Uncomfortable Workplace Situations
the normal work shift. This reasonable approach allows coworkers to converse in their own language during their free time, while permitting management to supervise and maintain control and safety during the regular shift. Let’s look at a scenario that occurs all too often in the workplace: A group of employees at your company speaks Tagalog with each other, leaving the non-Filipino staff members feeling isolated and out of the loop. One of the English-speaking employees complains to management that the Filipino staff members may be talking behind her back, possibly laughing at her and other members of the staff, or hiding something that could be work related.
The Solution Let’s assume that your state permits limiting foreign language discussions to breaks and lunch periods. In that case, knowing full-well that you have the right to address the situation with the group of foreign-language speakers, you call a meeting with them as follows:
>> Hi, everyone. I’ve called this meeting today because an employee on staff came to me concerned about your speaking Tagalog with each other during normal business hours. I wanted to enlist your help to see if we could arrive at a reasonable solution together. Let me open up this dialogue with two thoughts: First, I respect the fact that you may want to speak Tagalog with each other because you’re more comfortable that way. I’m sure that’s something that bonds you all together, and from that standpoint, it’s a wonderful thing. The second point, though, is equally important: As you might imagine, your speaking Tagalog together may leave others feeling alienated and isolated, and as such, it could come off as being cliquish and exclusive (as opposed to inclusive). Our state law says that a balance could be struck: Workers who prefer to speak in a foreign language can certainly do so; however, it should be reserved for breaks and meal periods. During the rest of the workday, however, the company has the right to instruct its workers to speak English. I feel that’s a reasonable approach since, in theory, management wants to be able to ensure that communication is open, expectations are transparent, and all employees feel included. That’s especially important
101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees