Advocacy involves representing and advancing your own or others’ interests. The foundation of effective advocacy is communication: how you connect, interact and transmit your thoughts and feelings to another. There are many aspects of communication, but in advocacy you are communicating for a specific reason. Advocates need to communicate clearly and concisely and to structure the message to fit both the situation and the intended audience. Advocates must be comfortable with verbal, written, and electronic formats. It’s beyond the scope of this module to delve into all of the communication skills that benefit advocacy, but we will recap a few. Remember the skills you learned in Module 3 of this course – all apply here as well.
Respectful and effective communication skills take time to develop; nevertheless, these skills are extremely important to assist you to clarify needs and solicit support to get the needs addressed. Clear and respectful communication is best if you:
- Practice Active Listening – Few skills are as important as good listening when it comes to getting the help your client needs. Active listening is more than just hearing. It means showing others that you understand what they are saying. Active listening does not mean you are sitting still and quiet. Listening is an active process that requires your participation in the communication interchange. To understand fully the meaning of the communication, you usually have to ask questions and give feedback. In a give-and-take manner, you get a fuller appreciation of what is being said. Active listening usually involves paraphrasing, reflecting back on what one has heard, clarifying, and seeking feedback.
- Use a Neutral Tone of Voice – When you’re angry or frustrated, using a calm voice can help keep you from saying things you’ll regret later. You’ll be doing your part to keep the conversation moving in a positive direction. Also, it’s more likely the person you’re talking with will hear what you’re saying.
- Send “I” Messages – “I” messages help an individual give direct and clear messages. By focusing on what “I” want or need, one takes off the pressure of “your” faults or what “you are not giving me”. Skillful “I” messages are those that clearly and neutrally identify one’s needs. For example, “When I get tired, I usually cannot concentrate and listen properly, so I will appreciate if we could set up another time for further discussion.”
- Use Open-ended Questioning – Skillful questions are “open-ended” and non-offensive and usually start with “how” and “what” rather than “why”. For example, “How can you help me in getting the support I need rather than why can’t you help me in getting the support I need.”
- Pay Attention and Respond to Nonverbal Communication – A good communicator pays attentions to other’s body language and will seek clarification to ensure that one is interpreting the nonverbal communication correctly.
- Check Your Understanding. Misunderstandings are frustrating and waste time that could be used to help your client. You can avoid many misunderstandings by making sure you clarify what the other person said. In other words, when the other person has finished speaking, sum up what you think you heard. This gives the person a chance to verify that you heard correctly or to clarify something by saying it again a different way.
Being Influential and Persuasive
Persuasion and influence skills are central to your advocacy success. Persuasion is a form of social influence. It is the process of guiding oneself or another toward the adoption of an idea, attitude, or action. Unfortunately, persuasion is widely perceived as a skill reserved for selling products and closing deals. It is also commonly seen as just another form of manipulation – devious and to be avoided. But exercised constructively and to its full potential, persuasion is very effective and is quite the opposite of deception.
Persuasion involves moving people to a position they don’t currently hold, but not by begging or coaxing. Instead, it involves careful preparation, the proper framing of your “case”, the presentation of solid supporting evidence, and the effort to find the correct emotional match with the audience.
The most effective persuaders consider their position from every angle. Getting ready to present ideas takes thought and planning, plus learning about the person or organization you will be approaching. Fact finding occurs both before and during the persuasion process.
As you learned in the earlier section on advocacy skills, persuasion often involves – and demands – compromise. The most effective persuaders seem to share a common trait: they are open-minded. They enter the persuasion process prepared to adjust their viewpoints and incorporate others’ ideas. When colleagues see that a persuader is eager to hear their views and willing to make changes in response to their needs and concerns, they respond very positively. They trust the persuader more and listen more attentively. They see the persuader as flexible and are thus more willing to make sacrifices themselves. Good persuaders often enter the persuasion process with workable compromises already in mind.
Video: Being Persuasive in a Negotiation (1:49 minutes)
Four Steps to Build Influence
There are four aspects of being influential:
- Building credibility
- Finding common ground
- Developing compelling positions and evidence
- Connecting emotionally
Credibility is based on two factors–expertise and relationships. Are you seen as being knowledgeable on the subject? Do you have a track record in this area that others know about and respect? Do you have strong relationships with the people you are trying to influence?
If you are weak on knowledge, you will need to consider bringing in a recognized expert to help make your case. If you are weak on relationships, consider meeting informally with the colleagues you’ll be trying to persuade to get their perspectives on the issues.
Finding Common Ground
Finding common ground is important from the outset in how you make your case. When you are in an advocate situation, ask yourself – Have I positioned my argument around the goals and rewards that are important to both the person for whom I am advocating and my audience? Have I incorporated the audience’s shared values and beliefs, and delivered the argument in a shared language?
Developing Compelling Positions and Evidence
The word “compelling” conjures up an image of someone taking the action or adopting the point of view you are advancing because it makes perfect sense emotionally and logically, and it is in their best interest. The “evidence” deals with the content and logic of the presentation. However, effective persuaders supplement their presentations with examples and brief stories to make their positions come alive. That use of language paints a vivid word picture and, in doing so, lends a “real life” quality to the persuader’s point of view.
Do your ideas resound deeply with your audience? Have you shown your own emotional commitment to the position you are advocating? Such expression is a delicate matter. If you act too emotional, people may doubt your clear-headedness, however it is important to display a commitment to a goal is not just in your mind but in your heart as well. Your connection to your audience must demonstrate both intellectual and emotional commitment to your position.