5 Tips When Debriefing After Healthcare Interpreter Field Observation

As field observation becomes a standard part of interpreter training programs and employee evaluations, the need to conduct effect post-session debriefs (a.k.a. performance feedback) grows. Facilitating a good debrief session is requires preparation and skill just as interpreting itself does. 

Here are a few tips to consider when facilitating a field observation debrief:

1. Establish a structure for the debrief discussion. Pre-plan discussion topics. This might be as broad as asking “What went well? What needs improvement?” or as detailed as focusing on each tenet of the ethics (accuracy, impartiality, etc.) or interpreting protocols (room positioning, pre-session, etc.). Focus on the most critical components – this includes positive things to reinforce and areas to improve – to avoid a debrief that drags on at tedium. (You don’t want the performer walking away thinking “I don’t remember much about the appointment, but I know the debrief was grueling.”)

2. Always conduct debrief in a confidential area. Given HIPAA and interpreting industry expectations regarding confidentiality, this is (hopefully) a no-brainer. Additionally, the individual on the hot seat will be more receptive to feedback if there is not a fear that “others” are privy to the details of their performance. Praise publicly, correct privately.

3. Listen first, speak later. Always insist that the performer evaluate on his or her performance first. Then offer feedback and coaching tips afterward. The performer will likely be eager to “unload” at this time, and allowing them to set the stage allows for a more engagement during the discussion. This also is a way to verify that they are able to accurately evaluate their performance when not being observed, an important skill to develop.

4. Conduct the debrief immediately after the encounter (and have a backup plan if that’s not possible). The more time that elapses between encounter and debrief, the fuzzier (and less valuable) the debrief becomes. If it is impossible to debrief immediately after the encounter, create a simple self-evaluation form that the performer can fill out in the interim of a formal discussion. This allows the performer to capture important details and decompress after the encounter. Do set a time for a debrief discussion as soon thereafter as possible.

5. Give meaningful feedback, positively. This is a big topic unto itself, but for the sake of brevity, make sure the feedback (positive or corrective) focuses on a behavior. “You did really well” is nice to hear, but doesn’t tell the performer what behavior to repeat. Alternatively, “You did a really good job discretely repositioning yourself when it became difficult to hear” names a repeatable behavior. If something in particular didn’t go well, emphasize the performer’s ability to improve and create a plan to help the individual to improve.

Effective debrief leads to better performance. Better performance leads to stronger healthcare interpreter workforce. Stronger healthcare interpreter workforce leads to improved communication between healthcare providers and the communities they serve through interpreters.

Interpreters and interpreter trainers: What other tips do you have to make the most of performance evaluation discussions?