It’s not unusual to hear nonnative speakers revert to their own language at the expense of their English-speaking colleagues, often because it’s faster and easier to conduct meetings in their mother tongue. Employees in Asia might schedule a global meeting that falls during the middle of the night in England, for instance. In doing so, nonnative speakers shift their anxiety and loss of power to native speakers.
Many FrenchCo employees said that when they felt that their relatively poor language skills could become conspicuous and have career-related consequences, they simply stopped contributing to common discourse. “They’re afraid to make mistakes,” an HR manager at the firm explains, “so they will just not speak at all.”
In other cases, documents that are supposed to be composed in English may be written in the mother tongue-as experienced by Hans at GlobalTech-or not written at all. “It’s too hard to write in English, so I don’t do it!” one GlobalTech employee notes. “And then there’s no documentation at all.”
The bottom line takes a hit when employees stop participating in group settings. Once participation ebbs, processes fall apartpanies miss out on new ideas that might have been generated in meetings. People don’t report costly errors or offer observations about mistakes or questionable decisions. One of the engineers at GlobalTech’s Indian office explained that when meetings reverted into German his ability to contribute was cut off.