Language barriers in the workplace: let’s get the right balance
The Corporate Communications & CSR team was recently approached with a bit of a sensitive and controversial issue regarding the use of a common language at work. This raised some healthy debate in our team and so we thought: let’s discuss this together.
You’ve heard us talk a lot about diversity and inclusivity here at BMMI; we pride ourselves on our multi-national environment. Yet, there seems to be a bit of a dilemma when it comes to the ‘basic etiquette of conversation and communication’ in our multi-lingual workplace.
As our workplace becomes inherently diverse, naturally so do the languages spoken. And unfortunately, in some cases, tensions may arise, causing unnecessary controversies. Perhaps, you can relate to this situation? You’re waiting for a meeting to start, with conversation drifting in the background in another language and you start wondering, ‘what are my colleagues talking about and why am I not included?’ Some of us might get quite annoyed or frustrated and feel left out.
Now please, before anyone gets defensive, we encourage you to stop and ask yourself - am I maybe subconsciously making my colleagues uncomfortable, alienating them; or even worse, fuelling workplace discrimination? Purposely speaking another language to conceal something is not only rude, it’s unacceptable behavior.
Language barriers are one of the main challenges of managing diversity in the workplace whilst ensuring an environment of inclusion. There is no doubt that this can negatively affect teamwork and individual morale, making it more difficult to communicate, as well as hindering collaboration. Including your colleagues in the smallest conversations allows for mutual respect and simple common courtesy.
However, it is also unacceptable to ban employees from speaking their native languages, like during breaks or when no one who doesn’t speak the language is present. The art of language is a beautiful thing and we encourage you to pursue learning a new one or maybe learn a few phrases from your colleagues!
We need to celebrate and respect those who are multilingual. Although these individuals speak English, they may choose to speak with others in their native language at times. Yet, it is up to us and to them to use better judgment and selectively identify the right time or situation to speak in a non-common language.
Ultimately, this is all about non-discrimination and inclusion, as well as ensuring that all our efforts to maintain inclusivity as a vital part of our corporate culture are not being hindered by a ‘language hostile’ workplace.