By: Jan Ballman, RPR, CMRS, FAPR
Interruptions! Let’s face it, no one likes them. Interruptions have a reputation for making people inefficient and irritable. They break our train of thought. They disrupt our flow. They make us forget what we were locked in on pre-interruption. No wonder they are often met with disdain….including by attorneys during depositions.
In my 36 years in the court reporting business, the top complaint I get as an agency owner from attorneys regarding court reporters is, “Please do not send that reporter back. (S)he interrupted too much.” To this I respond something like, “I apologize! I will certainly make a note of your request. We appreciate your feedback.” But what I really want to ask is, “Well….you had a very experienced, highly certified reporter. Were there any dynamics coming into play outside of the reporter’s control that contributed to the need for the reporter to need to interrupt? Such as, perhaps, frequent breaking of Rule #1 of Taking Depositions, which was likely laid out by Counsel at the beginning of the deposition: “The court reporter can only take down one person at time, so we need to let each other finish speaking so as to not INTERRUPT each other”? I don’t ask the question because it’s rhetorical.
Be that fact as it may be, attorneys just don’t like being interrupted. They are deep in thought. They are in the heat of the moment. They are thinking about their job and what they need to accomplish in that depo, not the reporter’s job and what the reporter is trying to accomplish (sometimes, The Impossible!).
So attorneys don’t like interruptions, and neither do reporters. Interruptions throw both attorneys and reporters off their game. It’s a BAD situation, and it can be circular: The more attorneys interrupt the witness and each other, the more the court reporter may need to interrupt the proceedings to capture it verbatim.
This can lead to UGLY. Because when people (be they attorneys or reporters) are irritated and frustrated, often that can come out sideways in behavior and tone that can range from slightly to severely UGLY.
So interruptions are BAD, and it can lead to things getting UGLY. So wherein lies the GOOD?
If I was addressing an audience of attorneys, I would tell them that the GOOD news is, when a court reporter is interrupting, there is a small chance that it has to do with the competency of the reporter and a very large chance that the reporter is simply demonstrating confidence and exercising authority in doing his/her job in making sure they are capturing the record, given the dynamics in the room. Mumbling, ambient noise, overlapping, interrupting—you name it—the reporter wants to capture it live as opposed to having to go back and listen for hours on end to an audio file trying to figure out / piece together a hot mess of a record where everyone in the room was breaking Rule #1 of Taking Depositions all day. This requires the reporter using their best judgment and experience in knowing when (and HOW) to interrupt.
But this blog is intended for court reporters, so here’s the GOOD news for you: There may be a simple solution to the interrupting dilemma.
Like so many, many, many things in life, the issue (that attorneys have with interrupting) may not be so much with ‘The WHY’ as with ‘The HOW.’
I think attorneys understand WHY the court reporter is interrupting. There’s three of you talking at the same time! The witness is mumbling…and English is their third language! A siren just obliterated the answer! I believe the issue is more a matter of HOW the court reporter interrupts the proceedings.
Recently one of our very top, most highly certified reporters went on a realtime job. It was networked, and we were given no information beforehand (because the affiliate court reporting firm was not given any information from their client). Turns out it was an intellectual property case with an expert witness who mumbled the whole time while the attorneys interrupted and argued incessantly. Needless to say, it was a horribly hard day for the reporter, who told me she had to constantly interrupt. As in constantly, all day long. And for all intents and purposes, it was one of those jobs where it did nothing to stop the dynamics in the room, but at least the reporter was able to stop them and get what she needed to capture the record. But you know what? I never heard the first complaint about that reporter. In fact, there were 15 depositions in that matter, and she reported all of them.
This made me wonder whether the attorneys were just really tolerant and understanding of the difficult dynamics the reporter was working with that day… or whether the reporter herself had everything to do with the fact that, despite her constant interrupting, they understood she was just trying to do her job. Perhaps a combination of both? I asked the reporter.
She relayed to me – or shall I say, “replayed for me” — her conversations with counsel throughout that day and recreated for me the “pleas” that went along with her interruptions. There was no question in my mind that it was HOW she interrupted and HOW she communicated with counsel on breaks and HOW she apologized for the interruptions throughout the day that bought her all the grace and good will she needed from Counsel to get through that awful day….and go back on 14 more (which turned out to be much easier days, thankfully!).
Conversely, in one instance where we had outsourced a video job across the country and received the “don’t send that reporter back tomorrow” message from our client, we were able to listen to the audio around the reporter’s interruptions, and sure enough, the lack of finesse around stopping the attorneys seemed to be the reason for the complaint, because in actuality, the interruptions were minimal in number.
Because interrupting and overlapping on the record is often immediately followed by “read back my last question,” putting the reporter on the spot to magically piece it all together, it’s understandably unnerving, irritating, exhausting and stressful for the reporter, especially when the interrupting and overlapping goes on and on for hours and hours. These feelings can beat down even the most professional of reporters and the kindest of souls, causing that stress, exhaustion and irritation to stomp on one’s last nerve. When that happens, it can be almost impossible to have the composure and wherewithal to control the proceedings and interrupt in a way and with a tone that commands respect, empathy and understanding from the attorneys versus, “Why can’t you just do your job?”
Perhaps it all comes back to a lesson I learned long ago that I often remind my daughters: “Consider what you want to get out of a conversation and then approach it with the end goal in mind. If you want to get into a fight, be argumentative. If you want to win someone over, it calls for eloquence, graciousness, persuasion…”
As court reporters, we want to be respected and appreciated (and dare I say “liked” and perhaps even “requested”) for the difficult job we do. With some days being way more difficult than others, when it comes to “one of those days” where you have to interrupt Counsel in order to do your job well, begin with the end goal in mind: Do you want to create empathy and understanding and cooperation with your words and tone versus frustration, irritation or disdain? Then choose your words carefully. Maybe practice what you say and how you say it in response to various circumstances that come up in our job. Listen to yourself on your audio to make sure your words and tone are courteous and professional while at the same time authoritative. Practicing in advance of being under pressure will give you a better shot of the words and tone coming across as you intend.
There’s a real buzz these days around, “What’s your WHY?” I would suggest when it comes to interruptions—that beast that everyone loves to hate—we should give more attention to, “What’s your HOW?”