The 3 C’s: Connection

Infection Control Today, Volume 26, Issue 7

You spend a great deal of time in your job telling individuals what you need them to do to prevent and control infections. They may hear you, but are they listening?

Some days I like to remind myself that I am raising 2 little boys to become men. This way, I can always remember my end goal. As hard as I may try, they won’t stay little forever. One day, they will have to make their own (hopefully smart) grown-up decisions. The time with them is a limited window through which I can teach them before I release them into this big, scary world, so I’m constantly imparting wisdom to them.

But the thing about parenting is this: If you want to reach your children, then you must make sure they’re listening. Hearing is different than listening. We may hear a noise in the background but not process what that noise is. At times, I’m only background noise to my boys. They hear me fine. They’re just not listening. I’m not teaching them anything because, instead of listening to me, they’re sitting there wondering why, in the movie Pokémon, the little yellow guy didn’t use his special powers against that big blue one. If I don’t make sure they’re listening, my words are not much different to them than the wind. I must get down on their level and have them look directly at me before I speak. Essentially, I must connect with them to make sure what I am saying is not only heard but listened to and put into action.

The same principle applies at your facility. You spend a great deal of time in your job telling individuals what you need them to do to prevent and control infections. They may hear you, but are they listening? I am not suggesting that, as with children, you should get down on their level, make them look directly at you, and remind them to wash their hands before leaving the patient’s room. Please do not do this. I am almost certain that if you do, you will be kicked out of the intensive care unit and told never to return.

However, we do need individuals to listen to and not just hear us. We need them to heed our words and act upon them. This is where I’ve coined the term the 3 C’s in my practice as an infection preventionist (IP). If you want to be a catalyst for lasting change and have individuals listen to you and turn your words into actions, then you need Connection, Communication, and Collaboration. Today, let’s discuss the first of the 3 C’s: connection.

As human beings, we respond much better to bad news when we receive it from someone we know than from a stranger. We value, respect, and listen to those we have connections with. You will be so much more successful in your role as an IP if you connect with the individuals you are seeking to influence. I am not saying you should be best friends with all the physicians in the oncology ward. That would be impractical and perhaps a bit odd. An acquaintance is different than a close friend. It is someone you know by sight or by name. You may know a bit about them, and they likely will know something about you. You should be able to easily walk up to them and start a conversation about their day or their dog. However, you probably won’t invite them to your son’s next soccer game or tell them about your recent breakup.

I want to make a very important point: Never set out to develop connections with individuals solely because you seek to influence them. I am naturally more influential to my best friend and my family than I am to a stranger. But I do not have relationships with those individuals because I seek to influence them. I set out to develop connections with others because I truly want to get to know them. I believe we’re better humans when we seek to understand others, including those who are not at all like us. It not only improves your career; it improves your life. The connections I have developed as an IP allow me to easily walk into almost any hospital in Maryland and find someone I know and can talk to. Forming connections in our work is important to what we do, but we should never seek to do so merely because we want more influence over individuals.

Now that we know why, let’s discuss how we connect with others. For some, forming connections will be the easiest of the 3 C’s. For others, developing these sorts of connections may not come as naturally. Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, wrote, “You can make more friends in 2 months by becoming interested in people than you can in 2 years by trying to get people interested in you.” In other words, when we seek to form connections with individuals, we seek to become interested in their world and not immediately try to get them interested in ours. They will be more naturally attentive to our world after we’ve expressed interest in theirs.

This concept translates well for the IP. I’ve seen so many well-intentioned IPs stroll into a unit to educate health care workers about what they should be doing to prevent central line–associated bloodstream infections, but the IP’s training falls on deaf ears because the IP has never taken the time to connect with the team, so they often fail. Their audience may be listening, but they’re not hearing them with any real connection.

When I’m new to an area of work, I spend several days in the unit shadowing different roles while getting to know the team. During this time, I don’t talk about myself or my role unless I’m asked. I don’t educate or train. I simply spend time getting to know the individuals and their jobs, and something magical happens after I spend several hours learning about them. Suddenly, conversations begin to flow more naturally, and they start to ask more about me and my work. They always appreciate someone seeking to understand them—to connect with them—before telling them how to do their job. They’re so used to individuals telling them what they ought to or ought not to do that it’s so refreshing for them to hear someone taking interest in understanding the challenges of their job first. Then, when I do have bad news to deliver, it will be from someone they know, respect, and will listen to—someone with whom they have a connection.

Of course, we don’t always have several weeks to develop connections, so occasionally you’ll have to develop an on-the-spot connection with someone. This, too, is possible. Remember that connections are made when we take an interest in the other person. In 1 minute or less, you can introduce yourself to someone, ask them how their day is going, and comment on how much you love the weather. “Me too,” they’ll most likely reply (unless, of course, it’s a blizzard outside, to which they may raise an eyebrow). There you have it: You have now established that you both like the weather. The weather gets boring, however, so have a mental list of potential icebreaker conversations likely to result in a connection—if not the weather, then perhaps someone’s new Nike shoes or the picture of the nurse’s dog on a bulletin board. These little sidebar conversations build connections, and they help transition to a moment of education or the delivery of bad news. Sure, you have an agenda, and that agenda is not the weather. Eventually, you’ll need to transition your conversation to what you need to communicate, but it only took you 1 minute to connect with that person over the fact that you both love the weather when it’s 75 degrees with no humidity. Interestingly, these small connections over the weather, their poodle, or their current hairstyle make informing someone that the unit has a cluster of influenza cases slightly more palatable. Again, do not say you love their poodle if you are a cat person. Connections should never be fake.

Hearing is different than listening. In our jobs, we want individuals to heed our words and respond with actions. To accomplish this, there is an easy formula for you. It is the 3 C’s: Connection, Communication, and Collaboration. Connections are important; they make us more personable, approachable, and relatable. They enrich our lives as we seek to better understand and get to know others. They make the delivery of bad news easier, and training and education better received. I can always find at least 1 thing with which to connect with someone. If you want individuals to truly listen to you and turn your words into action, you should first seek to connect with them. I look forward to the next article in which we’ll explore the second of the 3 C’s, Communication. Until next time.