One of the most important things to consider when working with people is what they can expect from the experience. If you communicate this clearly at the start, you will minimise the potential for disappointment or misunderstandings – both for the people participating in the activity and for staff. Communicate your aim, the scope of the activity and any boundaries you have identified clearly; make sure everyone involved knows what they can and can’t influence.
Be clear about how much time you need from people for your project. For example, if you’re asking them to be on a steering group, communicate dates ahead of each meeting as early as possible, including start and finish times. You could even set these up to a year in advance. For a discussion type group let people know how long the group will run for and be clear this is a one off event.
If participants are required to read anything in advance, make sure you tell them in plenty of time so they can prepare. Mind recommends giving people at least a week to read materials – longer if there is a lot to read in advance.
Bear in mind that participants will need to factor in travel time, especially if meetings or groups are far away. Many of the people who participate will have work, family or caring responsibilities so giving as much notice as possible will show that you respect those other commitments.Think about start and end times that take this into account.
Think about the best time of day for the types of participants you want to reach. For example, early mornings might be difficult for people who take medication and/or have family commitments. Early evenings are often better for people who work. But also think about your participants’ commute, and how your timing will affect the duration and cost of getting to and from the activity.
Working with people who have had difficult experiences often leads them to open up and share stories that are deeply distressing. It’s tempting to want to offer a shoulder to cry on if someone is very upset and finding a situation particularly challenging.
It’s important to be ‘human’ in these circumstances, but it’s also vital to maintain professional boundaries and be very clear about the remit of your role.
Avoid giving out your personal contact details. Instead, have a list of resources and organisations to hand, so you can direct people to more appropriate and longer-term sources of support, such as the Mind Infoline, local Minds’ services or Samaritans.