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Adapting to change can save your ass(ets)

December 2015

Many years ago I used to work as a BDM selling localization services. One night I was driving back to Budapest from a client visit in one of the countries in my European territory. With a tough week behind I was extremely tired and so ready to be home and sleep in my own bed. Most of my meetings had been successful although many unexpected things had happened. Things I had to find solutions for quickly and without external support. Some of my clients changed some key parameters of running projects, asking for considerably lower prices or shortening deadlines dramatically. I needed to act quickly without being able to consult to my head office overseas. I was happy with the results. In most cases we had managed to find a solution and my clients agreed to order.

It was already two o’clock in the morning, and I did not want to fall asleep. There were a few hundred kilometers ahead of me and I decided to go on with driving for another hour or so. I turned on the radio hoping to find a program interesting enough to keep me awake. There was a young journalist interviewing a very well-known Hungarian interpreter, a lady with decades of experience. The woman was one of the bests, had been involved in many projects all around the world. She worked for hundreds of famous and powerful personages, politicians, celebrities, kidnappers and refugees, almost everyone, but Santa Claus, at least she did not mention the name when discussing her clientele.

Many remarkable stories were shared during those two hours but for me the most important message was that in a profession like that flexibility and the ability to realize and adopt to change is a must, a skill without those professionals would simply fail. ‘My dear young man – the interpreter went on with her storytelling – it is without a doubt that we, interpreters carry the world map, the complete Larousse encyclopedia and the CNN morning headlines in our heads.  And we must keep them all updated endlessly. But there is one thing that is even more crucial than that. Namely that you on the spot must not for one second stop being observant and perceptive, and you must react right away if anything is going other than scheduled or expected.  Events like the other party of the meeting does not show up or says or does something unexpected or unacceptable. Then you need to be able to adopt and reach for plan B without moving a muscle of your face.  You need to put on your diplomat hat and save the situation. Libraries could be filled with stories of history when interpreters managed to save important meetings between world leaders. Events when they managed to actually rescue situations that could have easily escalated to serious conflicts between nations or even to wars. Unexpected conflicts when they had to act fast and smart. In such situations you just keep smiling, reach for your „first aid kit”, quickly scan the pages of your virtual library in your head and come up with the solution in a second quickly enough so your clients do not even realize that something bad happened.  This is what comes only with practice and decades of experience. Interpreters are always expected to perfectly translate what is said by the person they work for and represent. But true talents have the gift of being able to realize what should be phrazed differently without altering the essence of the message.”

This discussion took place many years ago and that wonderful professional passed away since then. Nowadays, I am sure, she is busy with interpreting between Saint Peter and those holy travelers waiting for their transit visas.

Annette Hemera

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