The fear of being laughed at makes cowards of us all.
I didn’t understand what was so funny. As soon as I said it the dozen Hispanics towards the rear of the garage bursted out laughing. At me. For something….
What? I wasn’t sure.
My initial reaction was anger. Here I was, conducting a jobsite Toolbox Talk in English and Spanish so everyone could understand the same message at the same meeting. Seems obvious, but it wasn’t. And it isn’t.
Every day meetings are held on jobsites where English-speaking managers and foremen conduct Toolbox Talks pretending as if everyone understands English. Hispanics who only understand Spanish simply sign in, wait politely and then go back to work.
“If they don’t know English, that’s their problem,” you may be thinking.
No, it’s not.
It’s your problem.
Injuries and deaths on your jobsite result in loss of productivity, increased insurance premiums, and more paperwork than Al Gore’s desk.
But back to the story….
It wasn’t a fun meeting. The primary theme was that our jobsite was a mess. We all needed to pitch in to get it cleaned up. A few times I confessed to the group I was embarrassed by the appearance of our job. As I was rambling, I would intermix English and Spanish. It was around these moments when the Latino Laughter would erupt again. Then it would be muffled quickly with hands-over-mouths.
Embarazado…. that means embarrassed, right? It’s gotta be a Spanish Twin, right? A word that is nearly the same in both languages, right?
After the meeting broke, I hurried to my Spanish Dictionary in the truck.
Doh! Embarazado means PREGNANT! Amidst my quasi-tirade on jobsite aesthetics I kept on pausing to inform my Spanish-speaking friends… that I was pregnant.
OK – That is kinda funny.
When you risk doing new things, stepping out of your comfort zone – you will open yourself up to the possibility of looking like a jackass. Potentially a pregnant redheaded jackass, like I was at the meeting.
I can teach you all the Spanish in the world (OK – most of it), but if you don’t have the huevos, cojones, or stones to open your mouth and engage another human being – well, there isn’t an ideal language product for you. What you need is a big box of Man Up. Try.
Personally, I gained far more than I lost in my attempt to translate the Toolbox Talk. I got a great story out of it (case in point – you’re reading about it 6 years later) and I followed up with my Latino Laughers… and we laughed some more. Other than momentarily, I didn’t lose their respect. In fact, I gained more of their respect because I showed some vulnerability.
Most importantly, I never, ever made The Embarazado Mistake again. I learned. And mistakes like that stick with you forever.
So as you journey down the path towards Construction Spanish – or any other endeavor – Remember the immortal words of Keyser Soze. Consider how they can help you differentiate yourself and your business.
“They realized that to be in power you didn’t need guns or money or even numbers. You just needed the will do what the other guy wouldn’t.”
~ Keyser Soze :: The Usual Suspects
Bradley Hartmann is founder and el presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a Spanish language training firm focused on the construction industry. He’s enjoys Eggs, Bilingual Toolbox Talks & The Usual Suspects. His new book, Spanish Twins, is available for purchase at http://www.blurb.com.
Categories: Jobsite Leadership