Boss Speaks to Spanish Speakers Only

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about Spanish only in meetings.

I work in a cannery in CA. Most of the workers there only speak Spanish. After work, my boss only held a meeting in Spanish. Can he do this? Three of us speak only English and had no idea what was going on. He is very rude to the English speaking employees. What can I do?

Signed, Left Out

Dear Left Out:

You have a voice and can politely ask what your boss has said. Quit thinking you are treated unfairly and that your boss is rude. He could simply think you understand Spanish even though you don’t speak Spanish to him. Does he know you can’t understand Spanish? During a meeting you could raise your hand and ask for him to tell you what he was saying in English. Did you do that?

Obviously, communication at work is important. Getting the job done well requires two way listening/talk. To communicate you and your boss must both understand speak the same language and that entails listening and responding. Learn to ask questions that clarify assignments: what, when, where and how questions. Rephrase what you have been told and check with him or coworkers to be sure you have understood what has been said.

Since most of your coworkers only speak Spanish, it would benefit you and them for you to learn some Spanish. Have you tried to do that?Possibly, you might ask one of them to teach you a few Spanish words, especially “Please” and “Thank you” and you could offer to do the same for him or her.

Also you could suggest that written instructions be posted in both Spanish and English, especially rules that pertain to safe working conditions.You might suggest to your boss and/or Human Resources that a class be conducted for you who speak English to learn Spanish and also one for those who speak Spanish to learn English. Employers don’t want to be seen as discriminating because of national origin any more than they want to be seen as discriminating based on race, sex, religion, age and disability.

Short courses in Spanish and English would serve as evidence an employer was making a conscientious effort not to discriminate.I predict that your boss will show an interest in you if you show a genuine interest in your work. Have you thought of ways to cut waste: wasted food, wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy and ways to innovate? Have you come to work ahead of time and not rushed to leave?

Have you praised your boss for anything he has done? Have you brought even one good idea? Have you looked up your company on the Internet or learned more about the canning industry?Work in hard and can be boring as well as dangerous. What might you do if you were boss to make it more fun? What might you do since you aren’t boss to make it more fun, or at least more bearable, such as humming a song you like, practicing a poem you once learned or are trying to learn, learning a song in Spanish, bringing cupcakes for your coworkers or something you knitted, sharing photos of your family or during break time taking and posting photos of your coworkers on a bulletin board.

Taking responsibility is something each of us must do and your question indicates that you want to take responsibility for improving communication where you work, and that also means improving working relationships. You and each of your coworkers have a life story. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Human Resources offered lunch-time sessions in which coworkers took turns sharing stories about their families? Get my point. You have experienced a communications problem. You and coworkers can take responsibility for solving that problem. Don’t expect someone else to do that for you. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. In short, that means you take responsibility for improving what prevents others and you from having an employee-friendly ad productive workplace. So put on your thinking cap and I predict you will succeed.

William Gorden