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How to Foster a Positive Business Relationship with Native Americans

Native Americans, also called American Indians, may play a part in your business, either as business customers or business contacts. Native American culture shapes the way that this cultural group interacts in business situations.

  • Common greeting: A very gentle handshake.

  • Personal space: Greater than for other North Americans at 2 1/2 to 3 feet. Native Americans greatly value their personal space.

  • Eye contact: Very little.

  • Approach to time: Less punctual. American Indians tend to see time as an endless circle where the past, present, and future are all continuous. Arriving for appointments 15 to 30 minutes late isn’t unusual.

  • Language: English. Hundreds of nation-specific languages are also spoken.

  • Communication: Native American communication style is greatly affected by their values of humility, respect for elders, and harmony.

    As indirect communicators, Native Americans often exchange information and convey beliefs through storytelling. The most effective method of business communication is to tell stories.

  • Topics for building rapport: Anything you would normally about with any other long-established American culture group, such as entertainment, sports, nature, or education.

  • Negotiations: More collaborative and less confrontational than Caucasians. They want to bring about agreement through good feelings.

  • Actions to avoid: The words squaw, redskin, tribe, peace pipe, or chief.

  • Tips for businesswomen: Many of the Indian nations have a matriarchal structure where women are considered powerful figures, so you shouldn’t face any extra challenges when working with male Native Americans.

Alaska’s indigenous people are divided into 11 distinct cultures with 20 different languages in addition to English. Great diversity exists among its peoples; therefore, it’s impossible to begin to even generalize cultural tendencies.

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