How Can You Build Resilience When You Work in Community Engagement

It’s Saturday, and you’ve had a long week already but you’ve got to manage a community drop in session.

The local community is angry. There’s an action group, and a particularly angry man.

He calls you a name. He smears the process. He stands over you and you feel emotionally and physically threatened. He says he has friends in the media and he will ruin you. He says he has friends in politics.

When you work in community engagement, you probably love people. You believe in them. You know that when we engage with people we can solve problems, mend relationships, garner action for change.

But then you turn up at the drop in session.

Community engagement professionals suffers burn out. Friends I’ve worked with have dropped out for a couple of years to recover before returning. Others never come back.

There are ways to build resilience. Here’s a start – and it’s a list that we will continue to build

  1. Debrief after the event. Use an appreciative question first – what worked well today.
  2. Talk about it. Talking will help. Don’t go home and bottle it up.
  3. Focus on what to do next. It can help to focus on actions.
  4. Protect yourself physically and emotionally. There’s some basic rules like never door knock alone, always keep an eye out for your colleagues, call security or the police if there’s any risk to you, your colleagues or members of the public.
  5. Identify the types of situations that cause you stress. Then try to reframe them in a positive or meaningful way, and if you can’t, choose other situations where you’re better suited.
  6. Be realistic. A single engagement activity or event is a moment in time. Engagement is a process. Communities are entitled to be angry (although you should never be put in danger).
  7. And if you can, laugh. There’s always a funny side. Find it, embrace it, and hang on to it as long as you can.

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