Have a fax machine in your place of employment? Can you do anything other than fax documents with yours? Maybe your fortunate to have a large photocopier that has the capability to fax, scan, email, add digital signatures and re-size documents as well. Is that it? If that’s all your fax machine does, trade it in.
I have found a feature on the fax machine where I work that ironically is also available on the photocopier too. I’ve been using this secret and most amazing feature for years and figure it’s about time I share it with those of you who may have yet to discover it.
There’s a feature on all the technology equipment in my client-shared workspace and it’s the Empowerment and Conversation Starter feature. Now not everybody knows how to use these commands. So when someone says, “I need to fax something to my Caseworker”, some folks will just take the item from them and go fax it for them and be done with it. That’s fast, moves the client along, provides the quickest way to accomplish the intended action – and completely misses an opportunity to teach and share a skill, empower them with independence and start a conversation!
Now me, I’m different. (My co-workers say that all the time; “Kelly, you’re different!”) What I like to do is take them over to the fax machine, show them the instructions on how to fax which are right at eye level and simple to both read and follow. Then show them the fax cover sheets and have THEM fill it out. Then I show them the other sheet at eye level which has the fax numbers for the 4 offices where our Caseworkers work out of as the number they want is usually one of the 4.
At this point I ask them if this is their first time faxing. Then as they get ready to fax and go to hand things to me, I make no movement to take it from them and tell them I like to watch. So directing them again to the simple instructions, they cautiously start to do things themselves. Put the papers in the top of the machine face up, dial 9, then the area code and fax number, then press the start key. Then I usually say, “Tell me when you get to the hard part.” Almost without fail, they’ll say, “That’s it? That was easy.” And then I conclude by saying, “Congratulations, you are no longer a faxing virgin.”
I have yet to have a single person not smile and chuckle. But I’m not done. For the fax to go through to those busy offices, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes. While the client is standing there waiting, I move past this task-oriented conversation on how to fax, to the more meaningful relationship-building chat with this captive client.
“So are you in school or looking for work maybe?” Something like that to get the ball rolling. Depending on the answer, I might gleam a little about their career or job interests, problems, challenges, family life, criminal record or any number of things depending on how much they share. What we talk about isn’t as important as just talking.
I point out before they leave that not only have they themselves faxed their documents wherever they needed to go, but the next time they need this done, they’ll perhaps be able to do this themselves without needing help. That’s empowerment people. Now some of you might be thinking, “Big deal!”
Ah but you’d be surprised to look at things as they do. Some of the people I assist and serve have very little self-esteem, accomplish very little in their eyes and feel entirely dependent on others. They depend on social services for their rent and food money, bus fare or gas money, help with their bills, help with their childcare, resumes, job search skills, help with dealing with their stress, anger, self-esteem etc. So learning something they didn’t know previously and can now do on their own IS a big deal. It’s a start.
And not to sound overly dramatic, but I have also had more than 1 person say to me later, “You actually talked to me and didn’t want anything; I’m not used to that.” Isn’t that sad? The person is used to people only talking to them when other people want something from them and so for someone to just want to chat with them and take a genuine interest in what they are up to is remarkable.
Simple opportunities to engage and connect with people present themselves all the time if you have your eyes open to the possibilities and seize them. Showing people how to fax can be frustrating if you have to do it 15 times a day when the instructions are so clearly visible and simple. But to just sit at a desk, not move and say, “Help yourself, the instructions are on the wall over there”, is an opportunity missed.
So do you have this secret feature on your fax machine, photocopiers, computer or even the simple telephone where your clients meet and mingle? Empowering clients, using some humour to lighten someone’s moment, taking an interest in the person standing before you, it’s pretty simple stuff. Maybe not remarkable, maybe just obvious and mundane.
On the other hand, maybe the first small step in starting something bigger.