Monday, September 04, 2000


Work on weak areas, but don't worry too much

By Michael A. Crom
Gannett News Service

        Question: I have a degree in electrical engineering and work in software development for a large company. I do my job very well but feel that I won't get ahead in this company because I do not have a good command of the English language.

        I am from India, and while I can understand and write English well, I feel shy to speak loudly, and I always worry that I will hurt others' feelings by saying something I don't mean. I want to be well-liked and eventually be a manager, but I see this holding me back.

        Answer: You have already taken the first step toward becoming a manager in your company. You have recognized what is holding you back, and you are looking for ways to resolve the concern. You have actually pursued some of the tactics of good goal setting.

        With that in mind, I do have a few things for you to think about:

        1. Work hard to develop your weak areas. It sounds as though your biggest concern is in every-day conversation. Work as diligently on this as you did on your engineering degree. You might start with the local university or try to find others in your company who are trying to increase their English skills.

        2. Don't worry about it. If you talk to your peers and supervisors about your concern, I think you'll find that you are more worried than you need to be. The United States is very diverse, and professionals — especially those in the technical fields — look to the value you can provide a work team when evaluating your performance. If your command of English is unimportant, they won't judge you on it. If it is important to the job at hand, they likely will be patient as long as you're pursuing the solution.

        It's good that you are concerned you might offend someone, but worrying about it does no good. In fact, it's doing you some harm because it's making you afraid to “practice” speaking in casual settings. If you worry too much, it could begin to affect your decisions, such as whether to take a new job in the future. In addition, excessive worry can cause health problems.

        Just handle each situation as it happens. Again, most people will respect that you are learning a new language — you'll find Americans are especially sensitive to this since so many of us don't speak a second language at all! If by chance you do hurt someone's feelings, it often is apparent, and you can quickly apologize.

        3. Stop comparing yourself to others. Every person has strengths and weaknesses. You may never know colloquial English as well as an American-born teen-ager. So what.

        Instead, concentrate on the areas in which you know you have strengths. As long as you understand the value of your talents and skills, you will be successful.

        Contact Michael Crom via e-mail at


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