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The art of listening to engage and empower


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Have you ever wondered why some people are better communicators than others? I have an idea that I believe explains this phenomenon.

Some people are listeners. Some people are talkers. Some people know how to balance both to achieve their desired outcome.

In the world of organizing, the latter is the most important. Knowing when to hold your input and comments and just hear someone out is a challenge. We’re nurses. We want to fix problems. When someone comes to us with an issue, we naturally and instinctively want to make it better for them. There’s the rub. In organizing, the idea is not to solve a problem for someone. The idea is to engage them in working to solve their own problems through collective action.

The question then becomes, how do you have a conversation that empowers the nurse to use their critical thinking skills and passion for the profession to come up with their own solution? It’s called an organizing conversation, and it’s pure magic when you use it well.

What exactly is an organizing conversation? The first thing to understand is that it’s 80 percent listening, so you’re not actually doing a lot of back-and-forth conversing. Next, you go into the conversation with a plan to get to a particular outcome: You want to engage the nurse in using the tools in their contract or shared governance process to map out their own plan to achieve their goal.

There is no absolute right or wrong way to have these conversations. What you’re trying to do is find out what the issue is, determine how it got that way, identify what would be better, and figure out how to get there. It is also good to brace a nurse for potential push back from leadership on their ideas so the nurse goes in with eyes wide open.

The final key element to an organizing conversation is to have an “ask.” An ask is confirmation that a nurse will commit to working on the solution. Sometimes, it’s as simple as coming up with a plan or having another conversation with you so they continue to pursue their goal. Other times, your ask may be committing to talk to other people to recruit them to join in their efforts to make a change collectively.

As any good organizer does, I have an ask for you. Two actually. Will you commit to talking to your colleagues about your working conditions and issues impacting the profession? Then ask yourself, “What am I prepared to do about it?”