The business of Māori introductions

Photo of four people socialising outside Te Puna Wanaka.

As iwi play a greater role in business nationally, awareness of Māori cultural protocols can have many benefits for non-Māori, researchers Heperi Harris from CPIT’s Te Puna Wānaka, and John O’Sullivan from the Department of Business say.

The rituals are designed to nurture an environment of openness. Introductions may take longer than in the non-Māori environment, but time can also be saved later on. Investing in relationship-building may mean that misunderstandings are less likely to arise when business negotiations get underway.

Yet despite good intentions, common challenges do arise.

An area that can cause anxiety during the pōwhiri, or welcoming ceremony, is when non-Māori are required to introduce themselves using the traditional mihi, or personal introduction, structure of identifying their ancestral awa (river) and maunga (mountain).

Traditionally the mihi placed the speaker in the context of their tribal affiliations and allowed others to make connections, however for non-Māori it can create challenges in terms of what information they should share about themselves to also facilitate potential connections and how they can describe their connection to Aotearoa New Zealand’s physical landscape.

Harris and O’Sullivan believe they have found a solution.

“Increasingly you will find that that as a non-Māori you need to have an awareness of protocols,” O’Sullivan says. “But if following the traditional mihi structure, how do you choose your mountain for example? I have Irish ancestry but after spending three months living in Ireland I realised I didn’t feel any connection to the physical landscape there and I didn’t relate to Irish culture. So as a non-Māori, if you don’t identify with the physical landscape or society of your ancestors; what awa or maunga do you use in your mihi? You may feel a connection to Aoraki Mt Cook, but to claim that mountain is to effectively claim to belong to Ngāi Tahu, which is not the case if you are not Ngāi Tahu.”

“Our solution is a new way of structuring the mihi that allows non-Māori to introduce themselves in terms of where they were born, where they live and their job title,” Harris says. “The focus is then back on making connections and getting to know each other, which is the point of the mihi.”

The new mihi structure for non-Māori has already been successfully introduced to programmes in both CPIT’s Department of Business and Te Puna Wānaka. It was also well received by Māori academics when it was presented as part of a larger study into Māori Management at the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management in Hobart last year.

The adaptations are part of a cultural shift in New Zealand that will only continue to grow in strength O’Sullivan says.

“Half of the new entrants to the labour force will be Māori by 2020,” O’Sullivan says. “Non-Māori are worried about causing offense, but need to overcome that fear through learning about Māori culture and being willing to participate in Māori cultural institutions like pōwhiri.”

John O’Sullivan and Heperi Harris present: The importance of understanding Māori greetings to doing business in Aotearoa New Zealand, 5 August at 1 – 1.20pm, L233, Madras Street campus.