I may be outgoing in the workplace, but that is because I know and trust you all, and having worked here for 7 years I finally feel at ease. But, put me in a situation with a bunch of people I have never met and I clam up. I find it horrifically terrifying and I just want to go home and hide from the world and all the people in it. This applies to conferences as well more social situations. I know that retiring to the safety of the duvet and my teddy bear is not a healthy thing to do, and that I need to develop my ability to mix with others. But this can be quite hard to do from the safety of the library.
You may have heard of the comfort stretch panic model of development. You operate nicely in your comfort zone, things just outside it sit in the stretch zone, and beyond that lies the panic zone. To develop you need to regularly stretch yourself, and as you do so the boundaries of your comfort zone expand to encompass what used to be in the stretch zone, and the stretch zone expands to encompass some of what was in the panic zone.
We can stretch ourselves in the workplace by taking on additional tasks or responsibility, new groups and projects, but there are skills that are harder to develop at work. So, to tackle those we can look outside. I have done some volunteering at large events, both because they are causes and events I have strong support for, and also because it is a safe space to stretch myself in more challenging directions.
Pride and the IAAF World Championships are the two biggest events I have volunteered for, and both involved meeting and striking up a rapport with a large number of diverse people in a short space of time, and managing large crowds and conflict. Things that I find scary, but there as there is a structure in place at the events I can push my limits without straying in to the panic zone.
In the summer I volunteered at the IAAF World Championships and I loved every minute, even the 5am starts. One of the reasons I loved it is because I felt I really pushed myself and found I could do the scary bits. My role was in the transport team, working with a different group of volunteers every day to staff various points around the venue, from the shuttle bus from the accessible car park to the stadium to the VIP car park (NOT as exciting as it sounds). Every shift started the same, going through security (essential and very well organised) and walking in to a massive tent which had been turned into a dining hall and it was filled with hundreds of people in identical pink and black outfits. At this point on my first shift I was seriously tempted to run away (panic), but I made myself stay and I just had to walk up to groups and find out if they were also members of the transport team or not. We then got a hot meal and made small talk. And then the manager came along, paired us up an sent us on our way. After the first day I was more than happy to approach closed groups of people and just sit down and chat. It turns out that it is not as hard as it looks. And the small talk wasn’t to bad as we could chat about the athletics.
It sounds like a very small thing, but just overcoming this fear and doing it made me feel great and enhanced my enjoyment of the whole event. Crucially, I also realised that if I can do it at that event then I can definitely do it at professional events.
My past experience of volunteering at Pride stretched me to develop and become more comfortable with dealing with conflict and difficult people, which I have been able to transfer across in to working life. Using clear words with a calm tone of voice, and firm body language and posture I successfully dealt with some very angry tourists who could not access Trafalgar Square due to the dispersal of the parade, and calmed down people panicking as someone was taken ill in the crowd whilst also ensuring the person taken ill got assistance. Seeing so visibly the impact of my words and actions on a big group, where there was no one else to help out or refer up to, gave me confidence to deal with the more minor conflicts we face daily. And this is, of course, something that I now do quite regularly.