What is Black Belt Advocacy?
In karate, to achieve a black belt you are tested on a number of moves. Nothing controversial there…. But did you know that these moves are the same moves you are tested on when you undertake your very first belt? The moves haven’t changed, but the person achieving the black belt is now expected to MASTER the moves. A black belt karate expert doesn’t need to consciously think about the moves to use – he or she can access the moves automatically. The moves have moved from being conscious (‘what move is the most effective one here?) to unconscious movements (‘I don’t need to think which move to use, I just do it’).
If we apply this metaphor of a black belt to understanding what skills are desirable within advocates, we can begin to consider what moves a black belt advocate would unconsciously use.
Black belts know when to balance power with restraint. The archetypal karate expert is not one who waltzes around showcasing their skillset but a person who is respectful of others and only uses their skills when necessary. Perhaps a sign of a black belt advocate then is knowing when to show restraint (just because you can use your knowledge of legislation to wipe the floor with the obstructive professional in front of you, does not mean you should. Using restraint, patience and listening may achieve a better outcome).
Let’s also take the skill of being non-judgemental. It’s well accepted that advocacy is non-judgemental: advocates should promote choices and views of clients without judgement. We understand that having a non-judgemental approach requires us to listen more and condemn less. However practice is a different reality from theory and how we walk this skill of being non judgemental can be tricky. Consider the different actions of the different advocates below:
A good advocate
Annie the advocate, labels herself as ‘totally non-judgemental’. Her understanding is limited to ‘advocates shouldn’t be judgemental therefore I won’t use my judgements’. She is very able to accept and promote client’s choice and doesn’t overtly try to persuade her client into one choice or another.
She is a good advocate doing a good job…. but she hasn’t developed any self awareness and is not aware of how her personal bias and value system affect her work.
An outstanding advocate
Alfred the advocate, is able to identify his personal bias and can reflect on times his judgements have influenced his work. He is aware that his personal experience of mental illness has led him to be a vociferous advocate who enjoys going the extra mile. He can use his past experience of discrimination as an energising force to be the person who sticks up for his clients.
He is also aware that his values can bring him to a point where he can challenge aggressively if a professional appears not to be listening. He is conscious of the judgements he makes of services and other professionals (which are not always positive nor indeed fair).
Alfred is able to identify his judgements in order to limit their impact and reflect on what his truly motivating him in his work: is it a desire to promote the client’s choice or has it more to do with his own goal of improving mental health practices. By reflecting, he is able to let go of his personal motivations giving him more space to truly accept the client’s goals and outcomes without judgement.
Which one are you?