Supervising Non-English Speakers

Question:

I am a supervisor at a retail store and am responsible for teams. The team I am primarily responsible for is composed of 6 associates, 4 of which have limited grasp of english. In spite of the language barrier, I try my best to learn Spanish phrases that could convey instructions more clearly. However, at the end of the day, I still need to course it through my partner who is Spanish speaker. As a result, I am told that I am being ineffective as a leader and am unable to do my job as a leader. However, for the other teams I have to work with, most of whom have a better grasp of English, I have no problems managing them. I feel like I’ve hit a wall about the communication issue. It does not help that my fellow leader specified that he would like more spanish-speakers on the team. I do not mind having a bi-lingual associate, but chances are, they will hire another associate who can barely understand English again. What is the best way to address this concern? I understand the value of learning spanish, but for a team to work efficiently, there has to be effort on all parties to communicate effectively.

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Favoritism About Workplace Privileges

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about favoritism:

We have a in-group and an out-group where I work, in a school environment. Eg. Out in the playground, some staff are allowed to sit whilst supervising the children, while others are not. There are other issues also, eg. some staff are given food from the kitchen, while others are not.

Signed, Feeling Left Out

Dear Feeling Left Out:

Nearly always when something seems so blatantly wrong, there is some other issue going on. Ask HR or your direct supervisor about any organizational rules related to sitting, eating, etc., and see if there is a misunderstanding. If you have worked there for years, consider if anyone has ever been fired or disciplined for violating such biased-sounding rules. If not, there probably is no such rule and people just keep blindly sticking to a misconception. Or, you may find out that there is a clearly stated policy that relates to job description, tenure, work schedule or some other issue. For example, in a pre-school with which I’m familiar, employees can eat the school-prepared food, according to the shift they’re working. Some get only breakfast, some get breakfast and lunch, some only get lunch and some do not get a meal while working.

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Why Are Senior Managers Rude and Ignoring Me?

Question:

I often wonder why senior management (the more senior and younger they are) the more they would be disrespectful of my time, ignore me, gatecrash my meeting time to get their agenda through with the person I’m meeting …and only acknowledge my presence if they needed something from me. They are white S.Africans , I am not … I am quite amused by such behaviour as word / reputation of such attitude would only get out … why would they want to do that? Please help me understand if there is something I did, I am or ????

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Seen as a Workplace Jerk

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being seen negatively: What do you recommend I do to improve my situation?

I’m seen as a jerk in the workplace, some of it deserved and some not. I’m seen as not a team player, sometimes because I used my initiative and it wasn’t welcome. I think I’m seen as abrasive. I want to change. I want to fit in better with my coworkers. What do you recommend I do to improve my situation? Thank you.

Signed, I’m Seen As A Jerk

Dear I’m Seen As A Jerk:

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Should I Leave If I Feel Left Out

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about feeling excluded:

I have been at my job for four months now and have seen and heard it all. I know for a fact that my co-workers and supervisor talk about me behind my back. How do I know? An outsider who works for another company and who just comes in every two weeks to deliver items came and told me what they were saying about me. I don’t know why he told me because they have known him longer than I have. I told my supervisor about it and she took care of it.

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What Can Go Wrong In Teams

Question:

My universtiy class is called Communication in Small Groups and Teams. We were asked this question in class, and so I thought I would ask you. The question is, “What can go wrong in teams?”

Signed,

Wondering

Answer:

Dear Wondering:

You will probably gain better insight on that topic by finding a college level text or business text that discusses the question.

Some quick responses are these:

1. There is strong inequity in the amount contributed by each team member. 2. Some members feel more empowered than others. 3. The head of the team (coordinator) does a poor job, with the result that some team members feel unsupported or the team loses sight of their goal. 4. The team isn’t clear what their goal should be. There are undoubtedly many things that go wrong, but those are some of the most common things I have observed. Best wishes to you!

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How To Blend Personalities At Work

Question:

I would like to learn which personality types work best together. For example, some people seem like they consider the work world as an extension of high school and form groups, etc.

