Environment: The culture of your organisation has to be safe. That is, it needs to be a safe space to express and to nurture, and there needs to be free flowing dialogue and conversations. If you say there is an open door, it has to be open. Relationship development is critical for building this safe environment. This is created by how you are talking, listening and hearing. An environment of trust is built through not only listening but on acting on what you’ve heard. Many times over the years I’ve had employees come to me with issues or seeking help, and that takes a lot of courage. But if every time someone comes to your door — whether they’re Aboriginal or not — and you’re busy or you say “not now”, that’s not going to contribute to building a safe and nurturing environment. You need to invest in what you say you’re going to do, you need to give all employees attention.
Acknowledgement: We need to acknowledge employees as whole people and value their assets beyond the work capacity. Outside of the workplace someone might spend a huge amount of time engaging with and supporting their community. Seek to understand the community standing your team member has and the time and obligations that this comes with. Recognise the years of relationship building that people bring into the workplace and always acknowledge community obligations and family responsibilities.
For example, in addition to my role at Development WA which is a demanding job, I’m also co-chair of Reconciliation WA and a grandmother looking after four grandchildren full time. If I didn’t have relationships with my employers and my team, they wouldn’t know this about me, and it would make things really hard and potentially unworkable. For people in senior positions, you need to ask first and have these conversations with your team.
I think one of the positives of the pandemic is it’s shaken up a lot of the formalities we had around work and the division between work and home. We’ve all been invited into each other’s’ homes in a way we wouldn’t normally, and we’ve seen some of what goes on when we’re not all at work.
Listening: You need to listen with your whole body, not just your ears. Pay attention to body language, not just to what is being said. Don’t listen to extract information or wait to be told what to do. Listen with your full being so that you can formulate your own thoughts and take action based on what you have come to know.