Translating for Trust (Issue 439)

In which we consider the importance of emotion as well as facts when confirming what we've heard. "We are honored and delighted that you are here with us this evening, sharing this meal, living with your host families for a week. We have enjoyed sharing with you..."

My town, Concord, Massachusetts, has a sister city relationship with Nanae, Japan. For more than ten years, student delegations and teachers from each town have traveled to the other for musical, academic, and “normal life” experiences, building understanding between grandchildren of families who went to war.

Last week, a delegation of Nanae students visited Concord. During a Thursday evening community pot luck dinner, representatives of both our high school and the Nanae delegation spoke to the group, each in their own language, translated by Emily, a graduate of this exchange program.

At one point, the senior Concord representative spoke for almost two minutes (a LONG time, covering multiple complicated points) before yielding the microphone to Emily for translation to Japanese.

I don’t speak or understand Japanese and I was very impressed with Emily’s translation as she spoke in Japanese — her warm smiles, her hand gestures, her pauses and changes in voice speed and pitch.

As the evening ended, I asked Emily, “how do you remember and translate such long passages?”

She said, “I listen for the speaker’s main points. When I translate, I cover the main points but the most important element in these cultural exchange settings is to communicate the feeling.” She went on to say, “many translators could translate better, technically or literally, than I do. The problem is that they sound like robots – no feeling, just words.”

How true this can be in our sales conversations as well. When we listen intently to our clients and confirm what we’ve heard, we are “translating” in much the same sense Emily translated. When we confirm, we can sound like the “technical translators” who get the facts right or we can translate both the main points and the feelings, as Emily does.

Many clients and prospects listen for confirmation that we understand their feelings – their urgencies, their concerns, their frustrations, their excitements – as well as the facts. When we confirm on both levels, through our “body language” as well as our words, they feel more confident that we have understood them. They will be more likely to trust that we will do what’s right for them and they will be more likely to buy from us. We are, almost literally, translating for trust.

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