The Medical Interpreter Wake

I attended Leadercast Live 2014 in which one of the presenters, Dr. Henry Cloud, spoke about the concept of the wake (the thing created in the water by a moving boat, not the thing mourners attend) as it applies to leadership.

A creative participant tweeted this sketch illustrating the concept:


On the one side of the wake are the results. You know – getting stuff done, achieving goals, fulfilling the vision.

On the other side of the wake are relationships. Results are possible because of relationships. No one achieves anything in complete isolation from others.

It all got me to thinking. . .

What is the wake that medical interpreters leave?

For medical interpreters, achieving results includes fulfilling assignments, interpreting awesomely, facilitating communication to the fullest possible extent.

To ensure that you are well prepared to deliver exceptional results, you do a number of things. You build your medical terminology, polish your interpreting skills, develop your ethics-based decision-making strategies. You improve your research strategies, immerse yourself in bio-medical culture every chance you get and expand your network of professional colleagues. All very good things. All very important things.

We are still left with the other side of the wake – the relationships – which is there whether we acknowledge it or not.

Building relationships is essential to being an effective interpreter. Of course, this doesn’t mean crossing ethical boundaries. But there are things the interpreter can do to build relationships without compromising ethical boundaries.

  • Being alert to the needs of others
  • Suggesting alternative solutions when having to turn down a request instead of just saying, “I can’t do that.”
  • Responding appropriately (including in body language and facial expressions) to the situation around you
  • Displaying a genuine interest in being “there” above all other places

Every time I interpret, there’s a wake behind me. It doesn’t matter how well I can interpret if I’m so irksome that no one wants to call on me. It doesn’t matter how smashingly charming I am if I can’t interpret well. I need to make sure to attend to both sides of the wake so that the results are good and the relationships are strong.

What are you doing to attend to both sides of your wake?

Want to learn more about developing strong, ethically sound relationships? Join us for the online continuing education course How May I Help You? and strengthen the other side of your wake.

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