Engagement – don’t talk the talk; walk the walk…

Now you would think with the eagerness of people sharing, exploring and connecting information that it would be relatively easy to find government employees work email addresses, phone numbers or even basic work locations. But this is not always the case, and most of the time, I feel this is okay, as it is after all, up to themselves as to how they share their information.

However, what I do have an issue with is, those who preach about “engagement”, “communication”, “partnerships” and “collaboration” with customers, patients, carers, service users and so on…and then choose themselves personally to, not only disengage, but not even give the people they’re preaching to, a chance to start the conversation.

About two years ago , I made a decision that I really wanted to help the most vulnerable in our society first, through public health services, and so I went online and tried to figure out who best to contact. I made countless phone calls and sent numerous emails to different areas in the health services but over and over again, I either got no response, or a diversion: “We’d like to help, but…”.

After a year of this happening, I decided to give it one last go, and so I chanced my arm at trying to connect online with a very senior person who was working in the HSE, as I really felt he would help me move forward with my mission to try make a positive impact on our health system. With slight hesitancy, I closed my eyes and clicked send – and off my correspondence went. With that,  I purposefully decided to put it to the back of my mind, because to be honest, I wasn’t very hopeful of a positive outcome, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not a negative person by nature and it wasn’t through any lack of confidence in the way I had communicated my query that I was feeling this way. It was simply because so many people in the industry kept telling me that there was no way that the “big guys” would talk to someone like me. Additionally, I admit, my previous experiences of being ignored and sidestepped in this arena, by individuals whom would have had similar status’ or roles in their areas, had scarred me.

But lo and behold, within a week, this person responded to me.

And not only with a “thank you for your mail, but…” reply either. He actually forwarded my request unto the Primary Care division, which then led to me meeting teams in the Quality Improvement and Acute Hospital divisions, and together they helped me move forward with my mission to improve the quality of lives for patients and carers.

And it just took one influential person, in power, to listen!

At the time I had felt both privileged and excited that somebody of this status had further engaged with me. I suppose I had had a predetermined presumption that I would have no chance of getting a response! On reflection though, these initial feelings made me question myself  – was I subconsciously undermining my own self worth? Why did I feel it was a “special right” for someone to simply reply with an opportunity to open doors for me? Was it because I had so many doors closed in my face? It was simple – I had been made feel this way by others, not him, as I had been ignored so many times before this. I had not been seen as an equally important stakeholder, whom could potentially add value and even solutions for our health service, until this time.

Since realising this, I made a conscious decision to try change the status quo.

  • Firstly, I think it important for people to reflect on how equally important others can be to them; as opposed to how important they are to others.
  • Secondly, I think in healthcare, especially, I don’t feel it right for anyone in “power” positions to dictate to front line healthcare professionals about the importance of engaging, communicating, partnering or collaborating, unless, they themselves, at both personal and organisational levels, are doing it themselves. The values of an organisation need to be top down, bottom up and everywhere in the middle. I would like to think that the majority of front line health care professionals already know how to do all of the above, and quite well at that, as they have no choice but to meet people face to face. Effective collaboration is when people or organisations practice active, as opposed to passive communications, which can be deemed as acts of tokenism.1
  • Lastly, and personally (and based on all of this and my own experiences) I myself vow to never sidestep anyone that I deal with, in or outside of my own organisation, no matter how big or small it (or I) may get. Of course, as life gets busy, I may forget to get back to someone straight away, but I can guarantee on a second reminder, I’ll be on that case!

At the end of the day, I am obviously very grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me, and I am completely aware how busy, busy people, are. The person who responded to me, I know, would like to see a health service that follows this lead. And I have, since that time, met many others in similiar positions who practice this same way of thinking. But there are still those that don’t, and this needs to change. Until they do, people like him, will have to respond to people like me, taking him away from other important conversations.

Yes, it is sometimes impractical to meet everyone that gets in touch; yes sometimes it is impossible to know how to help – but if there was one simple thing you could do today to change how you do things, at least have the conversation. A simple change of mindset can help you achieve this.

See how you can help; as opposed to hinder. Change your attitudes towards people who you feel are wasting your time; are competition to you/your job or your preconceived notions of “who do they think they are?” or “this doesn’t belong in my department”. These are simple solutions to change a way of thinking, and these can make a big difference.

And not just to their lives…but to yours also.


[Unless I am told otherwise at a later stage, I will not include the name of the person who initially responded to me [as he really is a busy man!] but I would like to say a big thank you to him for doing so, it certainly changed my life]. 

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