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The Art of Communicating When You Can’t Communicate
By Trisha Nelson, Daily Work Case Management Intern

 In the world of Daily Work, communication is the most important tool. Jobs are such an important part of life for people in the United States. Your job is often the place where you spend the majority of your time. Deciding where to apply and eventually work at is a big decision. So what does the Daily Work staff do when communication becomes a barrier? Here are three options and the challenges associated with them.

Some communication tools that I use frequently include paying attention to body language, tone of voice, and asking clarifying questions. Genuine curiosity is always your best friend when you’re not quite sure if you understand somebody. Not only that, but I have had the experience of noticing relief in jobseekers when I take the time to understand. While it can be uncomfortable to ask someone to repeat themselves, going the extra step to really understand them and demonstrate genuine interest in their story gives a voice to people who often feel disconnected from their culture and family.

Another way a jobseeker can communicate is to have a family member who knows more English translate for them, but this has its own set of issues. For example, I have encountered significant others not allowing their spouses to voice what they want in a job, dictating what they should find, or even ignoring them altogether. It is a touchy situation. I have found success in keeping the jobseeker involved and engaged by setting expectations with the interpreter ahead of the meeting and frequently reminding them that my goal is to understand the job seeker’s needs and wants.

The last main approach is utilizing a qualified interpreter. This is very tricky, especially for Daily Work. Access to volunteers who speak the languages necessary to serve our wide variety of jobseekers comes with its own set of obstacles, including insuring that the interpreter abides by Daily Work’s privacy policies and that they honor the job seeker’s self-determination and autonomy.

When we do find somebody willing to give us their precious time and knowledge we have to be conscientious about ensuring our communication is still directed to the job seeker, not the interpreter. It is easy to take advantage of the ease of speaking directly to the interpreter, but the meetings at Daily Work are about the jobseeker, not the comfort level of the Daily Work case manager.

Another challenge when using an interpreter is building a good working relationship with the job seeker when an interpreter is present. When both parties rely too heavily on the interpreter, engagement is lost and the needs of the jobseeker suffer from our inability to make a human connection. I have the most success when I almost “forget” that the interpreter is there. I focus my attention on the jobseeker and use the interpreter as a tool of communication. In doing so, I create a space where engagement and using body language can happen, allowing the person seeking help to be heard in every way. In my personal experience, I have encountered so much more ease of communication and openness with this approach.

Whichever path is taken it is important to stay patient and keep the jobseeker involved. Like all of us, our jobseekers want to be heard. With time and practice, effective communication gets easier. Jobseekers begin to open up about their personal experiences and goals. When this happens, I find I can develop worthwhile, professional relationships that really help job seekers make progress. I am amazed by how much I have seen jobseekers grow in learning English, even when their time at Daily Work is the most practice they can get. I have seen job seekers go from barely speaking during appointments to sharing about how their week went and how their families are. It just takes someone who is genuinely interested and willing to take the time to listen.

Have you ever traveled to another country and struggled to speak the language? Did you have any experiences where you felt like you really connected with someone?  What did they do to help you feel comfortable? How can you use that experience here…when you encounter someone who is still learning English and American culture?



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