Interrupted In Russian

I work for an agency that provides services for many nationalities. Most of the staff speak Russian. I do not. The issue is that numerous times I could be engaged in a conversation with one supervisor and the other jumps in. Then they start speaking Russian. It makes me feel uncomfortable and I have no idea what they are saying. This can go on for a few minutes. What is my recourse? —What Can I Say?

Dear What Can I Say?

You are employed for a global agency. You must have been hired because you have certain skills and credentials they determined were needed. Are you new? Have you earned enough credibility to make this a matter of a staff discussion? Does anyone other than you see this as a problem?

Yes, not understanding individuals talking in a different language than yours is frustrating. This is particularly a problem for you because this occurs frequently when you are in a conversation with a superior and someone from another group interrupts and they converse in Russian. Have you and any supervisor discussed this? Has this matter been seen as a problem? Have you brought it to supervisor(s) your frustration about being left out of what’s going on? 

You have several options, a few I see. Possibly they will  prompt you to think of others. 

  1. Up front what your agency wants to know is if you overall like your job. Appreciation can be expressed succinctly and informally without appearing ingratiating. 
  2. Request a session with the superior who hired you and ask his/her advice? Of course your general question might be to ask if your work is meeting their expectation? In short, how well am I doing? Is there something I can do better? 
  3. Ask your immediate supervisor what he/she advises to be included and to cope with being excluded.
  4. If you like your job, are you doing anything to make it more effective? In particular, create a list of phrases in Russia and practice them. (Yes, No, Please, Thank spoken in Russian, etc.) 
  5. Prepare a sign in both English and Russian–that you might point to if you are excluded–a phrase you might read in Russian “Please when you want to speak when I’m engaged in a conversation, SPEAK ENGLISH SLOWLY.” Learn to pronounce this in Russian. Asking someone to help you say this correctly is a way to make your desire not to be cut out clear. Perhaps make it in color and BOLD font.
  6. Request a brief time-out to discuss how you feel left out and how it distracts from what you are hired to do. First with your supervisor, then with others such as Human Resources, to explain how you see it as distracting from helping your agency be effective. 

Think creatively about this practical problem. Obviously, people want to speak in their own native language. They took years learning and using it. So patience may and working around interruptions may be the best you can do. Change will not come easily. I will be interested in what you try and if you find something to help. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden