Apr 12, 2017

Self-advocacy is communicating why your idea matters

What is self-advocacy?

We land our jobs based on skills specific to the work, but it doesn’t take long to figure out how much surviving corporate culture demands the capacity for communication. This skill set includes getting along with others, listening and explaining, participation in meetings, and coordinating as a team.

But when it comes to personal career growth, the most important tool is your ability to self-advocate. No matter what your field, there’s the work of production and there’s the work of promotion. Self-advocacy is the art of getting yourself and your ideas recognized in the workplace.

Why is self-advocacy important?

Because time and resources are limited, our work can’t always speak for itself. Competition can drown out the softer voices, leadership is often more a matter of professional skills than technical proficiency, and our great ideas won’t see the light of day if we never learn to communicate them.

The ability to advocate for yourself can be crucial to getting promoted or considered for leadership positions. It can help you gain respect within your organization, garner the trust necessary to be tasked with more challenging projects, and be the essential ingredient for seeing your best ideas green lit and implemented.

How to advocate for yourself at work

Some of the world’s most significant and ingenious ideas would never have made it off the drawing board without some level of advocacy. Because innovation breaks new ground, it often needs to be experienced to be understood. But most projects can’t be experienced until they exist, and they won’t exist until you can drum up the resources to build them. If securing those resources requires an understanding you can only get from experience, well… you can see there’s a problem here.

This is where language comes to the rescue. This is what self-advocacy is for.

The good news is you don’t have to be a politician, salesman or a cheerleader to build support for a quality project. Great ideas don’t need to rely on garish presentations. But they do need clear, confident voices and empathy communication skills to articulate them. Advocacy, whether in the context of promoting yourself, your abilities, or your ideas, comes down to one sentence and two basic principles: “Illuminate the essence of your topic in a way that communicates value to your listener.”

1. Essence

Most great ideas, once articulated, sound deceptively simple, eliciting reactions like “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!” But such simplicity is only skin deep. Below the surface of brilliance lurks rich complexity, and only by finding essence can we meaningfully reduce the complexity enough to communicate it.

Self-promotion wizards talk about the “elevator pitch” or the 30-second pitch, which is about how much time you have to make your case if you’re ever lucky enough to share an elevator with Mark Zuckerberg. The people with the resources to give you a green light tend to be busy and constantly bombarded by promises of the next big thing. If you only have 30 seconds, you can’t waste time on the details. You have to hit them with substance.

Getting the essence across isn’t about buzzwords, flashy branding or marketing catch phrases. Essence is that which remains when you strip away everything that isn’t, well, essential. Word Processors can check your spelling but the heart of the idea is digital document creation. VR gaming incorporates multiple technologies and delivers unlimited options, but at the core it’s about immersive experience.

The essence of an idea isn’t simply its basic definition or the key elements which set it apart. Essence is less about what and more about why—why the idea matters. And this leads us to…

2. Value

It’s obvious why we love our ideas. We came up with them. We see their deepest potential and believe passionately in how their implementation could change the world, not to mention our station in life.

When communicating the essence of your proposal the most important thing you can do is convince your listener they should care. If you’ve articulated the essence well its value should be obvious, but we can’t always rely on what seems obvious. Your best bet is to determine why your idea should matter to your the specific person or people you’re sharing it with. If your audience is Zuckerberg, he wants to know how your idea will benefit Facebook. If it’s your manager he or she wants to know how it will help the team reach their objectives. If you’re talking to a potential backer, they want to know how your idea provides value to the general public, because that’s what translates into dollars.

But beyond all this pitching and selling, there’s a far more personal and fundamental reason for cultivating good self-advocacy skills. Self-communication equals developmental power. Even before the pitching phase, articulating your project can profoundly impact your creative process. Many great ideas are guided by our intuition and experience. As powerful as these forces can be, neither one will take us across the finish line. Intuition is the fire that gets us out of the gate, but you can’t create a fully rich and realized project on intuition alone. The sooner you can explain to yourself where you’re headed and why, the faster you can wrangle your intuition into formal expression.

Wrestling our ideas with words during development can unlock new connections and open up surprising alternatives and deeper levels of meaning. Simply articulating to yourself the essence and value of an idea might be all it takes to find the path from thought to action. Language is one of the great tools for clarifying old concepts and manifesting new ones.
And if explanatory techniques provide a way to motivate and guide your own process, it’s just a short hop from there to getting these ideas across to other people.

Earlier we talked about how the best ideas don’t need fancy presentation, just clear, confident voices. The confidence part of that equation can’t be taught, but clarity can. And once you’ve mastered the ability to clearly communicate your ideas, confidence will come naturally. The future of your career, your relationships with your co-workers, managers, and members of other teams, and your own personal feelings of belonging can all be dramatically impacted by a capacity to genuinely present yourself in a public setting. And when it comes to projects, self-advocacy it can be the difference between dreaming up a brilliant idea and getting the support and resources to make it a reality.

Josh Wagner, Lingo Live Coach

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Interested in reading more by Lingo Live’s Communication Coaches? Learn more about importance of communication in leadership.


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