The work that we do—of venturing ever more deeply into the principles for living of indigenous culture, and the applicability of those principles to the realm of business as a force of culture shift—I am finding that many commonly accepted cultural attributes of our dominate society are moving into starker contrast for me against the backdrop of the indigenous way of life. Most significantly is the way in which people verbally communicate.
I’m noticing that when I’m on the phone with my Navajo relations out in Arizona, those who grew up on the reservation with a rooting in ceremonial traditions, they never interrupt, argue, or attempt to derail anything I say. When communicating with many of those raised in mainstream society, I find a tendency toward interruption and jostling for position. Of course communication practices vary widely from one individual to another, but generally, we seem as a society to lack the ability to discern when we are interrupting, or even to understand how interruption affects the flow of a conversation.
I notice with young people who are continually engaged in electronic mediums that they mostly lack the patience for nuance. If they can’t get a message in two minutes or less they become bored. But even with some of my friends in their fifties and sixties there is still a tendency to interrupt when they feel they need to re-direct the flow of conversation.
Most interestingly, I do not experience this style of interruption when speaking with my father, who grew up in Switzerland. This may just be purely anecdotal, but I think there is something we have missed here in the U.S. related to communication, what its purpose is, and how to foster deeply fulfilling and effective communication.
By contrast, when speaking with my Navajo relations, many of whom never went to college, have never worked in the corporate world, who have mostly held laborer positions, have by the nature of their upbringing a more effective and respectful form of communication than the majority of those I have encountered in the corporate world with multiple degrees and sizable accomplishments.
I think we as a society have merely accepted a Darwinian form of communication in which only the most aggressive and assertive individuals are able to get their points across. I think it’s time for a time out with communication. We need to step back and ask ourselves what truly is effective and respectful communication, and most importantly, we need to look to the indigenous people for the example, to sit with them and just listen and observe. As mentioned in a previous blog Today I’m Feeling Like …, “In the Navajo way, they connect with each other by the sharing of story and time.”
Perhaps we could benefit from the Navajo example of “sharing of story and time” and not be so consumed with the words spoken, but rather the feelings beneath them.
Tip of the Week
When conversing with another individual tap into your feeling center and focus your attention on what you are feeling about what they are saying, instead of thinking of a response to what they are saying. Are you feeling resonance or irritation, gratitude or frustration, calmness or impatience? If your drive is to respond, endeavor not to respond and rather to just sit with the words and let them wash over you like a slow moving stream on a warm summer day. Practice this regularly and over time you will strengthen your listening skills. There is always time to formulate a response when respectful communication flows freely in both directions. There is no need to rush to respond; instead we can focus more on listening so that we may better understand the other. This is the indigenous way of communication.