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Preparing Yourself for Work in the Community

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I believe you can find a profession tailored to your personality. I’m an interactive person who loves to hang out with other people and make new friends. With that mindset, I find professions that put me directly in the line of interaction with people to be enjoyable.

Dennis - Conversation Caravan

While workplace bullying and harassment is not acceptable, Dennis shares what he does to build rapport and maintain a calm environment in the face of anger and personal attack. For Dennis, leaving people professions isn’t an option, so he needed to find other ways to control the situation and adapt his style.

Dennis was born in Kenya and came to Australia as an international student. While he couldn’t find employment in his original field of study, he found employment as a disability support worker. This, coupled with experience from voluntary Sunday school and working as an educational support person, opened up his eyes and doors to working with people.

In addition to working as an educational support person, Dennis works as a conversation facilitator with Conversation Caravan. He enjoys both experiences because of the interaction with people and the difference he can make. Dennis speaks to us about why he loves doing what he does:

Professions come in all shapes and sizes

I believe you can find a profession tailored to your personality. I’m an interactive person who loves to hang out with other people and make new friends. With that mindset, I find professions that put me directly in the line of interaction with people to be enjoyable. When one works in a field like that long enough, however, a tough reality hits home eventually; human beings aren’t always nice.

I have had a few instances where insults, belittling comments and physical abuse were no longer the stories of my colleagues, but they became my reality. In Australia, 22% of workers have attested to getting insulted or harassed by clients. It’s not to say that the jobs with people are less rewarding, however one experience like this has the potential to not only ruin your whole day, or even a night, but it can have the potential to damage your self-esteem.

I enjoy working with people and the more I work in the field the more I’ve learnt to adapt. My training is in the field of statistics. I crunched numbers, letters and equations for four years during my undergraduate study. I did a couple of internships in the statistical field. However, outside of school, most of my jobs were people-oriented.

Having now found theses professions with people, I am not about to give up. Here are my tips (particularly for anyone that is not from Australia) to prepare yourself for a career with people.

Set your own personal boundaries:

One thing that I’ve grappled with is the amount of freedom students in Australia get to express themselves. In my country, the teacher was king. Everyone jumped at their command. Even parents rarely questioned their direction. In Australia, most students know there are rules to follow. However, teachers are much more relatable compared to mine in my country. As a result, students will talk to them like they’re friends. In higher needs schools the freedom also extended to rudeness and physical assault.

Boundaries are not a call to be rigid with people. They’re what stopped me from being a doormat. I’ve found people to be more inclined to respect boundaries that I set and I don’t have to suffer avoidable uncomfortable situations at work. Consider what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable to you. Make sure you express this when working with people and tell them respectfully when/if they cross one of your boundaries. Consistency with boundaries, I’ve found, works well.

Don’t rely on your good looks or charm:

When I started my job as an educational support, I (wrongly) assumed that personality was all that was needed to work with people. However just like statistics, there’s a lot to learn and a lot of variation. After a particularly bad day at school, I needed to learn how to calm down an enraged student; and learn how to motivate students to do their school work. This experience taught me to respect the skills and experience needed to work with people. Now, rather than relying on my personality, I ensure I have a full understanding of the situation, shadow other experienced staff, ask lots of questions and do lots of research in my own time.

Take time to meet the people and assess the situation:

In statistics there’s no such thing as too much data. When I go to schools, teachers regularly have class notes for casual staff that I use to orient myself with the class. I also ask the students I am working with how they would like to work with me, within the allowable constraints. Taking the time to get to know people will make your life smoother. It also makes them feel valued and helps to build relations with them.

Be a lifelong learner:

I’m always looking for opportunities to learn and I’ll be happy to receive any other useful tips. I enjoy reading blogs, watching other people’s styles and learning through on-the-job training. Learning is about more than just reading books. It’s about getting out there and giving it your best shot. It’s not always a smooth day, but working with people can be very rewarding. With the right attitude and preparation, it’s almost like getting paid to have a hobby.