Frontline Initiative Communication

Present Moment


Sean Curtan is a DSP for Opportunity Partners, Inc., in Minnetonka, Minnesota

Why do I do what I do, and how do I cope in the social services field? I have come to realize that my work isn’t always about accomplishing great things, but often merely about doing my duty. That duty, as I see it, is to be of service to others, to help individuals seek their potential— from getting ready to work in their community, to being able to give an appropriate greeting—and working with my fellow staff as a team.

In order for me to achieve these goals, I must be open to whatever or whomever is in my present situation. I have also found that it is good to be open to change because no two days are the same. Change can be intimidating or exhilarating; it is up to me. Sometimes I believe people become complacent with their habits. Yet when I step back and realize that one’s ego can be one’s jailer, I can either allow change to lock me in or set me free.

In our work, we intend to accomplish something good for others or for ourselves. Often in our field what we do is hidden, humble, anonymous, and even monotonous. Some days I feel like Sisyphus, the Greek god who spends eternity pushing a stone up a hill, only to have it roll back down when he reaches the top. Yet our service is of great value. Though it may go unnoticed to many, to the people we serve it has great meaning.

I try to maintain a decorum that includes courtesy, etiquette, and humor for all those I come in contact with, and which looks both towards myself and towards others. This comes from a sense of respect for others and for myself. I ask myself, what effect will this behavior have on others? Will it cause harm in any way, or embarrassment? When I communicate with someone, I ask myself three questions: “Am I being truthful?” “Am I being helpful?” and, “Am I communicating in a kind manner?” We can disagree, but by using these rules, I don’t take or intend disagreement to be personal or hurtful, or do so in order to win, but rather to come up with a workable solution.

How do I cope? Some ways that I have learned are by trying to keep my priorities straight as to why I work in the social service field. In every situation I give it my best shot. I try not to take negativity on the part of others personally and instead focus on something positive that the person has done and can do. I allow the people I support to become the teacher, letting them write some rules. One of the techniques I use to keep communication open is called “the gold box.” I imagine the person is holding a gold box and until this person “puts the box down”—in essence completes what he or she wants to say—I cannot speak. This keeps me from interrupting, fosters listening on my part and encourages the individual to express his or her feelings. Another technique I use is to vary my approach to situations by sometimes leading the other person, sometimes working with the person, and sometimes following the person’s lead. I have also cultivated a calming smile that I use in stressful situations.

I believe that in order to do my job to the fullest I must make sure I have balance in my own life. Some of the ways I have found are spiritual (meditation and centering), some are physical (weight lifting and cycling), and some are intellectual (reading). I move on from projects that make me feel negative. I have a special place to get away at work and at home, a place that’s just for me. Also, I remind myself that we are all linked to each other, and that in a circle everyone counts, though everyone might be different. The one on the opposite side of the circle offers the balance that I need.

I feel reward in my career when someone I support realizes that they have really accomplished something, and I know in my heart that I have played a part in helping them to accomplish it.