Communicating The ‘Kiwi’ Way – 2020 Final Newsletter

November 26, 2020


Communication in Business: The ‘Kiwi’ Way

In New Zealand, we often mention the terms ‘Kiwi’ or ‘Kiwiana’, which often get confused for referring to tikanga Māori. It needs to be noted that these terms actually are meant to be used when referring to New Zealanders, or things native to New Zealander, regardless of which culture or ancestry they stem from. But, even though the Kiwi and Māori cultures are separate, having their own set of beliefs and way of doing things, both cultures are integral and important parts of the overall culture of New Zealand and its people, especially when it comes to communication.

Communication is the key to any business; it is the glue that keeps everything together. The way we communicate, whether in writing or orally, sends a message about our business. If we communicate in a way which does not align with our business’s or clients’ values or expectations, we can send a message that we are fake, not genuine, dishonest, or, quite simply, uncaring.

Like all nations, New Zealand is unique in that we have our own style of, and approach to, communication. We even have three official national languages – English, te reo Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language. So, how do we tell our Kiwi world that we recognise and appreciate these different languages, along with others, and the cultures they represent?  And, why bother, anyway?

Why Bother?

Let’s start with the bother bit. Good communication can make everything better in a business through:

  • Allowing customers to better understand and value our processes and service, increasing the likelihood of referral or repeat business.
  • Staff know what is expected of them, and know their own personal cultures are respected and understood, making them more likely to have higher job satisfaction overall, meaning they are more likely to meet expectations and remain loyal to the company.
  • Potential customers know their culture(s) is respected and, therefore, feel more comfortable engaging with your business.


In New Zealand, our messages are usually seen as a reflection of our personal values and how they align with, and respect, our fellow Kiwi’s and their individual culture(s).

For communication to work it needs to be:

  • Clear;
  • Honest;
  • Relevant;
  • Align with our other messages, such as body language.

‘Kiwi’-ise Your Communication

What is the ‘Kiwi’ way? The Kiwi way is showing we accept and respect all cultures, whether native to New Zealand, or not. It means that while we are not all the same, there are some aspects of  how we communicate in a ‘Kiwi’ way which are quite common, and worth considering when writing marketing material or working on how you engage your customers.

Kiwi’s are very innovative and constantly improving and redesigning things. 

It’s good to show that your business is constantly evolving, including evolving for the greater good of your staff and customers, not just for your business success. Communicate to your customers all about that course or conference you attended recently, or show you celebrate the diversity of New Zealand and its different languages and cultures by starting to include basic levels of one of New Zealand’s other national languages, te reo Māori, in your business.

The Importance of Te Reo and Tikanga Māori

We have three national languages, two of which are indigenous to New Zealand. 

Te reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language* are both indigenous to New Zealand, and New Zealand Sign Language actually includes signs which express concepts from Maori culture. However, te reo Māori is the only of our three national languages specifically unique to us in that it is, and has only ever, been used in New Zealand (whereas the English language and Sign language are used in multiple other countries around the World).

Knowledge and use of te reo Māori began declining following the settlement of the English in New Zealand, around 1840, and was even banned from being used*. Tikanga and te reo Māori started reintegrating back into society in the 1970’s, but it is only now, over 50 years’ later, becoming accepted and included as an integral part of New Zealand’s identity. Once upon a time, Air New Zealand told its flight crews off for using the te reo Māori greeting, “Kia Ora”, yet now you are unlikely now to board one of their planes without being greeted this way.

Knowledge, understanding, and use of te reo Māori across New Zealand is increasing, especially thanks to Māori language week, and regular use of te reo Māori on national television programmes and within schools across New Zealand. However, your inclusion of te reo and tikanga Māori in your business should not be a case of ‘everyone else is doing it, so I should, too’. The main reason you should consider this inclusion is respect for New Zealand as a whole, and its indigenous culture. However, you should consider your staff, and clients, too.

Less Is More

Using some te reo Māori can be a lovely sign that you value our nation’s identity. You can use Māori words in your emails as a welcome or sign off, and use words with specific meanings like ‘hui’ for a group meeting or ‘mahi’ for work. But, intermediate or advanced inclusion of te reo and tikanga Māori in your business should be carefully planned.

Pronunciation and context are important if you are considering including verbal te reo in your daily business activities, so ensure you complete a te reo Māori course first, and consult with an expert. There are some good guides online, or you may even have a friend with skills and knowledge of te reo Māori that you can learn from and practise with.

It can be a good idea to have te reo Māori translations on your marketing collateral, as even though relatively few of us are lucky enough to be fluent users of te reo Māori , it is definitely making a comeback into frequent use, and it is a lovely touch to show you value the culture and its people. Ensure you conduct a te reo Māori expert before sending the material off to the press, though, as just a macron placed over the wrong letter can change a word meaning dramatically – remember Weta Workshop’s mistake? Without a macron over the ‘e’ they are not actually named after a spiky insect. Instead, their name translates to ‘Excrement Workshop’. Yikes!

The Three R’s – Relatability, Reputation, Respect

When aiming to include a different language or culture in your business, remember your aim is to meet the three R’s – relatability, [maintain your] reputation, and [give, gain, and maintain] respect.

Relatability – people are more likely to do business if they can relate to you or your product/service in some way and;

Reputation – for being diverse, accepting diversity, and, possibly even showing diversity by having a multicultural  team;

Respect – for all people and cultures.

Your relatability to your customers will improve through your respect of another culture, and your reputation will improve as a business that truly values its staff and clients down to a cultural level. Also, your likelihood of employing  and retaining a multicultural team will increase, which is another way you will be able to show you respect and value diversity, too.

Other benefits of including te reo and tikanga Māori specifically, as per results of a research study conducted last year by AUTs Te Ipukarea The National Māori Institute and the New Zealand Work Research Institute for Te Taura Whiri i Te reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) include increased job satisfaction for employees, which can then lead to an increase in workplace positivity and productivity.

In Summary

When speaking, writing, or communicating in a ‘Kiwi’ way:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Use one of our country’s indigenous languages, te reo Māori, where you can.
  • Ensure your communication mirrors your values and expectations.
  • Undertake further research, learning, and development before including a new language in your personal or professional life, to ensure you are not disrespecting the language and its culture through poor pronunciation or misuse.

Useful Links

  • Te Awe – Te reo and tikanga Māori business network.
  • Te Wānanga o Aotearoa provides many useful Māori learning courses, such as He Papa Tikanga, the NZ Certificate in Tikanga (Mātauranga Māori).
  • Tōku Reo is a great online video series for beginners.
  • Whitireia offers a distance-learning te reo Māori course, Te Hiringa o Te Reo.
  • If it’s not possible for you to either associate with fluent Māori language speakers, or to engage with an in-class course, check out the online course offered by Te Wananga o Raukawa, Poupou Huia Te Reo – Certificate in Māori Protocol and Language For Use in the Home. 

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