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  • Writer's pictureTina Huggins

Breaking through the language barrier…

I find my life is never a dull moment whether I am traveling or working with a new company. For me, the unknown is often the unnerving part of a new job…walking into a new site…meeting people who are wondering who I am…why I’m there…and probably how I might affect what they are doing. On the other side of the fence…I am wondering will they like me…can I be effective…and how can I provide a positive impact on this business?

Most people who know me would tell you that I am a people person….I can usually talk to anyone as well as myself (a negative that tends to show my age). Since having an outgoing personality is an asset for what I do…I have put my best foot forward in getting to know my product development team….5 engineers from India. Have you ever met an engineer with an outgoing personality? Just imagine what our first meeting was like…they never knew what hit them. They are bright, intent on code, want direct instructions, speak several languages and are a little more serious by nature.

My first challenge is the language barrier….I have learned that I have to listen intently to understand thoughts communicated…I can no longer be thinking 2 steps ahead with an answer…this could be a good strategy for me to practice with my colleagues who have grown up in America. The headaches are less frequent as I begin to better understand their responses to my questions!


Two weeks ago, I was conducting a conference call via a webcam so they could see me during our meeting. As we discuss the many tasks for the week, staging and production to take place I made a comment…”Does everyone have enough work? I don’t want anyone twiddling their thumbs this week!”….dead silence. My humor usually brings laughter to most groups, but not my engineers. I immediately thought something was missing from the translation. I could just imagine them looking at each other with a big question mark over their heads. “Have you heard of that expression?” One says, “No”.

Ah….colloquial expressions…a gap in communication resulting in humor being lost in translation! So I put my hands in front of the camera and demonstrated “twiddling thumbs”… laughter erupted through the phone….they got it! My first step to breaking down some walls….to better communication, providing levity to a relatively serious job, and beginning to understand who Tina was.

Since that meeting, new expressions are a part of their education while code is a part of mine….something that has helped gel our team as well as provide laughter to a job that is often quite serious.

Life lesson: Sometimes people are not as we think….taking time to really know and understand others can make a difference in how we work.

Send me your favorite expression for my team!

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