How to Communicate When English is NOT the Primary Language: Part 2

December 8, 2008


Greetings, in my last post, I described three steps we can take to improve communication with people who have difficulty speaking English: (1) have patience with the person; (2) make sure the noise level is low; and (3) use active listening to check for understanding.  Here are 4 additional actions that will improve your communication effectiveness:

1.  Speak Clearly and Concisely but Not in a Patronizing Manner.  One of the biggest mistakes that people make in cross-cultural communication is to “talk down” to someone because of their difficulty with English.  This can happen unintentionally so be aware of how you are responding, both verbally and non-verbally, to your speaking partner.

2.  Pay Close Attention to Nonverbal Clues.  Because of their difficulty with verbal communication, a person may communicate a significant part of the message by nonverbal means.  This can include the person’s facial expressions, tone of voice, posture and body language.

3.  Try Not to Finish the Person’s Sentences.  Sometimes this is difficult to do because you want the person to “spit it out” and tell you what’s on his or her mind.  However, your speaking partner may have trouble finding the right words. It is more effective to be patient, and let the person finish at his or her pace.

4.  Reduce Your Rate of Speech and Repeat or Rephrase Statements.  If necessary, speak more slowly, and repeat or rephrase statements until your communication partner understands.  Likewise, ask your partner to repeat statements if you don’t understand.

NEXT POST – December 12, 2008 

Working with Persons with Disabilities

How to Communicate When English is NOT the Primary Language: Part 1

December 3, 2008


There are millions of Americans for whom English is not the primary language.  According to the 2000 Census, over 380 languages are spoken in the U.S.  17% of the U.S. population speaks a language other than English in the home.  This can certainly create some communication problems within the workplace, but there are several things you can do to communicate more effectively with a person who has some difficulty speaking English: 

1.  Have Patience with the Person.  Give your speaking partner a chance to get his or her message across.  Keep in mind that the person is speaking a language that is not his or her native tongue so additional time may be necessary.  Also, if you are having trouble understanding the person’s words (e.g., due to an accent), listen closely for several minutes without interrupting.  This can greatly aid your comprehension of the message.  

2.  Make Sure the Noise Level is Low.  Noise is one of the biggest barriers to effective communication and can create many distractions.  Try to find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes so that you can focus on your speaking partner’s message.

3.  Use Active Listening to Check for Understanding.  Active listening may be the most powerful tool there is for effective communication.  It consists of the listener’s attempt to give back (or reflect which is why this is also called reflective listening) what has been stated by the speaker.  This serves two very important purposes.  First, it allows the listener to further clarify what the speaker is saying.  Second, it clearly demonstrates to the speaker that he/she is being heard and understood.  Both you and your speaking partner should “reflect” back to each other what the other has said to confirm comprehension of the message.

 NEXT POST – December 8, 2008

How to Communicate When English is NOT the Primary Language: Part 2

7 Things NEVER to Say to LGBT Co-Workers

November 25, 2008


Greetings, in today’s post, I introduce another article written by Daryl Hannah that identifies 7 things you should never say to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered (GLBT) co-workers who have “come out of the closet”.  Of particular interest are the comments by a PricewaterhouseCoopers executive who has been “out” for 10 years and shares some of her experiences and insights:

1.  “I suspected you were gay.”

2.  “I’m sorry.”

3.  “Why did you tell me that?”

4.  “Which bathroom do you use?”

5.  “We are not close enough for you to share that information with me.”

6.  Referring to coworkers as “she-male.”

7.  “What do you like to do in bed?”

Of course, you can visit to review the full article and get a thorough description of each of the 7 statements.

NEXT POST: December 3, 2008

Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday!

8 Things NEVER to Say to Women Executives

November 21, 2008


In today’s post, I am highlighting an article by Zayda Rivera that describes 8 things you should never say to women executives (or women at any organizational level for that matter).  In addition to pointing out several inappropriate and problematic behaviors when it comes to interacting with women, particularly women in management positions, this article really demonstrates how many of these behaviors and statements are genuinely innocent and are not intended to harm anyone, but can create many problems nonetheless:

1.  Any kind of sexual comment.

2.  “You don’t really want that promotion. You’ll never see your kids.”

3.  “You’ll get the job because you’re a woman” or “You must be the token woman”

4.  “What’s the matter, is it that time of the month?”

5.  “You’re very attractive [or pretty, or beautiful, etc.]”

6.  “You look great for your age” or “Do you use Botox?”

7.  “You do that so well … for a girl.”

8.  “When are you due?”

Another nice feature of this article is that it offer several audio clips to further demonstrate and describe the problematic nature of these statements.  You can review the full article at 

NEXT POST – November 25, 2008

10 Things NEVER to Say to Latino Executives

November 18, 2008


In today’s post, I highlight another article by Yogi Cole that describes 10 things you should never say to Latino executives (although once you read the article, you will probably realize these are things you should never say to anyone of Latin descent regardless of their position in the organizational hierarchy).  What I find particularly interesting about this article is that even in our “more enlightened” times, people still make highly inappropriate comments in the workplace:

1.  “Don’t worry, you’ll get the promotion, you’re Latina.”

2.  “When did you arrive in this country?”

3.  “Hola! Habla Ingles?”

4.  “Do you live with your parents?”

5.  “You’re not like them.”

6.  “Can you show me your knife?”

7.  “Why don’t all you Latinos stop doing that?”

8.  “You’re not white.”

9.  Butchering a Latino’s last name.

10.  “Do you speak Spanish?”

Visit to read the full article.

NEXT POST – November 21, 2008

8 Things NEVER to Say to a Mixed-Race Colleague

November 13, 2008


In my last post, I introduced an article written by Yoji Cole that describes “9 Things NEVER to Say to White Colleagues”.  Here is another article by Yogi from the series at  This article describes 8 things you should never say to a mixed-race colleague:

1.  “What are you?”

2.  “What is your nationality?” or “You look foreign”

3.  “You’re all beautiful” or “You make beautiful babies”

4.  “Are you X or Y?” or “Which side are you more on?”

5.  “How in the world did your parents meet?”

6.  “You’re the future” or “You have the best of both worlds”

7.  “You don’t look …” or “You’re not …” or “You sound white”

8.  “Aren’t we all mixed anyway?”

Remember to visit to read the full article.

NEXT POST – November 18, 2008

9 Things NEVER to Say to White Colleagues

November 10, 2008


Greetings, in today’s post I describe another article from the series at describing ‘things NEVER to say’.  Today’s article is written by Yoji Cole and describes 9 things you should never say to your white colleagues.  I find this article particularly interesting and insightful because it addresses some of the destructive stereotypes people of color often hold regarding Caucasians:

1.  “You’re a carpet-bagger” or “Why is a white guy doing this?”

2.  “You’re not diverse”

3.  “There’s no way you as a white person can understand”

4.  White men are automatically “in the corporate in-crowd”

5.  “You’re just a typical white person”

6.  “You KNOW you’re being racist”

7.  “You talk about us when we’re not around”

8.  “You’ve got all the money”

9.  “I don’t like white people” or “I don’t get white people”

I strongly urge you to visit to get a description of each of these statements in Yoji Cole’s full article.  I think you will find it quite interesting.  In my next post, I will highlight another Yoji Cole article.  This one focuses on communicating with people who have a mixed cultural background.

NEXT POST – November 13, 2008

8 Things NEVER to Say to a Mixed-Race Colleague