In today’s globalized workforce, diverse teams are the norm. Working alongside colleagues from various cultural backgrounds and language proficiency levels is an enriching experience that can bring new perspectives and innovative solutions to the table. However, it also presents unique challenges.
Many native English speakers fail to realize and empathize with these challenges their counterparts face. Native English speakers are responsible for communication breakdowns and an ever-growing unconscious bias, which tends to create uncomfortable work environments. To dismantle this barrier, we must all work a bit harder to be more patient and understanding.
The following strategies and tips teach you how to effectively work with non-native English speakers to help them adapt and thrive in the workplace.
- Create a Culture of Inclusivity:
The foundation of successful collaboration with non-native English speakers lies in creating an inclusive workplace culture. Encourage open dialogue, value diversity, and promote respect for different perspectives. When individuals feel respected and included, they are more likely to communicate confidently and engage actively in discussions.
- Be Patient and Empathetic:
Recognize that language barriers are frustrating for everyone. No one wants to feel less than, inferior, or judged. Show patience and empathy when communicating. Avoid interrupting or finishing their sentences and instead, allow them to express themselves fully.
- Simplify and Clarify Communication:
Sometimes the answer to being understood is saying less. Use simple and straightforward language, avoiding idioms or jargon that might be unfamiliar to non-native speakers. Additionally, consider summarizing key points and asking if they have any questions or need clarification after important discussions or presentations. When you show an interest in their development, they’ll truly believe you’re advocating for their success in the workplace.
- Encourage Language Development:
From 2009 to 2019, the percentage of the U.S. population who spoke English less than very well decreased from 9 percent to 8 percent, indicating that English ability improved among those who spoke a language other than English. Support non-native English speakers if they decide to learn English. Make them aware that adult English language courses and other language improvement programs are available for them. Additionally, educate them on available resources such as dictionaries or free language learning apps like Duolingo that can assist them in building their vocabulary and improving their language skills.
- Foster Effective Team Communication:
Effective teamwork requires clear communication and a general consensus among everyone. Ensure that meetings and written communication are well-structured and organized. Use agendas, visual aids, and bullet points to convey information more effectively. When everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, collaboration becomes smoother.
- Provide Feedback:
Feedback is essential for growth, but it needs to be constructive. Offer feedback on their language skills in a supportive and encouraging manner. Highlight their strengths and provide specific suggestions for improvement. Be sure to balance this with recognition of their contributions to the team.
- Be Mindful of Nonverbal Communication:
Nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions, play a significant role in communication. Be aware of your nonverbal communication as it can convey unintended messages. Maintain eye contact, use positive gestures, and offer encouraging facial expressions to create a comfortable and inclusive atmosphere.
- Build Relationships Outside of Work:
Building relationships outside of the workplace is actually what makes working more enjoyable. Take the time to get to know your non-native English-speaking colleagues on a personal level. When you include them in after-hour activities, they’ll start to feel like they’re truly part of the team.
- Lead by Example:
Set an example, whether you’re the team leader or the intern. Demonstrate active listening, patience, and a willingness to adapt your communication style to meet the needs of your colleagues. Practice the suggestions previously mentioned when no one else does and others will follow suit.
Working with non-native English speakers in the workplace is an opportunity for growth and innovation, but it also requires sensitivity, patience, and a commitment to effective communication. Provide support for language development and employ clear and considerate communication practices to aid your non-native English-speaking colleagues in adapting and thriving, contributing their unique perspectives and skills to your organization’s success.
Manatee Literacy provides workplace literacy classes for business, empowering employees through English. For a more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.