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On RUOK day, check on your Stakeholder Engagement team

I’ve worked in retail and raised toddlers (and teenagers) so I am familiar with being yelled at and insulted. But for many, the negativity that can come with stakeholder engagement can be terribly stressful – and if left unchecked, can lead to long-term mental health problems.  

Conversely, working in stakeholder engagement can also be enormously rewarding – practitioners are privileged to be able to communicate and develop meaningful relationships with key stakeholder groups on behalf of clients and in doing so, develop a deeper understanding themselves.  

One of the goals of developing these relationships is to manage and minimise conflict – but unfortunately this means conflict is invariably part of the job.    

As facilitators who bring groups with different goals and priorities together, those in stakeholder engagement can find themselves as the messenger who gets shot – and getting shot too many times can do damage.  

So on RUOK day, it is important for stakeholder engagement professionals to check in on each other and to be conscious to develop engagement strategies that minimise conflict while maximising engagement.    

Plan engagement to reduce conflict

There probably isn’t a stakeholder engagement professional who hasn’t been yelled at during a large community or stakeholder meeting. If there is a contentious issue to be discussed, large meetings are far more likely to lead to group anger and conflict. So plan your stakeholder engagement method wisely – small group sessions and one-to-one meetings are not only more practical, they are also far less likely to lead to threats, aggression and stress for the stakeholder engagement professionals doing the work.  

Planning to minimise fear can also include setting engagement meetings at a public or neutral location or ensuring employees aren’t sent into potentially aggressive engagement situations on their own.  

Check in on teams

The person assigned to visiting houses to check damage from construction work, or answering the free-call information phone line, or responding to social media comments, will inevitably have exposure to negativity, and that can have an impact. Make it a priority today (and schedule it regularly) to check in with how your team members and team mates are managing – not just in terms of getting work done, but in terms of their mental health.   

Know you aren’t alone

If you are the only stakeholder engagement professional in your organisation, it can be hard to explain to others why you sometimes find your job stressful or upsetting. If you haven’t already, build networks with others in the field. If you haven’t had a chance to get involved with the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), this is an excellent place to start. Or link in with me and we can go for a coffee some time.   

Call in the professionals

If you are experiencing stress or anxiousness due to your job, don’t let it build up. Speak to someone you trust in your workplace, access support services offered by your employer, or contact one of the many help lines for mental health support. If you are concerned about members of your team, make sure to encourage them to do the same.  

Finally, don’t think you need to harden up or suck it up because it is your job. It is not your job to be a sponge. It is your job to facilitate, communicate and engage; It is your job to build relationships, find common ground and achieve common goals.  

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Renée Wilkinson is Cannings Purple’s Stakeholder Engagement Director.

She is an experienced and award-winning stakeholder engagement and government relations professional with more than twenty years in the communications industry. Find out more or contact her here.