First Nations Elder vs Senior

October 05, 2014

This is an article about the impact words and communications have on the recipient. I've said it before and I'll keep on saying it, the words we choose impact people. If you choose words Aboriginal Peoples are comfortable with then you'll be more successful.   

First Nations elder or senior? Which one do you choose? When it comes to effective communications with people, not just Aboriginal people, which are the focus of this blog, picking the right words can mean the difference between being effective, being mediocre, or getting yourself into outright trouble. Consider our article on Columbus discovering the new world. Clearly a case where choosing the wrong words has led to outright trouble. See our articles on the usage of "Stakeholder" and "Crown Lands" for other examples.       

Take the Columbus Day Celebrations in the United States for example - this annual event is a source of controversy. True, as the sender/speaker of the message either verbally, in an email, or in a national newspaper, the sender - the Columbus day celebration folks - didn't mean to be offensive. It's important to keep in mind as the sender/speaker that whether some people think they are over reacting is irrelevant.

Not true is the fact that their words had no impact. I know some of you will understand this from your corporate harrassment training. It's not whether you meant to offend, or scare, or bully, but it's how people are made to feel. That's the important point in this article.   


So, I've talked about the outright trouble scenario. Let's go with something a little more mediocre and follow it up with something even more effective. I'm going to talk about this subject from a sales' perspective. In marketing terms we say it's the steak that sells and not the sizzle.

In this example, we are going to focus on someone selling pharmaceuticals and related products that would really be of value to "seniors" or "Elders" in Aboriginal communities, which takes us back to our question - First Nations elder or senior? Would it be helpful for you to say "this is a great product for your seniors"?

I would say no. A better way to present your product is to say, "this is a great item for your elders". Why this term and not the other? Because it is a term used by more and more communities as it's a term they are comfortable with. Another example would be the distinction between using the words First Nations elder or senior. 

It comes down to people not wanting to buy from you if they don't know you, and you are not using words they are comfortable with - nothing can send a wrong message like using a term that they aren't using. Use terms they're comfortable with and you will sell more products. That's the sizzle.  

By the way we have had some experience helping folks in situations like this as you can see from  the following testimonials.  

“Opened my eyes to the possibilities and rewards of partnership.”
S. B. • London Drugs
“This seminar provided the most practical information that I’ve ever received from any other seminar.”
M. K. • London Drugs
Some more testimonials.

If you want to be really effective try to use the words and expression of the people you are communicating with, and as we frequently suggest, always do a little resarch ahead of time.

Read some of the publications, listen to the words they are using, go to their website, ask the people who are helping you set up the meeting for advice.

My advice - show your products and use elder as you will notice many communities don't have senior centres but have elder centres.

By the way, you don't actually have to do what I'm telling you to do. I'm just making suggestions - and as my good friend Rex has always said, suffering is optional. 

What do you think? Are there some other examples that you can think of where there is a poor choice of words? Let us know by leaving something in the comments box below.  

Here's an article on Elder Protocol.

And here's another take on dialogue - Uncivild Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples

Are you interested in learning some more tips on working effectively with Aboriginal Peoples? Download our free ebook.




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