Finding Your Strongest Advocate | From the Ombuds

SEP. 12, 2022

I’m not going to lie to you. It feels great to have an advocate.

Someone standing tall, standing strong, with a loud, clear voice fighting for you and only you. Determined to make sure you get what you have earned. Someone eloquent, sure, and fierce.

Or at the very least, someone who will face your spouse, or boss, or direct report so you don’t have to.

What do you gain by having someone else advocate for you? For one, your advocate will be seen as speaking dispassionately and not in their own self-interest, which might be in your benefit. You will also be represented by someone who won’t be as emotional as you. And, let’s face it, this person will save you a lot of angst. You probably feel a little anxious already, just thinking about arguing on your own behalf. Doesn’t it feel good to know that someone will lift that burden from you?

In some cases, arguing your own case is a non-starter. Artistic criticism of all stripes is one of them. In this case, the person weighing in is specifically not an advocate for the artist, author, or creator, but is instead serving (in theory, at least) as an unbiased arbiter who has assessed the art’s quality and meaning and found something to say about it. We don’t put much stock in people liking their own LinkedIn posts or authors who blurb their own books for precisely that reason.

Obviously, there are times where you need someone to advocate for you, as in a court of law. It’s not that you can’t state your case well; it’s that unless you are an attorney, you probably won’t be able to steer yourself through the legal process. As they say, someone who represents themselves has a fool for a client.

Having watched smart, persuasive attorneys plead their clients’ cases on TV, it seems natural to prefer someone take that role for us, even when we are far from a courtroom. And you might be convinced that any advocate you find will be surer of themselves, a better speaker, and much smarter than you are, which makes them a much better candidate for this difficult conversation than you.

So, let’s find you that advocate.

First, we’ll need to find that person who is more confident, eloquent, and wise than you. You might think that’s an easy task, but I would guess it isn’t as easy as you think. People tend to sell themselves short. And even if you are right on one of the accounts, having a smoother speaker argue your case for you has more drawbacks than benefits.

That’s why your search for the best advocate starts and ends with you looking in the mirror. You are almost always the best person to advocate for yourself. Here are five reasons why.

First, you know more about your situation than anyone besides you. Someone else speaking for you might be able to raise a few points you share with them, or even stick to a script, but no matter how well they know you, they aren’t going to know everything about you. Just as important, they aren’t going to know the context of the conversation, and won’t have a sense of the many nuanced relationships you have.

Second, even if you stumble over a phrase or two, your passion will lend its own eloquence to your words. There is no substitute for the genuine emotion that you will bring.

Third, you and only you have the power to negotiate. If the conversation is important enough for you to want someone else to step in for you, the stakes must be high. And if all a good resolution needed was someone to calmly lay out your argument, you, again, wouldn’t be asking someone else to do it for you. Odds are, this situation is too complicated for anyone but you to completely appreciate. It would be unfair to ask someone else to negotiate on your behalf. While there are some situations where shuttle diplomacy (a third party passing counter-offers between two principals) works well, in most cases it’s best to have the two people with the power to agree to a binding outcome in the room together. If you empower someone to negotiate for you, there’s always the risk that they will agree to something you find unacceptable. Even if you don’t hate the outcome, you’ll always wonder whether you could have gotten something better.

Fourth, advocating for yourself will strengthen your relationship with whoever it is you are negotiating with. If you have someone else plead for you, the main information that the other party takes away is that a) you don’t trust/like them enough and b) you complained to someone else about them. No matter what the merits of your argument, that’s setting you up to fail.

Instead, if you advocate for yourself, the other person can appreciate that this issue is important to you, and that you respect them—and yourself—enough to have a serious conversation about it. Whatever the outcome, they should appreciate that.

Fifth and finally, do it for yourself. Having someone else do the heavy lifting might save you from stress in the short term, but you will always wonder if the person who spoke for you really gave it their all. And you will further convince yourself that you are incapable of speaking your truth when it counts, that you need someone else to do that for you. Even if you don’t get everything you want, you will gain valuable experience in arguing on your own behalf, and get a confidence boost.

As Ombuds, I often have people ask me to advocate for them. I have found myself making some of these points with each of them, and I think that I’ve been able to sell them on the important of advocating for themselves. Thinking systematically about the advocacy question as I write this post, I am even more convinced that in most cases, in an institutional setting like ours, you are almost always you own best advocate.

That’s not to say that even the best self-advocates wouldn’t benefit from having someone support them, someone to bounce ideas off and to reality test their arguments. And that is where the Ombuds comes in. The office is a confidential and impartial place, the ideal setting for talking through an issue before seeking a resolution.

Whether you are a student, faculty member, or other UNLV employee, the Ombuds Office has many things to offer you in addition to coaching for difficult conversations. If you are having an issue and are uncertain where to go, it is an excellent zero-barrier first stop.  If you would like to talk privately and confidentially about any work- or campus-related concern, please make an appointment with the Ombuds. Our door is open.

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