This article focuses on the former definition … personal empowerment. The latter sounds a little too condescending to me and from my perspective usually comes with strings attached.
You will note that while this document is targeted towards nurses, the information contained within is readily applicable to other healthcare providers and indeed anyone who wishes to increase their overall personal empowerment.
Note: As you read through this list of Personal Empowerment Tips you will note that while each skill set is independent of the others, it is also interdependent. Developing skills in one area will increase your effectiveness and skills in another, leading to your increased personal empowerment.
1. DEVELOP EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS.
Just because a person talks a lot, it doesn’t mean that they are communicating. Communication is a two way process. Person A sends a message to person B. If person B receives the message and understands it, then communication has taken place. At a time when effective oral communication skills are in high demand, we see a tendency for people to communicate electronically i.e. via e-mail rather than face-to-face communication. “You should’ve known. I sent you an e-mail on it!”
Effective communication skills include:
• One to one communication, social & therapeutic (both taking your turn talking and listening to the other person);
• Written communication (e-mail, letters, blogs, web pages, memos) People will judge you on the way that you write.
• Nonverbal communication i.e. body language. Learn to read other’s and how your own body language is being presented. It can be helpful to ask another how they are interpreting your body language to see if it is congruent with how you thought you were communicating.
• Presentation skills.
I used to believe that as nurses and healthcare providers we were in the service industry. Service as opposed to the sales industry, that is. But I was wrong. Yes, we provide basic and advanced healthcare services but we are in sales every day. We are selling ourselves, our professional advice to our patients and their families, our expertise and our credibility.
Effective communication skills includes becoming good at public speaking, communicating interpersonally both orally and written, developing your listening skills and motivating others to take action or support your position. Presentations can be delivered in a 1-1 situation or with large groups of people.
2. DEVELOP YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS.
Skilled leaders are in demand in every progressive organization. There is a plethora of books on the subject as of late but many fall short in giving you practical steps to develop your leadership skills. Leadership can’t be learned by osmosis. You learn to lead … by leading. Okay it’s not that profound but many people have the mindset that to be the leader means that you have to be the “top person”, “the boss.” This isn’t true! Leadership skill development is a progressive, incremental process. Take advantage of every leadership opportunity that presents itself. They may seem to be small and rather simplistic but will serve to develop your base skills so that you can use those very same skills in more challenging situations. If you think of an athlete practicing high jumping, you will see incremental skill development in action. Every time they are able to jump over the bar at a certain height, they celebrate and raise the bar a little higher. Leadership skill development works the same way, inch by inch. Leadership is about expanding your sphere of influence.
3. UNDERSTAND PERSONALITY TYPES.
As a leader, you will interact with people displaying different personality traits. Some will resonate with you and you will get along well with them. Others, like fingernails running down a chalkboard, will cause you great distress. Psychologists and “people that study people” have created personality classifications that most people can be categorized by. Meyers-Briggs & True Colours being two systems that come readily to mind and are worth your time in researching them. One doesn’t need to be an expert at personality profiling but a good understanding of “where a person is coming from” is helpful. Many of us have the tendency to personalize another’s behavior toward us, example: “they are doing that on purpose just to annoy me!” That may be true but perhaps not. There is an adage from the mental health field “all behavior has meaning.” It can be helpful in trying to determine what a person’s behavior is trying to solve for them. Once you increase your understanding of the different personality types, you can further develop skills to work with them and help them to be more effective.
4. DEVELOP SYSTEMS THINKING SKILLS.
Peter Senge’s the Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization is a must read. The tools and ideas identified in this book are for destroying the illusion that the world is created of separate, unrelated forces. We are all part of systems. Whether it be our family, our workplace or our place of worship, these are all examples of systems that are inter-related with yet other systems. Systems- thinking makes sense of the dynamics that happen in our lives. It identifies patterns that exist, that once we learn to recognize them, we can seek the leverage point(s) that can resolve problems. There is a lot more going on in the world than the “cause and effect” principal that most of us are aware of.
