Do First Nations people look you in the eye? More cultural lessons for training & development

Hot post title, no?  Has it got you all up in arms?

Good.  Hang on, keep reading (there’s a contest with a cool prize to come)…

A couple of my recent posts have been on cultural issues to consider when doing training and development.  You can see them at the bottom of this post.

I left the biggest cultural issue for this post and I’ve thrown in a bit of contest to boot.  Are you with me?

I’m talking about communication.  Nothing is more culturally laden than how we communicate.

Communication is a huge topic within intercultural work, and for today’s post let’s look at one small example and that’s the indirect <——-> direct communication continuum.

Some cultures communicate very directly – eye to eye, specifically  with the person they intend to relay or receive a message from.  Other cultures communicate indirectly, perhaps with less eye contact and/or through a third party.  And lots of cultures are somewhere along that continuum.

More than once I’ve had clients say to me ‘First Nations people don’t look you in the eye,’ assuming all First Nations people are indirect communicators.  What’s wrong with that statement?

Many things, including it generalizes all First Nations people into one cultural category.

While not directly First Nations, I love to relay the following story as an example of another way of looking at communication issues.

When I was working up north (in -72 degree Celsius weather) I didn’t think some Inuit elders were answering my questions.  I tried several tactics, including having less eye contact.  Didn’t work.  Turns out I was asking yes or no questions (questions that can only be answered by yes or no).

Photo a- am I saying yes or no?

Photo b - am I saying yes or no?

See if you can tell how you say ‘yes’ and how you say ‘no’ in the Inuit community I was in.

In which photo am I saying  yes?

Which one says no?

And how do you know?

Enter your answer in the reply section below.  I’ll make a random draw & announce the winner June 15th.  One person will win a free Life Lenses™ assessment – an assessment designed to illuminate your perspective or how you view the world.

The deadline for entering your answer is Tuesday, June 14th, 2011.

Good luck and have fun!

Update: click here to see the answer on June 15th’s post.


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66 Responses to “Do First Nations people look you in the eye? More cultural lessons for training & development”

  1. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Hey you international, intercultural force to be reckoned with you- love your comments! Thanks for playing. Stay tuned- I’ll reveal the answer Wed. And know that, for taking the time to comment, you and the others that have commented, are all automatically entered in a draw to win a free Life Lenses assessment.

  2. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Hi Ivan- why do you think that?

  3. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Ahhh you’re one of the first to mention my nose! Way to go. You may be onto something. Thanks for commenting Vaibhav. I think you’re onto something as well with people not always relying solely on language- it gets mighty interesting though when one gesture means something in one culture and something different in another. People + culture = fascination!

  4. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Hi Debbie- it’s funny you say subtle as when I was taking the pictures, I wasn’t feeling so subtle. The Inuit people I worked with could do this oh so much better than me and waaaaaay more subtly. Thanks for your comment. Stay tuned til Wednesday- I’ll reveal the answer then (plus who won the draw).

  5. Audrey George Sam Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Both pictures look like you have no answere at all. You look like you saying “well, I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it.”

  6. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Hi Audrey- I LOVE your comment. It’s totally unique. You took a dichotomous question (answering yes/no) and made it more like gray thinking. Very creative. Very cool. Love the way your mind works.

  7. Selina Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 10:56 pm


    This is a good one!

    By comparing the eyebrows, nose, and mouth, my answer is:

    A – No
    B – Yes

  8. Gerd Junne Says:
    June 14th, 2011 at 6:30 am

    Interesting to read how earlier answers influence the next ones. I should know the eyebrow answer, because you mentioned it in Rio, Lee-Anne. But I may not remember it correctly. I think that high eyebrows are the equivalent of thumb up. Warm regards, Gerd

  9. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 14th, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Thanks Selina! I appreciate you playing.

  10. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 14th, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Hello Gerd- delighted to read your comment. Thanks for taking the time to make it. Stay tuned- the answer will be revealed tomorrow! And for those reading, know that Gerd is a goldmine of intercultural resources and knowledge. We met at a conference in Rio, Brazil where we were both presenting at a UN conference.

  11. Laura Bouchard Says:
    June 14th, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    I say a = yes facial expressions more open and welcoming.
    b = no facial expression more closed, unwelcoming

  12. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 14th, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Hi Laura- thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it. Stay tuned- I’ll let you know what the answer is and who won the free Life Lenses™ assessment in tomorrow’s post.

  13. Betty-Ann Dykshoorn Says:
    June 14th, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Great comments! I would have to say…(drum roll please)
    A = Yes
    B = No

    The nose appears scrunched (if that is a word) in B as well as the lips appear slightly pursed indicating a negative.

    My thoughts are… that in each picture there is likely something that we don’t see that makes the correct answer more obvious (currently cropped out of the picture). This is really what reading/understanding people is about…seeing what we don’t see in our immediate frame of reference 🙂

    Thanks for the though provoking post Lee-Anne!

  14. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 14th, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Hi Betty-Ann- very observant! You’re the only person to mention my nose. I think so much comes across our frame of reference that it’s tough to know what to pay attention to, what not and/or what’s important, what’s not. Stay tuned- tomorrow’s post (June 15th) will reveal the answer.

    Thanks for taking the time to offer us your thoughtful comments. Cheers to you.

  15. Carol Dixon Says:
    June 15th, 2011 at 9:10 am

    It’s sort of like those find the differences puzzles. Eyebrows yes, nose well kinda, forward and back in incriments. I would say A because you look a little friendlier, maybe encouraging? yes, yes tell me more. But really, I have no idea.

  16. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    June 15th, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Hi Carol- so glad you took the time to comment. Check out today’s post (June 15, 2011) to see the answer!

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