Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Building Teamwork Across Language Barrier

DEAR NATALIE: I've been following a lot of your networking tips and was wondering how you deal with language barriers? I am working in a field with a lot of people whose first language is not English, and I find it very challenging to connect with them. I want to build rapport with my team but not sure how to do it. A lot of them feel uncomfortable and isolated from the rest of us, and I don't want people to feel that way at work. Any suggestions? -- LOST IN TRANSLATION

DEAR LOST IN TRANSLATION: While we may not always be able to communicate with our words, we can communicate through action. Team-building exercises can be great in this situation, but take it out of the workplace. Create a group activity such as softball or a walking club or something that gets people out of their heads and into their bodies. You could also do a volunteer activity as a group such as planting trees in the park or cleaning up litter in your community. As you interact outside the workspace, you may find that you are communicating better, as everyone will pick up on social cues and body language in a less intimidating environment. You could also offer free English classes to anyone who wants to pick up the language a little faster. It must be difficult for people who've left their culture, language and friends behind to venture into a new world. Be conscious of that, be patient and encourage collaboration within your organization so that everyone can feel a part of the team. 

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Take time to unwind. We can completely overbook ourselves, thinking that we need to have our calendars packed to the brim in order to be effective at networking. But, giving yourself some time off can help recharge your brain and give you a fresh perspective when you do decide to meet new people. 

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)