this in the past, but I managed to learn to focus on the big picture and not lose sight of my goals when communicating with colleagues or clients. Focusing on the big picture helps aim your message in the right direction and allows you to choose your words and attitudes towards others more carefully. In the words of Winston Churchill: “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”

Foresight and problem solving

Sometimes, translations are harder than we originally thought or unforeseeable things happen that make us realize –once we’re knee deep into a project– that we are simply not going to make it. It can happen to anyone. If it happens too often, you might need to work on your time management skills. But even if you are an organizational guru, you’re human, so it can still happen to you. When it does, communicating the problem as soon as you see it is essential for solving it before it gets bigger. Instead, many translators simply wait for the deadline and then go MIA, screening calls and e-mails, and then making up silly excuses or getting upset at their client for insisting on delivery. No! Harassing a late linguist will not make him or her work faster. However, by that same logic, ignoring a concerned client will not make him or her go away either. Effective communication involves foresight, being able to explain the problem and offer solutions. In the case of deadlines, that’s not so hard. The world does not end if a translator needs to push back a deadline a bit, it only becomes a problem when you fail to communicate effectively or give your client sufficient notice that the project is not on track.

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