Learning the social art of self-advocacy

feat_self advocacy

Never dodge difficulties—meet them, greet them, and beat them

By Chitwan Khosla, Features Editor

Self-advocacy is an ability to understand your natural traits and needs, stand up for your rights and responsibilities, speak for yourself, make decisions regarding the way you want to live your life, and assertively communicate it all to others without being aggressive.

It is an important social skill that needs to be cultivated and nurtured especially in the pre-teen and teenage years, because adolescence is the most vulnerable period to aggression. In addition to that are the lack of knowledge and experience, confidence, and effective communication that a lot of teenagers experience. Consequently, teens are most likely to be misunderstood by their peers, teachers, parents, or bosses. Most of the youngsters in their early-20s also fail to reach out to others for support. As a result, at school, home, or in the workplace, rather than getting people on their side they push them away. They fail to convey their thoughts and emotions in an effective way.

Let us take an example of youngsters whose actions have annoyed their boss at work and are afraid it might spoil their future prospects. Instead of explaining how they feel, they start avoiding their boss, who feels further offended by their behaviour. On the flip-side, self-advocates would go and confront their boss without much delay and speak for themselves. They could recapitulate their whole action, systematically and chronologically, without being aggressive or offensive, and have it be acknowledged by their boss step-by-step. In all probability, the misunderstandings would dissolve in the process. So, self-advocacy skills help one greatly in the case of an obstacle or difficulty, or when an issue needs to be resolved.

Even if self-advocacy is a lifelong learning endeavour, the process of learning it should begin at an early age by offering students opportunities to make choices at basic levels, such as where they would like to spend their weekend; where they would like to study; what do they want to eat on a particular day; to whom would they turn for help in times of need.

With the passage of time, advanced skills could be added: setting a goal; planning a strategy to succeed; overcoming limitations; resisting outside influences and pressure; communicating with parents, teachers, tutors, mentors, or peers for support in case of difficulty or obstacles; making the right decisions; and, finally, accepting the responsibility for their actions.

There are no set rules for self-advocacy but let’s just talk of using correct words. Never use “you” when it comes to solving a conflict. The repetitive use of this word psychologically conveys to the other person that you are blaming him. Use indirect approach to address the conflict. Instead of telling your teacher, “Your tests are too hard,” say, “I am unable to show my knowledge in tests. Please guide me.” Instead of telling a friend, “You were so rude last night,” say, “I got upset after our conversation last night.”

There are times when you need to discuss your problems with your boss or with another authority. Focus on the problem and how it bothers you rather than emphasizing the cause of the problem. Offer valid solutions and throw the ball in their court. Mentally prepare them to agree with you by being polite and to the point.

When resolving a personal matter with a friend or a family member, never get straight to the point instantly. Always judge the mood and the orientation of the person you want to talk with. Revisiting the incident that caused misunderstanding or differences helps bring both the parties on the same page. It also helps with understanding how the differences can be sorted. You won’t always emerge as the winner but you definitely will be the one who benefits. You will never regret that you didn’t speak for yourself.

At last, always end on a positive note even if you are unable to resolve your differences. Use the golden words: please, thank you, and sorry!