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Co-worker’s thick accent is an opportunity to communicate

Friday, April 25, 2014 - 6:15 am

Q.: I have a new co-worker who is from another country where English is not the language, and she has a very heavy accent. I find that a lot of times I do not understand what she is saying.

I feel bad asking her to repeat herself all the time, but I worry that if I don't, I may miss some important information that she is trying to tell me.

How can I develop a working relationship with her where we communicate effectively? I don't want to be rude to her. – Lost in Translation, Seattle

A.: I am sure that your co-worker knows that she has an accent and that sometimes people do not understand her. But she may not realize to what extent you do not understand her.

Ask her to join you for a meeting, and be clear and direct with her. Tell her that sometimes you cannot understand her. Ask her if she would slow down when she is speaking to you to ensure that the two of you have accurate communication.

Check in with her as well to see if she understands everything that you are saying. She may be having a similar challenge, especially given that English is not her first language.

Pledge to work together to build effective communication. Chances are that she will appreciate your forthrightness.

Lifestylist and author Harriette Cole is president and creative director of Harriette Cole Media. You can send questions to askharriette@ or C/O Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.