Nine tips for becoming a good advocate:
1. Be clear
- Try to understand both the big picture and the details, and how they fit together.
- Treat everyone in the way that you want to be treated – with respect and dignity.
- Be clear on what you are trying to achieve and what is most important.
- Be clear on your role and the role of other people who are involved.
- Don’t make an agreement on behalf of a person you are advocating for.
2. Be organized
- Take notes on meetings/appointments/phone calls so you can remember what was said, when, and by whom.
- Keep copies of all paperwork and correspondence.
- Keep all your information in a safe place and organized.
- Keep track of the timelines and deadlines. If you know you can’t get a task done on time, ask before it’s due to see if you can get an extension.
3. Be informed
- Understand the system’s rules, the people involved, and who makes decisions.
- Know your rights and the rights of the people you’re challenging.
- Know who you can call on if you need more information or support.
4. Be credible
- Show you are well informed – you understand how the system works, you know the facts of the situation, and you are clear on what you want to have happen.
- Show that you have considered a variety of perspectives.
- Give examples of how other people dealt with similar situations, to support your position and show that a creative solution is possible.
- Use a formal tone that conveys that you expect to be taken seriously, just like a professional would be.
5. Choose your strategy
- Think about what tactics will be best for a specific situation, rather than always relying on the same tactic.
- Focus on creative solutions rather than getting stuck on the problems.
- Balance planning and intuition. Go in as prepared as possible, and be willing to change your plan if an unexpected opportunity arises or your plan isn’t working.
- Be patient and persistent.
- Save your energy for the issues that are most important to you.
6. Listen and watch
Sometimes advocacy is about making a principled stand even when there’s no hope of victory, but usually it involves trying to persuade someone to change what they’re doing. Being persuasive is not the same as being manipulative or otherwise acting in a way that lacks integrity; it is about figuring out how to communicate in a way that reaches people and moves them to act. This is different in every situation.
Some people respond well to passionate arguments or personal stories; others only listen to economic rationales, and get squeamish when asked to listen to a personal appeal. When you’re first engaging in a situation, focusing on listening and watching (rather than trying to get your point across right away) helps you get information that will help you pick your tactics and strategies. You’re not only getting information about the situation, but also about the people involved.
7. Get beyond confrontation
Confrontation can be an important persuasive tool in advocacy, but it is not the only way to bring about change, and it’s often risky. Sometimes clear, calm, and firm communication is as effective (or more effective) than confrontation.
- Focus on a possible solution rather than assigning blame for the problem.
- Think about how to express disagreement without closing the lines of communication.
- If you’ve reached a deadlock on an issue, move on to a topic where there’s still room for negotiation, rather than going around and around in circles.
- If communication is going downhill and things are getting tense, ask to take a break or to continue at a later time.
8. Take care of yourself
Advocacy can be inspiring and satisfying, but it can also be exhausting. Effective advocacy often involves having to manage anger or frustration so communication doesn’t get shut down. It is important to find ways relieve stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, counselling.
9. Avoid burnout
- Keep perspective. Remember that there is always more than one person can tackle and that you can’t do everything.
- Know and respect your limits. Everyone gets tired and needs downtime. Take breaks.
- Expect to make mistakes – it’s part of being human.
- Celebrate your victories and achievements.