Others see work as just that…work, and want to come in, do their job, and go home as they see work as a way to pay bills and do not view their job as a social event. Some people want to say “good morning” and be pleasant, but want to keep things professional, while some other people seem to view work as a social event.

Then, there are the people that actually work (and may make less money), and there are the people that sit around reading romance novels on the clock (and may make more money than the people that are actually working at work). So, how do employers decide if their business is more similar to a frat party and hire only those people interested in socializing, or if their business is more similar to a well oiled machine that gets the job done and only hires people that just want to do the job they were hired to do?

I am hoping that maybe hiring like thinkers will make some workplaces better for all employees.

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How To Avoid Giving Personal Info to Coworkers?

Question:

How do I say no to providing information when a coworker asks me for information I don’t want to give, like my address, what I do in my time off, etc.? Is it considered impolite to ask people for their address at work, or is it just me that doesn’t wish to provide this information to a co-worker?

Signed,

Want Privacy

Answer:

Dear Want Privacy:

The issue of sharing personal information at work is one that like most things involves balance–not always easy to achieve.

We hear from many people who feel completely isolated and alone for eight hours or more a day because no one will talk to them or, if they do, it’s unpleasant. Some of those letters are tragic in their lonelineness and the feeling that no one thinks of them as a person, merely a worker.

We also hear from and about people who have been told they talk too much and waste too much time flitting from desk to desk. We hear from those who like to be friendly at work but do not want to establish close relationships. And, we hear complaints about people who aren’t just unsociable, they are reclusive and refuse to do much more than grunt now and then.

I’m assuming you aren’t in fear or feeling threatened by a stalker or a similar situation, which is also something we hear about now and then.

Fortunately, most personal questions are just efforts to establish some commonality of thinking and no one is rushing to write it down or memorize it. They may not even internalize it at the time, it’s merely something to ask as a way to connect for a better working environment or so they can talk about themselves next! One more general thought that will help you in your solution: In our society and culture most of us make tentative comments and actions, then we wait to see what happens. Communication is often a process of reach out, step back, wait and see, reach out again, etc.

If you don’t want to be asked about your personal life, you will need to courteously let that be known and I’ll bet the other people will stop asking. If you handle it courteously they won’t even consider that they have been shut down, they’ll just move on. They reached out, you didn’t reach back.

That brings us to some specific advice:

You have two options: You can either say up front that you don’t give out personal information or you can answer, but in a vague way that doesn’t provide anything personal.

The direct way would be to say, “Lisa, I appreciate you asking about my life away from work because I realize a lot of people share personal information. But, that’s something I don’t do. I keep my worklife and private life completely separate. I hope you understand.” If you say that in a friendly way and continue with work conversation, Lisa might think you are odd but she won’t resent it.

That is far better than, “I don’t give out personal information, Lisa.” That sounds like you’re accusing her of trying to weasel information from you for some nefarious purpose.

You can also try responding in a vague way. If someone asks where you live: “I live in the Highland subdivision.” “I live on the Westside.” “I have a place south of here.” If they ask if you live in a house or apartment, you can say something like, “Any place where I live is home to me and that’s all that matters.”

If they ask about family you can say, “I have enough family to keep me busy.”

If they ask what you do on your time off: “Oh, I just live a life, you know how that goes.” “I mostly just take care of things around the house.” If they push that a bit more, for example, by asking about hobbies or favorite things to do, you can just repeat the same general thing, “Really, I just enjoy being away from work.”

If the coworker continues, then you can be honest and friendly about your approach to that kind of thing. “I know that a lot of people talk about their personal life at work, but I don’t like to do that. I keep my private life completely private.” If you’re courteous and can even smile a bit, no one will be hurt or offended and you will have made your point.

Obviously, if they keep asking, that is something to bring up with a supervisor, because it’s not appropriate and it’s excessive and disruptive to work.

The thing to avoid is making your approach one of being angry that you were asked, acting like it’s rude to ask (because it isn’t in our society) and generally being anti-social as though you don’t like them and don’t care if they like you.

Work involves interacting with people and work is done better when there is an element of acceptance, openness, smiles and encouragement. That can’t be achieved without communication.

