Starting the conversation

As with everything else in life, first impressions matter: they can have a huge effect when approaching potential new members.

When Richard Smith started his first permanent job, he knew virtually nothing about trade unions. Unsurprisingly, joining up was not on his to-do list.

“If someone hadn’t approached me, I would never have joined,” he says. Nothing beats a face-to-face chat explaining the union’s activities and all the benefits that come with membership.

But it is important to have a conversation with potential recruits – resist the temptation to talk at them about the union.

Meet at a convenient time

Make sure you’re meeting them at a time that is convenient to them and ask them about their experience and work issues.

Listen and learn

In an ideal world, you should aim to spend around 70% of the conversation listening.

Then you can explain how being in the union is relevant to them and could help with their issues, using practical examples.

Avoid jargon

Steer clear of union-heavy language and don’t assume that the things you take for granted will strike a chord with someone who isn’t yet a member.

It’s “we” not “them”

Use inclusive language: for example, talk about “our union” and “your union” rather “the union” which can sound remote.

UNISON is the people in it and you want the person you are talking with to be one of those people.

Useful tips on starting conversations

  • Introduce yourself and find out about the worker and their workplace: “How long have you been working here?”; “What is your job/role?”.
  • Identify issues. Start by using general questions and then narrow the focus: “How are things going here at work?”; “What has changed here recently/over the last…?”; “What would you change if you could?”
  • If you are already aware of an issue, use this to open up the conversation: “Are you worried about…”; “What is happening about…”; “How do you think you and your workmates could be affected by…”.