Phone & Pager Etiquette – Preferred Interpreter

Interpreter Managers receive more complaints about interpreters related to their use of phones (and pagers) than they do about their ability to interpret accurately. Otherwise brilliant interpreters can be in the doghouse because of the way they managed, or failed to manage, their communication devices.

Phone & pager complaints usually involve the following situations:

The interpreter’s phone rang during the encounter, and it needed to be silenced.

The interpreter’s phone produced audible alerts to incoming text messages or email messages.

The interpreter was looking at his phone and interacting with it, rather than being attentive to the person(s) requiring the interpretation, before the encounter and during gaps of staff presence.

The interpreter was talking on the phone when summoned by staff to attend the person(s) requiring the interpretation.

The interpreter’s pager went off in audible mode during an encounter, and she had to reach for the pager and silence it.

The interpreter’s phone rang during the encounter, the interpreter looked at the caller ID, and the interpreter then quickly muttered into the phone that she was busy but would call the caller back soon.

The interpreter talked on the phone while waiting in the room before one of the parties came in or while one of the parties stepped out for a minute.

The interpreter talked about interpreter business on the phone in earshot of the one of the parties.

The interpreter was talking on the phone in the busy corridor, with staff trying to work around him.

The interpreter’s pager went off during the encounter, and she not only silenced it but read the display before putting it away.

Reports of these situations are usually accompanied by indignant characterizations of the interpreter as rude and unprofessional.

Now let’s talk honestly about
the fact that these complaints can feel unfair!

Interpreters have a lot to juggle during the day, and their phones and pagers are essential tools to managing their daily schedule.

Given that healthcare interpreters might be being paged to an emergency, or freelance interpreters might be receiving the offer of a lucrative assignment, the temptation or even requirement for the interpreter to check the incoming message is strong.

Also given that interpreters want to be given high marks for professionalism, here are some tips.

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Interpreters can minimize the annoyance of everyone they deal with by following these guidelines religiously:

Make sure that no phone (or pager) is on audible ring once you are sharing space with the parties. Use the buzz alert. After putting the device on buzz alert, it can still disturb an encounter if it begins to buzz and jump around unless it is in a pocket. Carrying the device in a pocket or clipped to the belt is also helpful to reduce the temptation to look down at the device.

Create a habit of keeping your phone silenced at all times during the professional day, so that having it on audible ring is an exception to your rule. It should become reflexive to check that your phone is in silent mode before going into any assignment. If working as a legal interpreter, remember to turn-off or completely silence your phone while in the court room; any audible sounds or buzzes will result in the bailiff escorting you out of the court room.

If you are actually doing something related to your professional assignment on your phone, share that with the people in the room. “We were talking about traditional medicine for high blood pressure, so I am looking up some terms on the internet, for just a moment.”

When you absolutely need to speak on your phone during a conversational gap, leave the room if you can, and state that you need to respond to your agency or manager about a later assignment. Be quick, and don’t be caught then having personal conversation on the phone in the corridor.

Speaking on your phone in a foreign language loudly enough for other people to hear is annoying to people, for some reason. Keep it short and sweet. Never assume that no one else in the room speaks your language!

When interpreting in the healthcare setting, remember to silence your phone and put your pager on buzz whenever you put on full Personal Protective Equipment. Several types of Isolation for infectious disease require that no personal devices be brought out from under the gowns, otherwise they will have to undergo full decontamination before you can remove it from the room. In surgical areas where you wear a full jumpsuit, your personal effects should be under the jumpsuit. It is required for all doctors and staff in the room that their devices are silenced to prevent both distraction and contamination.

When your devices are not silenced, set the ring alert to ring quietly, on both pagers and phones. For your phone, choose a discreet and gentle ring tone. In the case that you are expecting a call for a professional reason while waiting in the waiting room, it is important for your phone to sound professional when it rings. People get very angry when their thought process is disturbed by a loud and intrusive ring tone.

Even a silent phone can be very annoying to clients, however, if you pay attention to it in their presence. They do not know what you are doing on your phone, so they will assume that it is not professional. If you were reading a magazine or book that might still make them upset, but it is easier to get the attention of a person reading a magazine than it is to get the attention of a person who is in the middle of juicy FaceBook post.

During conversation in an encounter, never touch or look at your phone or pager, even if it buzzes.

The best etiquette for looking at or speaking on your phone during conversational gaps is: Don’t.

If you have to look at your phone (or pager), but not speak, state this to those in the room and promise to be quick. “I have an alert on my pager and I need to let Base know that I received their message. This will take just a minute.”

While you are waiting by yourself it is still important to use good phone etiquette. People know that you are an interpreter because of your badge. It is important not to annoy other people in the waiting area. Use the lowest voice possible if speaking on the phone. Using ear buds makes most phone users speak much more loudly than they would if they were holding the phone to their ear, so don’t use them. Some conversations simply cannot be conducted professionally, so do not attempt to discipline your children, dispute your dental bill, or argue with your significant other.

Even for interpreters working remotely on the phone, pagers and phones in the background need to be silenced. For video interpreters, they must also manage their eyes and hands so that when their personal phone lights up on a nearby table they do not reflexively look at it and reach for it.

Good luck with all of these phone & pager constraints!

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