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If You're Not at the Table, You're on the Menu

By Carol Bush, BS, RN
I love this quote. 

According to my attempt to research the origins on the internet, no one person can lay claim to the saying.  Many seem to believe it originated in Washington, DC somewhere around 2000. Go figure.

To me, the statement means that no matter how much someone agreeing with you might try to represent you, having the unique experience of being you and being where decisions are made means volumes more. All too often, if you aren’t part of the decision making, you will likely get left out, or worse yet, get served on the menu.

One of the things I learned early in my life was the importance of getting involved. In retrospect, I believe I absorbed it through osmosis.  I have been surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and grandparents who have been tenacious leaders and modeled civic action.

And yes, more than one of us have been labeled as a “troublemaker” in our lives. Today, the world might use the label, ‘Disruptive Innovator.’ I prefer that…sounds sexier.
As a young adult, I learned communicating my ideas only got me so far. To most successfully give voice to those suggestions for change or raising awareness of a critical need, required being in a position where my input would be heard.

I had to secure a place at the table.
Today, as members of the most trusted profession, it is more important than ever for nurses—each one of us—to get involved and give voice to real solutions backed by evidence and common sense.  I’m talking about real, live ordinary nurses—like you and I—stepping up to everyday tables: in our work, in our communities, via Twitter and LinkedIn. 

According to a recent report by the Health Research Institute at PwC US, 40% of people polled said information found on social media affects how someone coped with a chronic condition, their view of diet and exercise, and their selection of a physician. (source: HealthCare Finance News)

Why this matters: The opinion and viewpoints of the people in our social circles online are continuously influencing our decision making even it when it comes to our opinion on healthcare options. Oncology nurses should take note of this fact by using social media in an impactful way to ensure they become a part of the process of forming an opinion of a person’s healthcare options. (Intimidated by Twitter and LinkedIn? In my next post, I will share resources and tips which have helped me discover “How to Not Suck Online”)

So, what makes someone the kind of person who gets invited to the table?

I recently asked some key people in my professional network and here are a few things they shared:

Have something interesting to say.
Don’t you relish sitting next to someone who always has something interesting to say? For most of us, an invitation to any table comes with some lead time, so there is no excuse not to have some interesting topics in your back pocket. Introverts can do this too!
Know what’s going on in your industry.
People enjoy hearing about new, fresh trends and ideas. This boils down to staying curious and being open to new types of thinking and new ways of doing things. This is how you create a reputation of being an expert in your field and become a person who others seek out to hear about what’s coming around the corner.
Show genuine interest in other people. 
People love to be asked what they think about things and what ideas they have. Those we find the most engaging are usually those who have the ability to draw us out and make us feel special and interesting. When you purposefully listen, you create trust and rapport. People who create trust and rapport get invited back to the table.
Study other leaders.
Continually observe key leaders in your social, professional, and community service networks.  Study their communication skills. Take note of strategies they use to engage others to get things done. Apply what you observe. It’s not rocket science, but it does take tenacity.
To make sure you always have a place at the table, whether in your career or community, ask yourself if you’re demonstrating the types of characteristics of those who are sought after. If you’re not, then get out of your own way and start making changes today!

Have you secured your place at the table?
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