Other languages in workplace not an insurmountable barrier
Arizona Daily Star
Apr. 11, 2006

Opinion by Peter Post

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/124025


Q: I have a question regarding language etiquette in the workplace. I work in a small yet culturally diverse department. One of our daily responsibilities requires a few of us to work together for several hours. The general rule is for conversations to steer clear of highly charged topics and to be such that anyone can join in if they wish.
Several individuals share a common language and often go back and forth between English and this other language. A few of us consider this to be rude and exclusionary. While we understand it may be nice to be able to speak in one's own language at times, the problem arises when simple exchanges turn into lengthy conversations. Recently, this went on for the most of four hours. What's your opinion on this?


A: This is one of the most vexing questions I've faced. There's no simple answer and probably never will be because each situation is different. So I've changed my tune: I no longer think it should simply be a rule that in the workplace everyone should speak in a language everyone understands.
There are too many reasonable exceptions. For example, should two new Vietnamese workers on the assembly line, both with very limited English, be unable to converse in their native language? Is it fair that, just because English is the company language, the English-speakers can talk to each other but non-English speakers may be isolated?
The real issue here is one of consideration and respect. In today's culturally and ethnically diverse work environment, learning to get along matters much more than understanding what each other is saying. Regardless of the language spoken, no one should be talking, much less whispering, about others in the workplace.
● Peter Post is a director of the Emily Post Institute and wrote the New York Times bestseller "Essential Manners for Men: What to Do, When to Do it and Why" (HarperResource, 2003). He is one of Emily Post's four great-grandchildren.