Don't use 2nd language to exclude co-workers from a conversation
Arizona Daily Star
02.27. 2007
Business Opinion by Peter Post
Q: How does one deal politely with co-workers and service providers who speak English as a second language? Some of these folks can't understand English well enough to conduct reasonable business conversations. Also, some conduct work-related conversations in their native language, excluding native English speakers from their conversations.
A: I sympathize with people's frustration when fellow employees suddenly start conversing in a language they can't understand. The other workers can't help wondering if the sudden shift is because the conversation involves a topic the non-English-speaking employees don't want the others hearing. This would be no different than whispering, which is a form of rudeness that should be avoided both at work and in personal life.
The flip side is that workers who speak English as a second language may not be fluent enough to have a water cooler chat in English. Is it really fair to tell them they can't speak to a friend in their native tongue while at work? I think not.
The solution is for both sides to take an approach of tolerance and understanding. People should make every effort to have conversations that are inclusive, not exclusive.
Regardless of what language people speak, gossiping is unacceptable. At work, the conversation topic should be one that could be heard by anyone. Business conversations should be conducted in a language common to all employees, or the business should have a protocol that ensures that everyone can communicate.
Keep in mind that there are areas of the country where the business conversation could be in Spanish, Vietnamese or any number of other languages. The etiquette issue here isn't the primacy of English it's about being sure that every employee can understand what's being said and can communicate about business matters as needed.
Q: The wife of one of my company's vice presidents recently made headlines for some illegal activity involving minors and alcohol. Is there anything I can do about the situation other than ignore it and pretend nothing happened?
A: Since you referenced "my company," I'll assume that you're the CEO. The considerate thing would be to broach the subject privately with your employee, letting him know you're aware of what happened and that, within reason, you're willing to work with him to adjust his schedule or grant him time off if necessary.
Opinion by
● Peter Post is a director of the Emily Post Institute. E-mail your questions about business etiquette to, or mail to Etiquette at Work, The Boston Globe, P.O. Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819.