With 22 recognized tribes in Arizona, each with their own governance, leadership and protocols, working within the American Indian community and in Indian country has become an enviable skill in the business world.
Kitchell has found through first-hand experience that the best way to approach tribal work is by aligning with those who understand the culture, and accepting that patience, strong listening skills and non-verbal cues are critical to the American Indian way of doing business.
These were just a few of the messages shared with construction industry representatives at Kitchell’s Cultural Awareness Workshop, an annual event that brings together Kitchell employees, subcontractors and partners to help everyone better understand the nuances involved in working with tribal communities, regardless of the type of the vocation or project.
“I learned only through personal experience that sitting respectfully and listening at their pace was a skill I had not mastered,” said Kitchell Native American Division Business Development Manager Kari McCormick.
“We’re so used to filling space with words – and that was something I had to adjust when working with the Navajo Nation – respectfully listening, and waiting for them to finish sharing their thoughts.”
This insight and others were shared by Kitchell and the nationally known experts that the company engaged to facilitate the workshop – Jeff Thompson, who has spent 32 years working in Indian Country, and Robert J. Miller, a professor from Lewis & Clark Law School who has practiced American Indian law since 1993.
Unlike the direct communications approach favored by many of today’s successful business leaders, those operating in Indian Country rarely ask direct questions as a matter of course, especially when anticipating a negative answers. By mastering listening skills, the experts shared, you should understand their point of view and anticipate outcomes.
“Allow time to process and let the story evolve,” Thompson said. “No one wants to hear negative answers.”
Another tip that seems to be universally accepted in any business situation: use humor. “Someone in a management or supervisory role should use humor, preferably self-deprecating humor, as a leveler. It’s a very powerful tool.”