Hot tips on being an effective advocate
Hot tips on being an effective advocate
Article by Karyn Chalk, September 2021
In 2021 I have done a number of presentations in regard to being an effective advocate. Below is a copy of the handout I provided to participants. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like additional information on talks, presentations and individual assistance available at Changing Ways
Over the last 5 years I’ve supported and advocated for people in over 150 disciplinary meetings. I’ve learnt some steep lessons in some pretty sticky situations lessons , and as a result, significantly changed my approach along the way.
When I started advocating for others one of the hardest things I had to master was my level of emotional engagement in the situation. The steep learnings occurred when I became too emotionally invested. Common situations that this occurs for advocates is unfair treatment or the outcome that are disproportionate to the situation.
To be a successful advocate you need to be emotionally astute. This involves understanding how to maintain a resilient neurological landscape within yaourt own life in order to consistently be able to create a presence that is soothing and credible in the room.
- As the advocate you are there to support a member who has an issue that needs some form of resolution
- And if there is an issue then there will be often be differences in perspective from members at the table
- And if there is an issue that is causing the member to be upset to the point they feel they need an advocate, you can guarantee that there will be some difficult emotions present
A quote that has served me well over the years goes like this: “It’s better to be an angel at the side-line than a train wreck in the middle of the room”.
I like this quote as it reminds me that advocates are people of influence in the room. We can sway an outcome simply by our presence, preparation and mindful perspectives.
What happens if you as the advocate become emotionally invested in the situation?
You may not like what is happening in the situation and it may upset you to see how the person you are advocating for is being treated. And the situation may not align with your values.
But remember that your role in this situation is of an advocate. You have to be able to put your responses to the side. Its not easy at times and you may need to learn ‘how’ to calm your brain so that you don’t get emotionally hijacked in the situation.
Below is a list of hot tips I’ve learnt along the way.
- Get some beans in the jar. Its beneficial to have functional relationships with all parties sitting at the table. Building relationships based on rapport, trust and credibility occurs from being consistent in ALL your interactions. It’s much easier to cash in when there is a savings bank. And it’s much easier to resolve difficult situations when there is a layer of trust, credibility and rapport as a starting block.
- Slow down and advocate. Our brain does not always tell us the truth, especially in emotionally charged situations. It's easy to get tricked into thinking the situation is urgent and immediate action needs to occur as advocate. Its very rate that a meeting needs to happen immediately. Be conscious in slowing things down to ensure a calm and structured process can occur.
- Check out the vacancy status. Your colleague might come to you upset about being called to a meeting. You may look at the letter and feel a sense of injustice and resentment. The risk then is to jump on the horse and gallop into the sunset of problem resolution. Meanwhile back at the ranch, your colleague may not even want any assistance from you at the meeting. She might just want a moan, groan and some advice. I find it helpful to imagine that people walk around with vacancy and non-vacancy signs above their heads. It’s important to take the time to get an understanding of what kind of support they require from you at this time.
- Get to the bottom of the real issue. An important lesson I continue to reflect on is the importance of remembering that the original problem is often not be the actual issue. Your colleague may have been given a letter that outlines concerns from a customer and outlines a number of business policies that may have been breached. And naturally your colleague may launch into writing up her step by step account of the situation actions. Whilst this might be a good starting point in self reflection, what if this is not the problem? From attending over 150 disciplinary meetings, my experience is 90% of the time the issue is ‘how’ the person responded to the situation when they were stressed, tired or coping with external pressures. If you want the best outcome for your colleague then taking the time to get to the bottom of the issue can be gold because it will influence the meeting outcome.
- What self-care plan is needed? It’s also important to understand that in this situation your colleague can be feeling very distressed. Having a conversation about self-care and additional assistance might be helpful.
- Solid preparation provides stability. Encourage your colleague to outline what they are going to say in clear and succinct bullet points. This will provide a reference point if they get stuck and you can also support them to work through each point. If the issue is based around communication style and response, I’ve found the ability to self-reflect, show insight, take responsibility for actions, acknowledge impact on others, and outline future assistance needed cannot be underestimated. Sometimes this requires meetings to be rescheduled so that the person has the space to prepare what to say and how to respond.
- Be conscious of your own presence in the room. Difficult situations can often trigger people into big emotions such as shame, humiliation and embarrassment. Your role is to be the wise person in the room. John Gottman (2015) an American psychological researcher and clinician did extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability. His research involved monitoring people in conflict with equipment such as heart rate monitors and ECG’s. His research team discovered that any time your pulse gets over 95 beats per minute you get emotionally flooded and lose the ability to resolve conflicts effectively. This is because the amygdala (the fight/fight part of your brain) starts running the show. Your job as an advocate is to be the wise person in the room and create a calm presence through your body language, voice tone and slow deliberate breathing patterns . You can maintain a calm and safe space without saying anything when you are deliberate with your nonverbal cues.
- Understand your own triggers. As discussed above, you want to stay in the top two boxes of the problem ownership model. One guaranteed way of bailing ship is getting yourself emotionally triggered. Take the time to understand what your triggers are. For example; one of mine is when the person I’m advocating for is getting a tougher level of punishment than what I feel is fair and reasonable. I recognise the body signs and have calming strategies in place to help with this.
Advocating for others requires you to be conscious in your language, your body language and in your responses. It’s important to slow down, take time getting clear on what support is required, clarify what the issue really is and determine what preparation needs to happen before any meetings occur. As an advocate you also need to have done some preparation in understanding your own triggers and having some calming strategies to ensure you maintain being the wise person in the room. My experience is that this growth occurs with the ability to self-reflect and utilisation of peer, clinical or professional supervision.
Gordon, Thomas. (1977),Teacher Effectiveness Training. Addison-Wesley Longman Ltd
Gottman, John. (2015), The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work - The Crown Publishing Group.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: KARYN CHALK
Karyn Chalk lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. She has qualifications in Applied Science, Education and Dispute Resolution, combined with 25 years’ experience in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Havening techniques© . Karyn is able to masterfully combine her theoretical knowledge and practical coaching experience to tailor her approach for outstanding results as a life coach, mediator and dispute resolution consultant. She has a natural ability to reach the heart of a wide range of problems in a relaxed, pragmatic and friendly way.