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Yarning with dignity and respect

Protocols for yarning

There are a variety of ways that yarning may happen and each family or community may have their own rules of engagement and protocols for carrying out and maintaining the conversation. Consulting with the family, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues or local community partners can help you decide on the best yarning approach.

Be aware of the following (print out the table below):

Being culturally respectful What I can do and say
Be quiet and respectful at all meetings. Don’t over talk or talk over people. Allow all participants in the meeting or discussion to speak.
Honour the autonomy of the family and community. Let them make decisions about what will be talked about and what will be of use.

What are the things that are important for you to talk about today?

How would you like to make use of the time we have today?

What is most useful, for you and your family, to talk about today?

Are there things happening in the community at the moment that you feel would be useful for me to know?

Acknowledge your cultural differences with families.

Invite family members to let you know when you say or do things that not okay with them. 

It would be respectful to let families know your cultural background.


I’m mindful we have different cultural backgrounds, I have [Practitioners own cultural background] and there may be things that are discussed between us that I am not aware of or have any understanding of. 

Do you think when this is happening for me am I able to ask you about it so I can understand? 

Also if there are things I say that aren’t clear or make sense to you, can you please let me know and I’d be happy to talk about it more?

Ask the person how they would be like to be addressed? Don’t assume if the person is old that you can call them Aunty or Uncle. In the first instance it would be respectful to call the person Mr or Mrs. Hi Mr or Mrs… are you ok if I call you that or is there another name you would like me to use?

Continuously ask for permission about when, where, who and what to talk about.

The location of meetings and the people involved in discussions may change depending on different circumstance.

Where did you want to meet next time?

At our next meeting we will need to discuss [topic], who are the people you think would be most useful for you to have there?

If I needed to know more about [topic], who do you think would be the best person to talk with?  Who else needs to be involved in that conversation? 

Make space for them to say ‘no’.

How will I know that you want to say no to something?

How would you like me to respond to that?

What does saying ‘no’ say about your ability to decide what’s going to happen?

Thinking about tonight, tomorrow and later.

How might you be feeling and thinking about what you have been telling me tomorrow?

How will you care for yourself today and tomorrow?

Who can be there to help care for you?

Give space for silence. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will not always respond immediately, there are times where they will quietly reflect and think – allow this to happen.


For more about respectful and culturally appropriate ways to talk and communicate with Aboriginal people and communities, read:

Yarning with young people

Yarning with young people will take some planning, depending on why you are working with them and their family. You will need to think about what you represent and the purpose of your role. How can you gain credibility with them to have the necessary conversations?

You may need to consult with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleague, or someone the young person is connected with, who can help develop the best approach when yarning with a young person, particularly about their alcohol and other drugs use.

Yarning with parents

Yarning is used among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to share information, stories, knowledge and traditions. It is less structured and less formal than you may be used to. A forensic interview style is unlikely to help an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person tell you their story about alcohol and other drugs use.

In more traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander areas, it may be best to avoid direct questions at first. A yarning approach can work better. So instead of asking direct questions, you could suggest two alternative scenarios. For example, ‘Some people get the shakes when they stop drinking and some people are fine. What is it like for you when you stop?’

You should also be aware that where possible, it is preferable for men to speak with men and women to speak with women, especially when you are not known by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander parent or their community.

Source: Carers Australia, Working with Aboriginal people and communities

Talking about alcohol use and spiritual and emotional wellbeing

When working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, you may wish to use the Strong Spirit Strong Mind model. It promotes the uniqueness of Aboriginal culture as a central strength in guiding efforts to manage and reduce alcohol and other drugs-related harm in Aboriginal communities.

The information will help you have meaningful and safe conversations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about their alcohol and drug use. Use these bodycards, developed for Aboriginal people, to explain the impacts of alcohol and drugs use on the mind, body and spirit. (refer to IRIS Body Cards (2011).)

However, when working with Torres Strait Islander people you may need to adapt the approaches accordingly.

Talking about the impact of alcohol and other drugs

Read Problematic alcohol use from the 'alcoholthinkagain' website.

The following sites offer great resources to help talk about alcohol and other drugs use with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people:

Talking about staying safe

Read Tips to reduce drinking from the 'alcoholthinkagain' website.

The Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet Alcohol and Other Drugs Knowledge Centre is about assisting Aboriginal people to reduce the harms caused by alcohol and drugs. All information has been developed for Aboriginal people.

Videos to help your conversations

Ugly drunk—Part of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation (AERF) award-winning television campaign, Ugly drunk (YouTube, 1:13 minutes) was created by Broome-based Aboriginal company Goolarri TV. It targets all Australians but uses Aboriginal actors.

AERF - Ugly Drunk

The Grog Brain Story—The Grog Brain Story, produced by Menzies Research, is part of a broader multimedia campaign to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with practical information on the damage alcohol causes to the brain. The story is available in English, Kriol and Warlpiri.

The Grog Brain Story

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