Meeting people where they are


 Photo:  Meeting place by MightyWrite’s Michael Fournier.

An event happened earlier this summer that had me riled up. More on that in a bit but it made me think once again about how much more we learn when we can put aside our own bias’ to meet people where they are at. Sorry for the improper grammar but there’s no better way to say it.Meetinginprogress

This philosophy has helped me in supporting family members with mental illness, guiding some young people in my life and understanding the different and sometimes conflicting views of others.

It has also been incredibly valuable in my interactions with clients. I’m learning so much more by putting my ear to the ground and really listening to what clients have to say about their business goals as well as their circumstances.

That’s how I’ve discovered that for some clients a direct tactical approach is the best way to go, while for others a full-blown marketing strategy is what’s needed.

While I prefer to be strategic, it’s not always a good fit for clients who require fast turn-around on content or marketing to respond to an immediate need or opportunity. In these situations, I do my best to give clients an idea of what’s at stake if they choose to forego a more strategic approach so they can decide if the risks are worth it…

  1. Jumping in without a well-thought strategy could impact the returns and results they’re hoping to achieve.
  2. Opportunities for cost efficiencies may be affected without an overall strategic plan for how content and other marketing approaches are being developed.
  3. A strategic plan can be the guidebook for everyone on a project to follow and should outline who is doing what as well as why they are doing it. There’s clarity, synergy and in some cases less work when people are clear on objectives, goals and responsibilities.

By giving clients these choices, I’m doing my best to honour where they are in their journey.

What got me thinking about this? In June, an indigenous elder was invited by the University of Winnipeg to host a traditional pipe ceremony as part of its consultation process in working towards an indigenous course requirement. The elder requested that women who attended wear skirts, as is the custom in such ceremonies.

An academic from the university challenged the elder’s request. It’s not the first time the skirt debate has been raised.

While people might not be familiar with native ceremonies, I understood that her request was to inform people about protocol, to respect the traditional items (such as pipes) of those attending, and to help ensure that the ceremony provided as much spiritual connection as possible. Long wide skirts represent the connection women have to Mother Earth. The circle of the skirt reflects the round shape of the earth and symbolizes the sacredness of life.

Historically, as a society and as individuals, we accommodate and accept advice on dress codes for special occasions, workplaces, foreign lands, people and other religions.

Still, the elder allowed attendees to ignore her request. In doing so, she made spiritual and personal sacrifices, putting the needs of a larger general public ahead of her teachings.

The recent findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been well documented and however you choose to interpret them, one fact stands out. We’ve trampled on indigenous culture enough. If we must disagree with something such as wearing a skirt at a traditional ceremony or not wearing a headdress at a party, we have options:

  1. We can gain an understanding of the protocols of the ceremonies and sacred items by reading up about them or asking a traditional person. This is no different than preparing ourselves for a business meeting where we want to be sure we won’t embarrass ourselves or offend others in the room.
  2. We can choose not to attend if we feel philosophically or morally opposed to the protocols.
  3. We can follow the protocols, and experience the ceremony fully, alongside our indigenous people to whom we are indebted for sharing their land, resources and spirituality.

Meeting people where they are at and respecting their ways, whether in business or in different aspects of our lives, can help us gain greater understanding of what’s important to others. In this way I believe we can serve our own needs and those of one another in more respectful and honourable ways.

This is just my viewpoint. I welcome yours. Please leave a comment or send me an email:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *