Communicating with non-English-speaking workers isn't just an intellectual exercise; it's a daily, hands-on challenge, says Lisa Willis Johnson of the Society of Human Resource Management. Johnson also serves as human-resources director at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, in Columbus, which employs natives of China, India, Jordan, and El Salvador. She recommends these techniques to aid communication:
Establish a routine. Have regular meetings with only two or three agenda points. That way, employees get used to processing information presented orally, but they're not overwhelmed.
Give written instructions. Employees may read English better than they understand a person who is speaking it.
Learn foreign phrases. Try picking up a few phrases in the languages your employees speak, and ask other managers to do the same. "That helps morale," Johnson explains. "The person comes away thinking, 'Wow, my supervisors took the time to learn a little bit of my language, so I should learn a little bit of theirs."