Brenda Knights Narrative
We have many community members who work in our places of business. We expect employees to follow company policy. If they’re not following company policy, we have to follow through with progressive discipline at times. What that employee goes home and tells their family might be different, but we have to maintain confidentiality and professionalism and can’t convey what happened. A family member might be really upset because they’re hearing one side of the story. The strategy that I’ve used is recognizing that sometimes, no matter what you say, you’re not going to appease them or change their mind. But it’s important to recognize them, hear them out, thank them for sharing and leave it at that. It’s not always about fixing the problem right there. Sometimes people just want to be heard. Eventually, the truth has a way of revealing itself. I’ve found that over time, people figure it out. As a leader, you have to keep that confidentiality. Even if you are tempted to defend your position, you have to realize it’s not the most appropriate time or place.
That can apply in any place of business. As you move up in the company, you’re privileged to learn more and more information that can’t be shared. It can become difficult because you you might feel that sharing information would resolve a conflict or make someone understand, but you might also be putting the company at risk. As a leader, if you’re always trying to come forward with all the answers, you may be seen as defensive as opposed to professional. As people get to know you as a leader, if you’re consistent and known as someone who’s confidential and professional, people will want to work with you and will trust you. I’ve experienced that with elders. I’ve talked to an elder and even though I don’t understand everything, I’m astute enough to know that there’s more to the story that I don’t have access to, and I trust that.
You need to know who’s in the room, too, and whether you need to speak or if someone else should speak. If I’m in the room and our chief is there, the audience wants to hear from the chief, not from me. Out of respect, since she has a senior role, I’m going to defer to her. In a smaller setting, I’ve had a person direct a question to me, and even though I can answer it, I will turn to Chief Marilyn and give her that respect and that opportunity to speak first. When you don’t do that, you can come across as over ambitious. It’s really important to know when it’s your time to speak and who’s the appropriate person to speak. You don’t always have to be the one to answer the question.
In our Kwantlen community, we’re taught that everyone has a different gift to bring. When it comes to a certain topic, it’s okay to defer to the person who is respected in the community as a knowledge keeper. If you do, your information will become more credible and people will buy in to the idea. When you work as a team and put your ego aside and draw on the experts, you realize that you can’t be an expert in everything. It doesn’t always have to be the leader who speaks on everything and has to be knowledgeable on everything.
I always think about our traditional teachings. We were taught as Indigenous people to respect and listen to our elders. It’s not that when you reach a certain age, you automatically become an elder. There’s a purpose for that. Elders are people who have knowledge that they can pass on. If you stop and take the time to listen, there’s often a great deal of information that you can get. Often, we have been taught that it’s rude to leave awkward silences, so sometimes we feel that all that time needs to be filled with talking, but it’s okay to stop and have silence and reflect, as opposed to always talking. You’ll miss out on good information.