It is August 26th, 2023. My wife and I are expecting the delivery of a newly purchased bedframe for our bedroom. The morning is chaotic. We barely manage to disassemble the old bedframe and move it to the garage when the delivery truck pulls into our driveway. My wife runs upstairs frantically, having realized we had not vacuumed the room yet. I stay downstairs to welcome the workers. Two young men come out. One of them is black, muscular, with hair locks.
He says “home delivery?”. I respond: "Yes, this is the house". Next, he says “Show me where”. I ask him to follow me, and I take him to the room. He scans the room and without any words, runs back outside. My wife and I look at each other and comment privately: ”he doesn’t seem friendly”.
I decide to engage him further and find out what could happen.
When I follow him outside, I notice the two workers are speaking Spanish to each other.
“There must be more than one box”, one says.
The other replies: “let me see in the back”.
“What about that one?” the first one interjects.
Although I am not fluent in Spanish, I join in and exclaim: “Hablan espanol?” which means, you speak Spanish? Surprised, they answer with a big smile. “Si”. They ask if I speak Spanish too. I respond “un poquito”; meaning a bit. Through the exchange we share names and I learn that they are respectively from Honduras and Guatemala. I also explain that I am originally from Benin republic, a French speaking country. We discuss the similarities between French and Spanish and identify the countries where Spanish is spoken in Africa. We top it off by expressing our shared love for soccer.
When we return to our bedroom to assemble the furniture, I introduce Chris to my wife and share with her the content of our discussion in the driveway. Chris wonders if she speaks Spanish too and starts using me as an interpreter; I had become a bridge.
To date, this was by far the least transactional home delivery experience I have ever had. What started off on a wrong foot turned into a beautiful story of cross cultural connection.
The language barrier contributed to behaviors and language that my wife and I interpreted as unfriendly. The deliberate choice to suspend judgment and to lead with curiosity provided a pathway to connection. I believe three things helped the situation:
1- Taking ownership in the interaction and choosing to not be a victim of a poor customer service experience.
2- Being culturally humble by Leaving room for the possibility of being wrong.
3- Suspending judgment and not letting the initial assessment prevent engagement.
4- Engaging with curiosity and vulnerability.
My wish is to remember this story every time there is a wrong start and practice these steps often enough to change the trajectory of interactions.
•What if I am wrong in my assessment?
•How can I steer an interaction towards a constructive outcome?