Thursday, February 20, 2014

The culture of not hearing "no"

Yesterday I had a phone call from an insurance sales rep, trying to persuade me to upgrade my insurance policy. I explained that we can't afford to pay any more for insurance, and that we have policies in other companies too. Nothing seemed to be getting through, and he just kept up the sales pitch until I hung up. Then he called back and said, "The call seems to have been disconnected". I told him that I was trying to say "no" to his offer, and he said, "You didn't have to hang up, you could just say that you're not interested!". So I said, "I'm not interested, thank you", and he finally accepted this and ended the call.

This got me thinking about how difficult it is for people nowadays to hear "no". We are often taught to stand up for ourselves and learn how to say "no" to things we don't want, but at the same time we are not being trained to hear and accept when other people say "no".

It starts in childhood. Parents nowadays seem to think that children will be permanently damaged by hearing any rejection. Children learn that they can always get their own way eventually. I remember when I was growing up a request had two possible answers, "yes" and "no", and it if was "no", that was final. Sometimes I got an explanation for the "no", such as "we can't afford it" or "we don't have time", but even without any explanation, I had to accept the "no". This was a good preparation for reality, in which people can't always have everything they want. I grew up knowing that I was not the centre of the universe and that other people had needs and wishes, too.

Another major culprit in the culture of not hearing "no" is sales training. Sales people are taught to "overcome resistance" and have answers for any "objections", and they often become persistent to the point of harassment. This approach has leaked into general life, where people are encouraged not to take "no" for an answer and to keep on trying until they get what they want. Sometimes this stems from a sense of entitlement, and sometimes this sort of persistence is seen as the sort of "hard work" that deserves to be rewarded.

Ultimately, the inability to hear another person's "no" reflects a very self-centered culture in which the self is considered much more important than the other. Selfishness has become not only accepted but cherished, while empathy and consideration are often considered signs of weakness. People who think only of themselves and cannot hear another person's "no" may end up accused of sexual assault without understanding what they did. In the same way the sales rep yesterday couldn't understand that I was refusing his offer, I think it is possible that some men don't understand a woman's "no" in more intimate situations. I know that I often feel "raped" (metaphorically) by aggressive sales reps and selfish people in general.

One of the most important things we can teach and learn in life is the importance of listening, of really hearing and seeing each other, and having empathy and understanding for others even when this is inconvenient for our own desires. I hope some way can be found to get this message across before society becomes even more selfish and aggressive.

Friday, February 14, 2014

ITA Conference 2014

This week I attended the ITA's 2014 Annual Conference, held at the Sharon Beach Resort Hotel in Herzlia. After many years of the conference being held in Jerusalem, it was refreshing to be in a hotel by the beach. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the full conference this year and had to leave on the afternoon of the second day. I will try to link to other blogs describing the conference and especially the lectures I missed.

On Monday night after dinner we heard Ioram Melcer talk about translating invented words in the classic novel "Hopscotch" by Julio Cortazar. Interestingly, the linguistic distance between Spanish and Hebrew, and the deep structure of Hebrew word morphology, made it relatively easy (for him!) to invent new words that could somehow match the invented words and be completely new words but also comprehensible.

Tuesday morning's plenary session started with historian Prof. Anita Shapira talking about the meanings conveyed by silence in the public discourse in the early years of Israeli society. When people were silent about their past lives before immigrating to Israel, this expressed the focus on their new lives and hopes for the future. The silence about the Holocaust and about the fallen soldiers of the War of Independence is understood as reflecting a pain too great to express in words. The subject was interesting, though only very tangentially related to translating and language issues.

Next we heard Polish-British translator Marta Stelmaszak discuss translating as a collaboration rather than a competition. As she noted, each translator offers a slightly different set of skills and expertise, and it is possible to create a unique service that does not compete directly with other translators, even in the same language pair. She also recommended collaborating with other professionals, such as editors and designers.

The session ended with translator Betsy Benjaminson explaining how she chose to become a whistle-blower and expose her client Toyota's cover-up of a fatal problem in its cars. Her story was recently reported in the local media, and showed that translators sometimes have to put ethical considerations above loyalty to their clients. I hope most translators never have to face this sort of dilemma, and would like to believe many in such circumstances would show the sort of wisdom and courage Betsy displayed.

After a break, there were four parallel sessions of lectures. I first attended the Professional track, and heard Eve Hecht talk about the translation of correspondence, with an emphasis on various cultural differences and social norms. Then Inga Michaeli discussed translating guidebooks into Hebrew, again noting the cases where it was necessary to adapt the contents to the readers' culture and preferences.

In the afternoon I went to the track devoted to improving your business. The first lecture was a shared presentation by Yael Sela-Shapiro and Inga Michaeli about diversification. Yael spoke about the importance of expanding your areas of expertise in order to increase your work volume. After spending a long time working towards becoming a specialist in my ideal translation niche, I somewhat disagreed with this idea. I can see that it works for some people, but I am finding that I can have a sufficient amount of work even after narrowing my area and don't feel the need to expand and diversify. Then Inga told her personal story of diversifying her business. She added content writing in her area of expertise to her translating business when she found that she was getting less work, and also proactively contacted potential customers. These strategies can be useful for translators seeking more work.

Finally, Dalit Ben Tovim discussed ergonomics, an important subject for translators who lead a sedentary life in front of a computer. I have heard her lecture at a conference a few years ago, and found it interesting to be reminded of this issue. I think I already implement many of her suggestions.

I enjoyed what I saw of the conference, and it was good to have an annual ITA conference again after there wasn't one last year. I hope some of the lectures I missed will be given again in the ITA's monthly lecture evenings.

Other blogs reporting on the conference:
Stephen Rifkind (English)