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How stereotypes hinder effective communication… and clean cabinets.


How stereotypes hinder effective communication… and clean cabinets.

January 3, 2013


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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 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.
Written By
El Presidente

Bradley Hartmann is El Presidente of Red Angle, a Spanish language training firm focused exclusively on the construcción industry. Hartmann has been successful improving Safety, Productivity and Profitability by speaking Spanish on the jobsite. Hartmann lived in Guadalajara, México, during his undergraduate studies and later earned his MBA. Hartmann also teaches Construction Spanish at Purdue University’s Building Construction Management Program. He has authored two books: Spanish Twins: Start Speaking Spanish on the Construction Site with Words You Already Know and Safety Spanish: Simple Spanish Skills for Solving Safety Problems. Hartmann would love to hear your thoughts digitally at or at 630.234.7321.

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