Tips on working with Aboriginal colleagues: Listening

Aboriginal people (First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in Canada) are known as storytellers. This has been a sacred process that is viewed by many as the soul of the people. This soul of every native culture has always found its surest expression in stories.

Without the written language culture, all traditional customs were shared by storytelling, and passed down in this same manner over many generations. Given this cultural background, five suggestions can guide the ways you listen to Aboriginal colleagues:

  1. Focus on what the individual is saying. Look at the speaker, giving your full attention to what exactly is being said. Because Aboriginal people tend to tell stories as a way of communicating with each other, there is a lesson to be learned or a discussion taking place.
  2. Don’t interrupt the speaker; this is taken as a sign of disrespect. Aboriginal people are taught to be respectful to the speaker. Many times they use a talking stick with large groups, waiting to hear the speaker who has the stick. We are always in such a rush that frequently we tend to speak over each other; this shuts down the speaker and is a sign of disrespect. And we ask, when Aboriginal employees leave, "Why didn’t they just come and tell me?”
  3. Make and maintain eye contact and provide non-verbal cues. The notion that Aboriginal people avoid eye contact reflects more myth than reality as more Aboriginal people enter the workplace. By making eye contact and maintaining it, you are showing respect by acknowledging what they are saying.
  4. Listen from the heart. This is a critical factor in developing listening skills with Aboriginal colleagues. If you listen with your heart and not just with your head you will listen more clearly and you will focus on what your colleague is saying.
  5. Clarify what is being said if you are unsure what is being told to you. This will show that you are paying attention and are interested in what the Aboriginal person is telling you. Like the majority of people in the workforce, Aboriginal people want to be heard and feel that they are contributing part of the workforce.

"Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect."

Chief Seattle, 1854

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