One of the challenges of diversity in the workplace is creating a work environment of inclusion so all employees can reach their full potential. Managers have a responsibility to affirmatively determine where language and cultural differences in the workplace are acceptable and where they are not.


In today’s diverse workforce it’s highly likely you will have employees working for you who don’t speak your language. Language barriers make it difficult to share your expectations or give feedback to those with whom you cannot communicate effectively.

How can you raise the productive output of your employees if you cannot communicate what you want? Or, worse yet, how can you improve an employee’s performance or behavior if the worker cannot understand what you are saying?

Issue of Concern

The language barrier between employees and managers is a concern that is raised regularly by participants in my management seminars. In addition to the obvious difficulties of managing someone with whom one cannot communicate, there also is concern that some poor performing employees use the language barrier to their advantage to avoid having to change their behavior. Rather than a true barrier, the employee tries to manipulate the manager by claiming a failure to communicate. They pretend not to understand when the manager tells them what to do so they won’t have to do it. They nod their head and say yes when they really mean no. Some may use their cultural differences to justify why they don’t have to behave or act the way the manager wishes.

On the other hand, there are countless good workers who want to do well but are unable to perform at their fullest potential because they cannot communicate effectively with their boss or teammates.

The difficulty of a diverse workforce is it’s hard to know if the differences in language or culture are real or manipulative. It’s difficult to discern which elements of cultural diversity one should reasonably accommodate versus those elements of the business where employees should be expected to adapt to the nuances of the workplace regardless of their cultural background.

The same is true of language barriers. Should you translate your written and spoken instructions into the language of your employees, or should you expect your employees to improve their language capabilities in the predominant language of the workplace? Should you, as the manager, change the way you manage, or should your employees change the way they work?

The answer to this dilemma lies in whether there is a real communication or culture barrier with the employee or whether the employee is using one’s language and cultural differences as a manipulative means to lessen one’s workload.

Listed below are several techniques you can use for communicating with your diverse employees. I first outline methods for dealing with real language or cultural barriers. I then show how to identify manipulative behaviors and explain what to do with employees who use their language or cultural differences to try to get their own way.


Dealing with a Real Language Barrier


I’m often shocked at how many workers in American companies speak very poor English even though they’ve lived in the United States for many years.

I once was struggling to communicate with a restaurant employee who spoke very little English. He was complaining about being stuck in a low paying job. When I asked him how long he had been in the United States, he told me he’d lived here 27 years. I have to admit I had little sympathy for him regarding his work situation. He could have improved his employment situation if he had improved his language skills during those 27 years.

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  1. Donec porta ultricies urna, faucibus magna dapibus.
  2. Etiam varius tortor ut ligula facilisis varius in a leo.
  3. Folutpat tempor tur duis mattis dapibus, felis amet.

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Author: engbojan

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