What NFP workers need to know about care in the time of COVID – Part four
29 June 2020 at 8:21 am
Being an empowered person, both personally and professionally, means investing in yourself, your skills, and your development, so that you can advocate for your needs in many ways, writes Rachel Clark.
In this, the final article of the series highlighting my CARE Practice Framework for workers in not-for-profit sectors, we move to the final letter in the CARE acronym: E for empowerment. This final pillar in the framework is firmly facing forwards towards engagement and solidarity with colleagues, peers, and other professionals, so that we can be supported in the work of advocating for our own needs, be they personal or professional.
Empowerment at its essence is finding the capacity within ourselves to live our power. Maybe for some this is a lifetime’s, or at least a season’s, work. Indeed, as human-centred practitioners we live the dictums of empowerment – for others – in our daily actions in the classroom, drop-in centres, and surgeries, at all times considering how best those we work with can take the next right steps for themselves, supported by our actions. As with compassion for self, I have found that the practice of applying this to others can limit the drive to engage with it for oneself, either by omission or commission. Regardless of the reason, this pillar signals a returned focus towards locating the power we have within ourselves to support our own wellbeing. The following four, and final, micro-practices of my CARE Practice Framework focus both on the individual and collective care practices to be found amongst peers and other professionals who can support us to learn new ways of being, extend our skills, and encourage us to live into our physical, social, emotional, and psychological potential, starting with the capstone skill: communication.
Sharing ideas with each other in the back and forth of speech is part of the story of how we, as humans, connect. And in this dance of words, generative communication is the gold standard of human connection. It places those present, together, in a state of suspension, of deep presence, of not knowing, so that together we can create a shared understanding of what may be and become. This state is, in my opinion, the essence of empowerment for individuals, as together we create a shared future through greater levels of personal understanding.
Skills in listening are critical to this level of communication and are only as strong as they are practised. As human-centred practitioners we do get plenty of practice sitting and listening to others, but often we are time poor or systems led, both of which take us away from the gift of listening to what the other person is truly sharing with us. The great news is that we are also highly skilled in the art form that is listening, and so, with more intentional practice we can advance these skills quickly and to great benefit for those we work with, and for ourselves.
Communication is also about speaking. Speaking with clarity and purpose is a practised artform and when we do this well, we are able to share what is important to us: our needs and our hopes. Sometimes this requires us to speak of uncomfortable feelings or share the impact of another’s actions on us. This requires skills in holding oneself in emotional and rational thought simultaneously, yet when we are able to do this, we can build greater connections with others based on an acknowledgement of what is important and truthful to us. Ultimately, investing in our communication toolbox of strategies helps human-centred practitioners have greater impact in their advocacy for themselves, and in turn, others.
Task 1: Consider where your current challenges in speaking and listening communication patterns are and extend your learning and practice accordingly. Explore these resources as a starting point:
2) Peer support
One arena in which to practise our communication skills is in a group of like-minded peers where you can offer the care and attention of intentional communication to extend your practice. It can also be an effective way to hold oneself accountable for needed actions and personal progress. A peer support group is made up of people in similar situations, or with similar interests, and can be established at any time – no permission required! The importance of “peer” is not to be underestimated: there is an explicit attempt in such spaces at maintaining equality, whereby rank in the room is acknowledged and ameliorated, through practices of power sharing. These processes are deeply stimulating to be part of, requiring highly developed emotional intelligence and communication skills, and can enable those present to be seen and heard in a way that is rejuvenating, enlightening, and empowering. A vital function of peer support groups can also be to advocate as a group to the systems of power, for improvements to policies and practices: a living version of the rights-based approach many of us are guided by in our work.
Task 2: Consider people in your life who share similar values of connection and may be interested and available to meet regularly to form a Peer Support Group. There are many group models, purposes and processes that can be adopted, but I consider the preeminent feature of this micro-practice to be its people: find people who are able to sit in generative dialogue together. The rest will follow.
3) Setting goals
Out of the above actions may come specific areas of personal / professional growth needs. Living in an “atmosphere of growth” is inspiring, and for those who love learning the setting of goals to work towards keeps us fresh and inspired. These goals should align with the SMART goal principles to be realistic and achievable, and identifying areas we want to develop and grow in is a powerful way of investing in ourselves personally and professionally. All skills development is transferable, as any educator can tell you, so even if you are getting better at cooking a certain cuisine, there will be skills that support other important actions for your personal and professional progress, be it attitudinal, knowledge or skills based.
Task 3: Identify one goal you have wanted to achieve for a while, and apply the SMART goal principles to it to help you achieve it. The key is getting super specific… off you go!
4) Professional support
This final micro-skill is a timely reminder to seek appropriate support from those whose services we can pay for. As professionals who care for others, we are so often the “go to” people for support, and we can forget the people who are also available to us such as psychologists, coaches, mentors. These professionals have a remit to guide us in our practice, and to shine a light on areas of our own personal and professional practices that have been left in the shadows for too long. Other support may also include that long-needed trip to the physiotherapist or osteopath, to provide specialised support to our bodies too. Spending time, and yes, money, on ourselves to address wear and tear on our minds, bodies and spirits is vitally important for human-centred practitioners.
Task 4: Is there a health appointment you have been meaning to make? Does your employer have an EAP scheme? Now is the time to book an appointment to prioritise your own health and wellbeing.
As people we are not as delineated in our actions as society trains us to believe. No one person is entirely “worker” when at work, and similarly, at home we use skills gained in the workplace with our friends and families. Being an empowered person, both personally and professionally, means investing in yourself, your skills, and your development, so that you can advocate for your needs in many ways. By advocating for your needs, the people you work with and on behalf of, will be better served when the human in front of them knows their own power, can use it safely, and with care, and stand in solidarity with others they connect with.
This article brings us to the end of our exploration of the CARE Practice Framework. My hope is that each pillar – Compassion for self, Alignment, Renewal, and Empowerment – has brought you opportunities to reflect on how you hold yourself with greater care in this time of COVID and beyond, as you continue in your world-changing work, both for the benefit of those you work with and on behalf of, and for your own health and wellbeing.
About the author: Rachel Clark is a teacher and community development practitioner with 25 years practice experience. She teaches and mentors future community service workers, organisers and activists to make an impact in their community from a strengths-based, self-care and diversity perspective. Rachel is also the founder of Lumin Leaders (@luminleaders), an organisation which guides human-centred practitioners through educational and psychological support services, and a host of an embryonic podcast called Working With Purpose. Her core values are connection, collaboration, compassion, and curiosity which she uses every-day in her human-centred practices of teaching and community building.