Member Guest Post, Connection Points: Resolving Cultural Obstructions in Workplace Situations

I was nervously watching the clock, expecting the crew that was going to install our new windows. I feel a little uneasy when I’m alone as a woman with workmen in my home, so I try to find a way to connect with them. An hour later, I called the supervisor when they still hadn’t arrived. He told me that the truck had picked up the windows but then got stuck in traffic.
The truck finally arrived, but only one guy got out and came to the door.  He politely shook my hand and told me his name, but I couldn’t understand what he said because he had such a strong accent.  He told me the second time and I realized that his name was Thomas. Obviously, verbal communication wasn’t going to be the easiest way to connect with him!
When I showed him where to install the windows, I started to explain some details that I thought would be helpful. As I talked, he turned his back to me, put a tarp under the window, and then went to get his tools while I was in mid-sentence. So much for hoping to connect there!
As Thomas worked outside with the sun beating down on him, I noticed that sweat was pouring down his face.  I made him some ice water and handed it to him. He glanced back at me quizzically and said that only one person out of a hundred ever offered him anything to drink or eat,  and he seemed genuinely appreciative. I had gotten my first glimpse into his world!
Later, he was working inside. After he had removed one of the windows, I noticed that a corner of the window frame was rotted out.  I was worried. Was he just going to install the window over the rotted frame?? It took me awhile to get up the courage, but I finally said (trying to sound very casual), “Looks like this whole corner is rotted out.”  He only answered, “Follow me.”  We went outside and he showed me where he had replaced all the wood below the frame with new 2×6’s.  I could see how carefully he had reconstructed the framing and I appreciated his thoroughness. A second insight!
He didn’t say another word, but went back to work. He never sat down once, never ate lunch, and he was still working at dinnertime. Several hours later, it was starting to get dark and he still had a massive clean-up job to do. I went out to help and I saw a look of relief on his face when he saw me helping to pick up. He finally broke his silence and told me that he had been sent out alone on this                                 two-man job and he was worried that he might not finish in time.
I suddenly realized why he had been so uncommunicative all day!  He got started late, he was handling three big windows by himself, and he knew that he was going to have to work nonstop to finish by dark. He wasn’t being cold or purposely distant – he was just focused on getting done.
As he left, I realized that we didn’t have to connect on some strong, personal level. I felt comfortable with him as I appreciated how he had worked so tirelessly, had paid attention to details, and had kept his composure under difficult conditions.  We didn’t end the day as best friends, but I certainly wasn’t uneasy about him being in my home like I had been in the morning.  Sometimes, even a small connection is all we need to put our mind at ease about someone’s else’s character!

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