5. DEVELOP ASSERTIVENESS SKILLS.
Assertiveness can be described as having your personal needs met but not at the expense of another’s. Interpersonal relations that result in win-win positions can be enriching. There is a little more to it than making “I” vs “you” statements but it really all begins with that basic concept. Taking personal responsibility for your feelings and expressing the effects that another’s actions have upon you. “I feel this way when you …”
6. DEVELOP YOUR PERSONAL NETWORKING SKILLS.
The world is definitely getting smaller as evidenced by the increase of cyber social networks such as Facebook, Linkedin & Twitter. The philosophy of six degrees of separation as thought 100-150 years ago, is now down to three degrees. If you haven’t heard this one before it purports that if you access your network for a question or a contact, you should be able to reach anyone in the world by connecting to a friend, who is a friend of … who is a friend of. It may not work out that easily but I guess it could happen or has happened. Online connections can be readily made by requesting an “invite” to join.
While cyber-networking is increasing, old fashioned face-to-face networking is every bit as important. Have you handed out any personal or business cards lately? Do you have any? You should! Don’t forget to practice your hand shake!
7. DEVELOP YOUR PROBLEM SOLVING/CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS.
An argument that I have often heard and participated in as well is that of “what is a nurse?” It can be argued that a nurse is a nurturer, we provide care, we give medication … “we treat the patient/client/consumer holistically.” Yes, these are all true but the same argument can be forwarded by other healthcare disciplines. So what really makes a nurse? I’m not sure if there is a definitive answer or if one is warranted for that matter. With my thirty plus years of nursing experience what truly defines a nurse to me is our advanced problem solving and critical thinking skills based on our specialized body of knowledge. True, we all know fellow nurses that those terms just don’t seem to apply to them but I believe that these two skills are vital for your survival and longevity as a nurse but more importantly for the successful caring of your patients.
8. PRACTICE STRESS RELIEF TECHNIQUES.
As in the expression “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” the basis of that saying can be applied to the condition called “stress.” What one person views as “stressful” to the point of debilitation, another might find the exact situation “invigorating!” I once knew a fellow nurse named Mary who was terrified to interact with a distraught client. Her hobby was skydiving! I know which option I would find less stressful.
We all experience stress though, one way or another. Each to their own, as the saying goes. How is it that some seem to handle it better than others if not actually thriving on it? Some find yoga or meditating helpful. Counting to ten or ten thousand can help to reduce your anger in some anger-producing situations. I personally find that having knowledge and experience on a particular matter can go a long way in preventing the stress from being created in the first place.
9. LEARN TO UNDERSTAND CHANGE MANAGEMENT PRINCIPALS.
It has often been said that the only constant in life is change. It tends to cause a lot of stress in people and it is also often said that people don’t necessarily resist change, they resist being changed. Yes change is fact of life and there is a process behind it. If you understand the process, you can be an effective change agent and help minimize the effects on yourself and others.
10. DEVELOP YOUR MEETING SKILLS.
The busier life gets, the more we seem to have meetings. They are a fact of life. Sometimes it seems that we are either in a meeting, thinking about going to another meeting, on our way to a meeting or wishing we were anywhere else but in this particular meeting.
You may have noticed by now that all of the empowering skills forwarded so far are inter-related. “Meeting skills” is a catch-all phrase to describe those skills needed to be effective as a meeting [group] leader or as a participant. Well-developed meeting skills include knowing how to create an agenda and prepare minutes, an understanding of Roberts Rules of Order, how to handle a Question & Answer session, how to chair a meeting, how to make a presentation or a proposal to a committee etc. Meetings are an excellent venue to showcase your skills if you are seeking career advancement or if you are promoting or forwarding a cause.
There you have what I consider to be the top ten skills that will empower you to make changes within your personal and your work-life. Changes that can open up new doors of opportunity. Changes that can improve the quality of your life and of others.
Which leads me to the big question … “What are you going to do about it?”
Top photo credit courtesy of worldyouthinternational Flickr CC