Shutting down communication isn’t the solution to any problem at work. Balance and appropriateness is what we should all be aiming for, within the culture of our workplaces. Many people keep their private lives private while still being considered friendly and approachable, so I’m confident you’ll be able to do that as well.

Best wishes to you!

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Not Treated With Respect Because of My Age

Question:

I am a qualified dental nurse at a very relaxed dental surgery. So relaxed in fact that the manager and the nurses are all best friends. Can I point out at this stage that I am the only qualified nurse at work. I am only 18 years old but I have worked very hard to get where I am today. The other nurses are much older than me, one is 21 and the other is 30 and both have failed their exams several times, whereas I passed mine on the first try.

My real issue is that despite being the only qualified nurse at work, nobody seems to register that I should have some respect with that. For example plenty of staff meetings have gone on in which, when I voice my concerns about serious issues such as malfunctioning equipment, I am ignored, my concerns are not written in the staff meeting notes and I am often talked over. This still makes me feel like an apprentice! The other example I have is that the hygienist I work with seems to have a particular issue with me. Okay, granted I am human and I make mistakes. But when I do make a genuine mistake she feels the need to verbally discipline me in front of patients that she is treating.

Not only does this make me feel extremely penalised as she doesn’t do this to other nurses (who make plenty more mistakes than I do!!) it almost belittles me as it makes me feel as if I’m not any good at my job.

I would like to point out that the hygienist is just my colleague and is no way superior to me and can not discipline me. I know a lot of people would advise that I speak to my manager, but considering how relaxed my work is, the practice manager doesn’t do anything. I have complained about the hygienists attitude towards me four times now, all to do with telling me off in front of patients. All my manager does is laugh and say that I shouldn’t be making the mistakes in the first place.

What can I do? I feel so helpless and realistically like I’m terrible at my job. I know that I’m a great and passionate nurse, it’s just I feel as if being 18 means that I have no respect from my colleagues and boss.

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How Important Is Friendship In the Workplace?

Question:

How important is friendship in the workplace? Do you have to befriend everyone? Is it okay to not be friends and just be co-workers?

Signed,

Finding a Balance

Answer:

Dear Finding a Balance:

Most people consider only one or two people at work as friends (and sometimes no one is considered as close as a personal friend would be). The rest are work colleagues, coworkers, fellow employees or mere acquaintances. The size of the business, type of business and the workplace culture makes a big difference in how emotionally close one gets to those in the business.

Sometimes a workplace is so friendly that work doesn’t get done! Instead of feeling focused on doing the work, the focus is on feeling good about each other. That can be a big problem.

On the other hand, sometimes people are so focused on work that the commonplace courtesies and efforts to smooth out conflict and communication issues are missing. That can be a big problem too. So, balance is very importance! I wonder if you are asking your questions because of a work situation in which you are involved. If so, the following thoughts might help you develop an answer for your specific situation.

How important is friendship in the workplace? It’s good feeling to have friends and often that adds to work environment for everyone. But, one can be an effective employee and not be as close to anyone as the term “friend” involves.

Do you have to befriend everyone? You have to make an effort to be friendly and courteous to everyone, with the goal of improving communications and being a good citizen in the workplace. But, you do not have to be a friend to everyone (and probably couldn’t be) nor should you spend time cultivating friendships to the exclusion of getting work done.

Is it okay to not be friends and just be coworkers? Certainly. In fact, it is very doubtful that everyone wants to be everyone else’s friends anyway. Most people want to work around those who are credible, knowledgeable, skillful, good communicators and who are able to have a variety of good interpersonal relationships—from friendship to internal customer to coworkers to work-acquaintance.

When someone is told they are not friendly at work, it usually doesn’t refer to them being friends with someone or with everyone. It refers to them being curt, isolated, not participating or acting strange to the point that others feel uncomfortable around them.

Most employees, as they mature, learn how to achieve a balance between being more concerned about friendships than work and being obsessively focused on work to the exclusion of even good communications. If you wonder about it for yourself, talk to your manager or boss and see if you have achieved the balance he or she wants for all employees–or if there is some other issue you need to consider and improve.

Best wishes to you with this issue!

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