Check out the posts below to explore some black belt moves.

Art of listening

Listening is a fundamental skill within the advocacy role.  Ask any advocate to name advocacy skills and listening is likely to appear at the top.

This protected status however, often means listening can be overlooked.  In other words, advocates place such a great emphasis on the importance of listening that there is a danger the more experienced we get the more robotic at listening we become.

This 10 minute video asks you to consider how you listen and how often…. and compare this to how much time you actually spend on problem solving, giving advice or second guessing what your client is going to say next.

Watch the video

Looking after yourself

Acting as someone’s advocate requires you to speak up on somebody else behalf and put forward their views and outcomes.  It also means you have to stick up and fight for people.

This means that many advocates have to put themselves in situations where they disagree with professionals and challenge the status quo.  They may have to say unpopular things, or make requests for choices which are considered risky.  Advocates may even put forward views they personally disagree with but are obliged to represent.

The ability to look after yourself means advocates are routinely taking time to reflect on how they are dealing with conflict and coping with the pressures or stress which naturally occurs in many roles.

Asking the right questions

A fundamental part of the advocacy role is accessing and providing information to enable the client to make choices and explore options.  Advocates will also be representing these views to decision makers and other professionals.

An outstanding black belt advocate knows that clever questions play an essential part in supporting the client to work out their options and make choices.  Instead of giving information to the client, they replace this step in the advocacy process with asking questions.

The problem with giving information to a client is fourfold:

  • The advocate cannot avoid filtering what information to give:  this means the advocate is likely to express their personal bias when deciding the sources, content and order of exploring options
  • The advocate won’t know what they don’t know – so can never be certain that the information they give is current and up to date
  • Giving information can position the advocate as an ‘expert’ – this is especially true when working within LA or NHS systems (for instance as an IMHA, complaints advocate or children’s advocate).  The advocate does not want to replace the role of expert professional in explaining technical or legal choices.
  • Providing information on consequences is often a guise for persuading the client not to make a choice (consider for instance your reaction to a choice made by a client which you judge to be straight forward – complaining about not being invited to a review meeting.  Most advocates tend not to explore consequences.  But if a client wants to stop taking medication or abscond quite often we jump to consequences.  Why is this?)

Asking clever open questions on the other hand is a safe way of supporting the client to get to their truth about what exactly they want – without leading or influencing their choices.  It is also a more empowering approach as you support the client to take control of their choices and the advocacy process, rather than relying on you to source the information.

On having courage

‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ Nelson Mandela

Courage is a skill advocates use frequently in their work.  Standing up for the powerless, speaking out for those without a voice and challenging decisions, systems and processes all require the advocate to put others before themselves.

Courage creates advocates who are not afraid to say what needs to be said and take action that is required…. but the absence of courage can be debilitating and lead at best to missed opportunities and at worst colluding with poor practice.

Recently I visited a care home and walked through the lounge.  About 7 older residents were sitting there: some engaged in reading, others simply sitting quiety and others watching TV.  I noticed a member of care staff standing by the door, arms folded, uninterested in the residents, totally engrossed in their own thoughts.  My judgement made me think he looked more like a prison guard than a carer.  Did I say anything?  No.  I told myself its not my job and moved on.  Perhaps had I felt a surge of courage I might have asked a question or provided feedback to the staff or manager.

Outstanding advocates understand being courageous involves asking the smallest of questions, no matter how uncomfortable we feel.  Using courage does not mean shouting the loudest, or being a fearless crusader – but instead requires the advocate to master their internal fear so it does not prevent them from taking action

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