Contrary to popular opinion, not all translators are introverted bookworms, and if we could ever tear ourselves away from the page we would totally speak up and prove it to you. But seriously though, while some of us certainly fit that description, the profession attracts a wide variety of strange and wonderful people, and this week I thought I’d take a stab at categorizing them for your enlightenment and convenience.
The descriptions below are based on the nine personality types of the Enneagram, which I think is one of the most insightful and interesting systems out there. The headings are borrowed from Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert’s book The Enneagram, but I wrote this specifically for translators. This week we’re looking at the first five types; read on and see if you recognize yourself (or your colleagues) in one of these vignettes.
1. The need to be perfect
Ones are driven idealists who strive to make the world a better place, both in a moral and practical sense. They are always looking for more effective ways to do things, but never by taking shortcuts or engaging in shady practices. They are early adopters of CAT tools, push for the implementation of ISO standards and ask pointed questions at ATA board meetings.
Ones are perfectionists whose internal critic is always on duty. They would never submit a document without careful proofreading and running the spellcheck at least twice. Their office is clean, and their administration is perfectly organized. No receipts stuffed in a bulging envelope to be dumped on a poor accountant at the end of the year, and most definitely no sketchy tax deductions.
Frustration: nothing ever lives up to their inner standard of perfection, and this can turn Ones into fearful faultfinders. Woe to the translator who falls into the hands of an angry One editor.
Defense mechanism: control.
Delegating is difficult for Ones who are senior project managers, for instance, because they feel it’s easier to just to a job themselves than having to explain everything to a new intern who probably won’t get it right anyway.
Strength: the input of mature Ones is invaluable, because their thoughts have already passed through the fire of the inner critic. Ones who have learned to laugh at themselves and who have learned that different does not necessarily mean wrong, are effective and tireless fighters for innovation and growth.
2. The need to be needed
Twos are givers. They enjoy helping others and have a gift for discerning and meeting needs. Agencies with a Two on staff are well-run, pleasant places to work, because the Two thinks three steps ahead and has a solution in mind or even in place already, before the others become aware of the need.
Twos are rocks in the midst of chaos, always willing to stay up all night to finish an urgent project, type up the minutes of the meeting or pick up the speaker from the airport. Freelance Twos usually have a long list of happy, long-term clients because they are reliable and an unfailing pleasure to work with.
Frustration: They have a hard time saying no, and the need to please others can lead to resentment when they feel taken advantage of. When a Two starts slamming doors it’s time for an honest conversation.
Defense mechanism: repression
“It’s Nice to Be Nice” is the motto of Twos, and it’s very hard for them to admit they might be angry or upset.
Strength: when Twos learn to say no and set boundaries, they are able to give freely and become effective encouragers and problem solvers who make organizations and teams function more harmoniously.
3. The need to succeed
Threes live for competition and winning. They are also charismatic, natural networkers and social chameleons who intuitively know how to relate to anyone. They are excellent speakers, promoters, and strategists. At agencies they either move to senior positions or they leave to start their own business. Freelance Threes are enthusiastic marketers and self-promoters; you don’t have to convince a Three of the use of social media; in fact, she’s probably a Top Contributor on several LinkedIn forums and has 1000+ followers on Twitter.
Frustration: No one wins all the time. When faced with failure, Threes have a tendency to reinterpret the results, blame others, or leave the scene of the accident as quickly and quietly as possible. Immature Threes need to practice the phrase “the buck stops with me”.
Defense mechanism: total identification with their organization or the project they’re working on. They tend to oversell projects or proposals, which elicits skepticism or resistance from more cynical types.
Strength: When Threes learn to get real with themselves and others, and when they replace mere appearance with genuine substance, they are extremely effective leaders and motivators. They push companies and businesses from good to extraordinary.
4. The need to be different
Fours are intuitive, creative, idiosyncratic, moody, and not that interested in material gain.
At agencies they tend to be designers/IT techs rather than project managers. Translator Fours are often brilliant, but their relationships with agencies and clients are fraught with difficulties because they are liable to get upset and offended at the least (perceived) provocation. They are often prolific bloggers and use their blogs to vent and write insightful and entertaining posts.
Fours do not focus on business skills and networking. Invoices may or may not get sent, e-mails are sometimes not phrased very tactfully, and they might walk out in the middle of a presentation to go work on something more interesting. Fours can thrive at agencies with a relaxed culture or with an organization devoted to a cause they are passionate about.
Frustration: they strive for authenticity and are annoyed with what they perceive as mindless conformity or stupidity, yet this attitude can come across as posturing. A project with a Four translator and a One editor can only end in tears.
Defense mechanism: artistic sublimation
Their creative expression becomes a substitute for the more challenging task of constructive person-to-person communication.
Mature fours have learned to balance feelings with actions and to place their talents in the service of a greater good. This outward focus helps them contribute beauty and excellence without wallowing in their feelings. Mature Fours help companies break out of predictable molds.
5. The need to perceive
Fives are original thinkers, researchers, inventors and explorers. They are introverts who guard their personal space; they avoid drawing attention to themselves and they hate being put on the spot and into forced social interaction. If you start looking for the exit when a speaker tells you to “turn to your neighbor and share one fun fact about yourself” you are probably a Five.
Fives are both intuitive and analytical, with a natural insight into people and situations. In meetings they tend to wait until called upon, but their contributions are usually insightful.
They are self-starters but do not like to organize or lead others, so many Fives thrive as freelancers. Translator Fives prefer to under-promise and over-deliver to avoid stress and disappointment. Clients love them because they will go the extra mile to do the research and get the terminology right.
Frustration: they love gathering knowledge, yet they never feel they have a true grasp on a subject. Speaking at conferences or creating video courses are not natural Five activities because they never feel like they’re ready, plus of course they don’t like being in front of people.
Defense mechanism: withdrawal
When they feel threatened, offended or put upon, Fives retreat to the safety of their ivory tower. If you approach them in private to address the issue, however, it is usually resolved quickly.
Mature fives have learned that speaking up and confronting issues is more effective than withdrawing. The most healthy thing for Fives is to get out of their head, take action in the real world, and start sharing some of that their knowledge with other people. Fives who decide to get out of their comfort zone are effective, insightful communicators.