How stereotypes hinder effective communication… and clean cabinets.

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It was the typical Fourth Quarter Push.

 

 

We all knew the drill.

Well, most of us did.

 

It was 2006, back before the meltdown. Back when homebuilders talked about “hiring well in advance of need” and financial analysts all agreed with the hiring philosophy.

 

 

This was Mark’s first Q4 Push. He was a Rookie. His job was at the tail end: Punch to Close. After the homeowner did their Final Walk, Mark sent the painters back in, took care of the other remaining items and then dispatched the cleaners for the final final clean.

 

 

As the Project Manager I visited every home prior to closing. If the homeowner balked at the closing table, the reason couldn’t be the home wasn’t ready. In the Fourth Quarter Push, there is simply no room to push it.

 

 

Mark’s houses looked tight.

Punchlists were complete.

 

 

 

No annoying orange dots on the walls.

No chirping smoke detectors.

Garage spotless.

New furnace filter.

Vacuum lines on the carpet.

 

 

 

But he had one Achilles Heel.

 

 

The tops of the 42” wall cabinets in the kitchen.

There was always dust and small debris up there.

 

 

Lot 236: Dust and a single screw.

Lot 238: Dust and 2 shims.

Lot 240: Dust and a Twinkie wrapper.

Lot 242: Dust and more dust.

 

 

Back when I was a Q4 Rookie our Area President visited my jobsite. We were in a kitchen. He hopped up on the countertop like some large ring-tailed lemur. I cringed as his arm extended, wiping along the top of the cabinets.

 

Athletic little guys...

Athletic little guys…

 

 

 

His hand returned, caked in dust

It was grey from wrist to index finger.

 

 

Gotta check up there, team. The ladies love to put their wicker baskets and collectible plates up there. It’s gotta be clean for them.

 

 

I never forgot it.

 

 

And I never forgot to tell this story to every newbie on my job. Yet here we were, looking at my grey hand this time. Again.

 

 

Man… all the cleaners are Hispanic. All they speak is Spanish. Shouldn’t we only hire English-speaking cleaners? Wouldn’t that solve the problem? Just look around. They… are… literally… all… Hispanic.

 

 

The cleaning crews were all Hispanic.

There was a Hispanic woman cleaning 10’ from us in the kitchen.

 

 

So what should we do?” I ask.

 

 

Well, you speak Spanish…. So I called you so you could call the foreman and gather all the cleaners and speak to them in Spanish. This problem’s gotta stop. I mean, it’s on every Punchlist.

 

 

OK.” I said.

 

 

Oye, mi amiga. ¿Hablas ingles, no?

(Hey friend. You speak English, right?)

 

 

Yeah, dude. Why? Whaddya need?

 

 

I smiled at Mark. “Can you take this from here?

 

 

Stereotypes kill effective communication. In a survey of over 20K Hispanic respondents, the Pew Hispanic Center found more than half speak English.

 

 

True, that leaves about half that don’t, but the larger issue is that English-speakers typically only confront Spanish-speakers when something is wrong.

 

 

Somebody screwed up.

Something needs to be fixed.

Something has to happen now.

 

 

With over 50 million Hispanics (and growing) in the US, we need to be aware of our stereotypes.

 

 

Your closings depend on it.

Your clean cabinets depend on it too.

 

 

 

Bradley Hartmann is founder and El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com), a  training and consulting firm bridging the English-Spanish language gap in the construction industry. He similblogs these posts at Professional Builder’s Housing Zone.

 

 

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