At the start of the year, if someone had told you what was to come in 2017, you’d be easily forgiven for shaking your head in disbelief.
by Emma Rodgers
Three terribly sad and awful terrorist attacks and a fire in a high rise with the most heart-breaking and unimaginable of consequences. And that’s before you take into account a snap election with no overall majority and the Brexit negotiations. Quite literally 2017 has been an absolute stinker crapsville of a year already and we’re only in June. There’s been enough sadness and uncertainty to make even those not directly affected want to curl up in a ball and hibernate away.
From a human point of view I’ve wept many, many times. From a local authority communications point of view, again while we were not directly affected, much of what’s happened has quite rightly had repercussions and meant as communicators we’ve probably all challenged how we would do things and asked ourselves honest questions about how we’d deal with it should it ever happen in our city. Would we do anything differently, is there anything we could do to help, would we be able to respond effectively if we were in their shoes?
It’s also got me thinking as communicators at the front end of any crisis how effectively we need to cope. And by this, I don’t mean cope practically but from a health and wellbeing point of view. In fact when a by-election was held earlier this year in Stoke-on-Trent and we were thrown very quickly into the spotlight with 150 media descending on the city and national and international media camped out on an almost daily basis, as a team we found it extremely tough. Enquiries from the media raised by 80% from national and international media outlets there was no way you could ignore. The hours were long, the scrutiny intense and quite simply getting through the day felt an achievement, especially when it felt that our ‘place’ that we feel so passionate about was getting a battering in spite of all our efforts. While this doesn’t even begin to compare to any of the tragic events that have happened in the last three months, it gave me a small reveal of the resilience and the elephant hide that’s sometimes just required to make it through.
I’ve since spoken to many people both in various communications groups and other peers across the country on the subject. I’ve also thought long and hard about what you have to relentlessly cling to when times get tough. Here are just some of those thoughts below.
1. Have a sense of humour – whether it’s memes that lighten the load, having a wall of tw*t that only you know about or a team code when it gets really tough, never forget you’re only human and need to laugh and show emotion too.
2. Talk to your peers – join a comms forum – there’s a few out there that I really value and they are across a number of on-line platforms so you generally find one that you’ll value no matter what your social media preference. Great examples include the slack group for comms leads run by Darren Caveney (email Darren if you would like to join) and a number of facebook groups for communications including the Public Sector Comms Headspace run by Dan Slee and David Gindlay and a few others that you can find by searching public relations. I also use a couple of local groups on linkedin.
3. Know you’re not alone – if virtual isn’t your thing, get to a free event where you can hear and learn from others about what has worked for them. There’s a number you can tap into, from Commscamp taking place in Birmingham on 24 July to comms2point0 masterclasses to LGcomms or Granicus seminars, after you’ve been to one of these I can guarantee you’ll feel better. The comms therapy there is free :- )
4. Never forget why you’re doing the job and the difference that you’re there to make – all the other stuff just does not matter.
5. Start from the lowest base and assume everyone thinks the worse then you’ll be pleasantly surprised if they don’t.
6. Don’t lose your values – they’re your shiny, guiding star.
7. Find the positive and take time to look at this, rather than letting negativity overwhelm you. It’s easier said than done but if you crack this, you’re home and dry.
8. Put it into perspective – when I asked a colleague who has a very high pressured job about how she stays so calm, she said ‘I’m not in an operating theatre saving lives and nothing compares to that.”
9. Plan, plan and plan some more and whenever you can ask for help. For the by-election count, I called upon colleagues from other local authorities to lend a helping hand. It really took the pressure off and meant we could spread the workload across a number of people.
10. Take time even if it’s after it’s all over to remind yourself first-hand why you do what you do. Get out to the front line, see where people’s lives are changed for the better and remind yourself why you do the job.
11. Never forget it’s not personal. It also has to come to an end soon and you will get through the other side.
12. Remind yourself of the good things you do day in day out. One colleague has a jar of happiness where compliments get added regularly. Always made them smile even when the chips were down.
13. Take whatever time you can to unwind, listen to music, drink alcohol (seemed to be a favourite), run, walk, play sport or take up a craft. It helps to give you proportion back to your life and helps to know that you’re not just an employee.
14. While I don’t currently do this, a lot of colleagues swore by techniques taken from mindfulness, yoga, pilates and a host of other ways to bring serenity and calm to everyday life.
15. Have a cupboard where you can go and quite simply scream.
16. Use props – stress balls, gonks for hugs – it seems the comms marketing guff can come in helpful sometimes.
17. Speak to a coach or mentor or someone else you respect. When they’re not so close they can help you see the wood for the trees.
18. Finally, it seems inspirational quotes and taking a step backwards even for just two minutes can really, really help.
Obviously some of these ways to cope are just common sense but when it gets tough, it’s all too easy to forget what you need to do to stay sane.
Thanks to everyone who contributed from a number of places – you know who you are. I’m off to find my favourite inspirational quote and meme ready for the next time that things get tough.
Oh and if your ‘get through’ tips aren’t on the list above and you want to contribute, give me a shout at @emmarodgers on twitter, I’d love to add an update.
Emma Rodgers is strategic manager, communications and marketing at Stoke-on-Trent City Council
image via the National Library of Ireland