I learnt the hard way recently that working in Internal Communications can be an incredibly lonely place. I have been working in Internal Comms for almost 7 years now, and genuinely I love what I do. In those 7 years I have experienced some sky-high positives; I’ve led a team (well, myself and one other), I’ve challenged myself more than I ever thought I would and I’ve pushed myself way out of my comfort zone… but I’ve also felt alone and isolated in my profession, resulting in a lack of confidence which impacted not just my work-life, but home-life too, and feelings of failure. I’ve questioned my decisions and actions and doubted my abilities.
In some respects it’s unfortunate that communications is so subjective. Everyone has an opinion on how to “improve” your comms and strangely it is still very much regarded by many as a soft skill, or a task-based activity that anyone can do. I couldn’t agree more with the words of Martin Flegg who recently wrote a blog about how this generates a lack of value and respect (albeit unintentional) and belittles our role as communicators.
Like many others I fell into internal communications, and although I had transferable skills having previously worked in Marketing and Advertising, somewhere along the line I lost all my confidence and self-belief because of this subjectivity, and over time I started to believe that I was in the wrong profession and I wasn’t good enough for this.
I have always been a perfectionist, personally as well as professionally, I’ve always been ambitious and wanted to challenge myself, but as my feelings of self-doubt started to grow, these behaviours started to manifest themselves into something more negative, completely taking ownership of my thoughts and actions, working evenings and long hours in order to ‘perfect’ my craft in fear of receiving critique. I developed what I now see as Imposter Syndrome. I felt like I didn’t belong, I wasn’t good enough and I was chasing a level that I felt I should be operating at. I was waiting to get called out and identified as a fraud. To overcome this I started to think that “if I just do this course I’ll be better at my job… if I get that qualification I’ll feel more confident and it will give me the skills and credentials I need to operate at the level I should be at” …inevitably it never did, and that hole I hoped training and development would fill just became deeper.
I felt at the time, like I didn’t have anyone to speak to or anywhere to go for ideas, inspiration or for a sounding board. Back in my Marketing days it was easier to generate ideas – often team sizes are larger for one, but also good work (and bad work) is everywhere online. It’s there for the external audiences, and so it’s easier to find blogs on examples of work, or read interviews about it, but within internal communications everything is… well internal. Locked behind company walls and security processes. I would say things have changed drastically in very recent times, with more networks, research and external groups out there, but at the time I worked alone and I felt I had no-one in my corner to help with ideas or to be on my side if I was unsure of anything or if I received some feedback I didn’t agree with. More and more I started to feel that I’d failed and I perceived that everyone around me was more successful or had a better idea of what they were doing.
59% of PR practitioners had been diagnosed with a mental health condition
It isn’t uncommon for IC teams to feel they are overworked and under-resourced, particularly when most consist just of a team of 1 and research recently conducted by the CIPR found that 59% of PR practitioners had been diagnosed with a mental health condition. While the data doesn’t exist solely for internal comms, there are transferable skills across the communications world and I truly believe many in IC would echo or relate to these results.
Internal Communications community
It took me a long time (and changing jobs) to realise this was a mindset change that I needed to take control of. Whilst I think some of this did stem from my previous employer, I also needed to remember that I was the communications specialist here and I poured a lot of time into developing some confidence back into myself and my role. Whilst changing jobs did help in this instance, that isn’t going to be the case for everyone and isn’t advice everyone should follow. It took me a really long time to learn that yes, communication is subjective, but someone else’s opinion doesn’t always mean they’re right. Or if something doesn’t land right or isn’t received in the way you hoped, that doesn’t mean you failed, but actually in order to be better and better at your role it’s important and healthy to learn from mistakes. It sounds so obvious when you put it into words, but when you feel completely alone it is something you have learn for yourself.
When I did start to ask for help or advice from my networks and others in the IC world, I felt like the answers were so obvious and quick for them to come to… why not for me? Again, I didn’t take into account their own learning and failure processes they’d gone through. No one is “better” here, we’re all trying to figure out the right way of doing things and more often than not, someone else is going through exactly the same struggles as you. I feel it’s really important that we not only share our successes and celebrate those, but that we share our learnings and failures too.
Share your story
What I don’t want from this blog post is for people to think that working in Internal Comms, or Communications generally, is a stressful and unhappy environment. As I mentioned at the start of this post, I love what I do. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The people in the industry are great, I love the variety that working in IC brings, the opportunity to make a difference and the positive challenges it brings along the way.
Something I would like to come out of all this is to start a series on this blog, talking to IC and other communications pros about their struggles, challenges, failures and learnings, in the hope that it not only helps them by sharing those experiences, but that it also helps others. If you would like to be involved in my series, and share your experiences please do get in touch – either tweet me @Mandypops or email me – I would love to hear from you.