Losing my Mind Because of Punjabi Coworkers

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworkers speaking their native language and feeling excluded because of only knowing English:

Please clear this up for me before I lose my mind!!! I was hired 3 years ago by a woman who is fluent in both English & Punjabi. She herself is an ” Americanized Punjabi.” Anyway, when I was hired, there were 2 other Punjabi/English speakers, a Spanish/English speaker & myself English speaking only. Never did I feel out of place or left out of conversations. Everyone spoke English & all was good. Until now. This past year, the Spanish/English speakers have left & has been replaced with 2 Punjabi/ English speakers & now ALL day 6 days a week EVERYTHING EVERY WORD EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY IS PUNJABI PUNJABI PUNJABI! I’m ready to pull my hair out!! I have made several comments with regard to this to no avail. They truly LOVE being like this & it pisses me off so bad. Please help.
Signed–Punjabi Over

Dear Punjabi Over:
Yes, it is frustrating and lonely to be there in body but left out of the conversation! I hope my few comments reach you before you must buy a wig. Since you realize how important civility is in office communication, I assume that your “several comments with regard to this” you’ve made have not been expressed in bold type or with your “it pisses me off so bad” anger.

So what are your options? I’ll suggest several for your consideration, some that are direct and some more indirect:

  1. Express your distress candidly to the new Punjabi hires. Subtly disclosing your feeling left out has not touched their “we’re sorry button”. Your pissed off anger must be more firmly expressed. That probably can be most effective in a one-on-one encounter or a one-on-two conversation. Possibly this might happen during break. You could initiate it by asking if they would meet with you—saying frankly, “I know you Punjabis love to talk with each other. I understand that. But do you realize how left out I feel?” Then listen to their response.
  2. This should evolve into a mini-problem solving exchange. In such an exchange, you again should find language that will help them understand how strongly you feel. You will have to find words that are appropriate. Pissed off might not be polite in their culture, but you could ask them for words that they recommend you use to show how left out you feel when they speak Punjabi 90% of the time. You could also ask how they recommend you make your feelings understood by speaking more firmly—should you say “TIME OUT. I’M HERE TOO!” Should you raise your hand in a Stop-sign way or post a sign with those words in bold color? Is their a Punjabi phrase they could teach you to say when you are ready to pull your hair out?
  3. See this as an opportunity to enrich yourself. These individuals are bilingual. Like most of us in this country, you are not. What if you asked their help to learn one or two Punjabi words a week. Print each word on one side of a card and its meaning on the other. Ask them to be your instructor. Invite them to teach you a poem or song they learned as a child. To show you are genuinely curious and want to develop your knowledge you might do some research. We live at a time when such information is fingertips away, such as: Punjab: History and Culture – Punjab – Gateway to …https://www.allaboutsikhs.com/punjab/punjab-history-and-culture Punjab: History and Culture … Folk songs and Music ; Folk Dances … attire, script, folklore, people, etc. Punjabi language has its … Your research will tell you “The daily conversation of the Punjabis is so replete with proverbs and sayings that almost every fifth sentence is a saying.” Learning a few of those proverbs could be fun and a way for you to demonstrate you appreciate the new Punjabis.
    4. Think and talk office business. What waste cutting might make office operation more effective—cutting wasted supplies, time, re-dos, energy, money and most of all what might be done to satisfy internal and external customers??? If your office manager would engage your work group in a quality improvement project, that would entail group talk rather than Punjabi talk. Probably team interaction is not required for your office to accomplish its work or you wouldn’t be feeling isolated. Nevertheless, you and your coworkers are sharing the same space. You have that in common. What might make that place more efficient and pleasant? How might your work group earn the good feelings that come from functioning as a team? This is a topic you might discuss with your office manager, and it’s a topic that she might put on a staff agenda?

    Do any of these overlapping options make sense and/or spark additional ideas that might make you less pissed off? I hope so. Meanwhile you might post on your desk and learn if you have not already a poem that originated from the general region of Punjabi people. I memorized it years ago and it often echoes in my thoughts: Look To This Day … my favorite poem – What You …


Look to this day. for it is life. the very life of life. In its brief course lie all. the realities and truths of existence. the joy of growth. the splendor of action. . .

I am interested in how you cope with this frustrating coworker matter. Will you send a follow up? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

–William Gorden