In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine explore what it means to be an effective advocate for yourself at work and in life.
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Irvine: Well, hello, everyone, and welcome to Resilient Leadership Podcast, where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you lead with a greater sense of calm, clarity, and conviction, even in anxious times. And my name is Irvine Nugent. And today, as always, I am joined by my co-host and collaborator Bridgette Theurer. Bridgette, how you doing today?
Bridgette: Well, Irvine, thank you for asking and I am doing great. I was thinking about it this morning that here we are in January, we had some very mild days, and then it went back to being appropriately cold, but, man, it’s been gray here in the DC area, but not today.
Bridgette: Today the sun is shining, and I know it’s shining where you are, in Frederick.
Bridgette: And that always puts a pep in my step, I know I’ve said that before, but I’m a sunshine person.
Irvine: Me too. Yeah, absolutely.
Bridgette: It could be 30 degrees, but if it’s sunny, that’s okay. And so, yeah, so I’m doing great and excited about this topic. We were talking, you and I, a little bit before we started recording that this has been a subject on my mind for a while and it’s come up in some of my most recent coaching sessions as well, so I’m excited to dig in. So, tell folks a little bit about this topic.
Irvine: Yeah. Today, we’re, actually, going to talk about one of the most important skills that we need to develop in order to be successful and fulfilled at work. And we’re going to call this episode the Art of Self-Advocacy. Because being a good advocate for yourself, it really doesn’t come natural to most people, it’s a learned skill. I know that’s certainly my experience of this. And yet, when you think about it, why is that? Well, if you look back at our experience, none of us had a class on how to advocate for yourself, or part of your college training was, and show up with everything that you’ve been successful in. And so, we have to learn about that.
And yet, there are some myths around this, so today we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to clarify, maybe, some of those myths and really talk about why is this so incredibly important. I don’t know about you, Bridgette, but in the coaching relationships that I have, where I really get some insight, and you mentioned before that it’s coming up, but really where this is triggered, for me, for a lot of people is when it comes up to their annual review and they have to write that, you know what, was I successful in this year? Or give a summary of the year.
And I am amazed at the amount of my clients that really struggle with that question. They really find it difficult to verbalize or to write down some of their successes, and then also to really leverage that and position themselves in their careers. How about you, Bridgette? Is that something that comes up for you?
Bridgette: Oh, most definitely. I can relate specifically to the end of the year like, ooh, how do I show up for this in a really clear and confident way and tell my story and what were those goals I said? And all of that. I also have found that, just generally speaking, advocating for oneself can be a challenge, not just for people early in their careers, who haven’t really learned it yet, but even for seasoned professionals. I remember this one person I coached a couple of years ago, and she was a vice president, great leader. And she didn’t really have a strong muscle yet around self-advocacy. And here she is, a seasoned, effective professional VP, so I think there’s a fair number of us that can learn how to do this even better.
And I, kind of, think of it like a continuum, right? Where you have folks, maybe some of our listeners who are confident enough to advocate, but maybe their skillfulness at it, their ability to do it with finesse and nuance is not quite there. Or on the other end of the continuum, those who, maybe, don’t quite have the confidence yet to speak out, who are hesitant to do so and maybe, kind of, hope or wait for other people to do it for them. Right?
Bridgette: And in anywhere in-between. And it really is an art form. That’s why we’re calling this the art of self-advocacy because it takes all kinds of things we’re going to talk about in this episode. So, one of the things I think is interesting is that, in terms of resilient leadership, one of the core concepts we’ve spoken about before is this idea of self-differentiation. I don’t know about you, Irvine, but I see a link between self-differentiation and self-advocacy. Do you see a link, and if so, what is it?
Irvine: Absolutely. I totally agree with you. And, as you said before, we’ve mentioned as well, kind of, when it comes to this systems approach to families and leadership that we use. Two of the great thinkers that we’ve mentioned are Murray Bowen and Ed Friedman. And both of those use this term of self-differentiation, it’s a wonderful term. And when we try and break that apart and what do we mean when we say that, there are three main components? The first is self-awareness, the second is self-definition, and the third is self-regulation.
In other words, if we’re going to differentiate ourselves as a leader and who we are, then we really have to have clarity. And that clarity is built, first of all, on some self-awareness about our life goals and how we can manage this reactivity, which we’ve talked about, how we deal with the anxiety around us. And one of the premises of resilient leadership that we’ve talked about is that the more self-differentiated we are, then the better we are to leading others. It’s this notion that we have to begin with ourselves before we begin to that which is around it.
And I think part of that skill of self-differentiation is the more self-differentiating we are, the more comfortable we are, the more at home we are to self-advocate for ourselves, to really be able to express in a meaningful way what has happened, what I have done, and also what are my needs. And those come very natural. And then in our ability to do that, the more ability we have to self-advocate, to express our needs, to express what we’ve done, then, actually, the more self-differentiated we become as well.
So, there’s this, kind of, virtuous circle that’s taking place. The more ability to self-differentiate helps us and our ability to express that as well, we become more self-differentiated. So, perhaps, a good place, Bridgette, for us to begin is to, kind of, define what does self-advocacy mean and what does it look like in action?
Bridgette: Yeah. What does it mean? As I’m listening to you, well, first of all, the whole thing about self-differentiation, really making it easier to self-advocate. What came to my mind is when we work on self-differentiation in those three aspects you mentioned; we become more comfortable in our own skin. And the more comfortable we are in our own skin, right? The better we can advocate. But what does that, actually, mean? When I think of it, the first thing that comes to my mind is really being clear about who we are and what we bring to the table, what our unique gifts are, what our contributions are, and then being able to confidently speak about that at the right time, in the right way, to the right person.
Bridgette: But I did what you sometimes do in preparation for these episodes, Irvine, and I looked up a definition of this, so here’s the definition that I found. So, self-advocacy refers to an individual’s ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate, or assert his or her own interests, needs and rights. It, sort of, covers the whole gamut, doesn’t it?
Bridgette: Yeah. Hopefully, as we mature and progress, we get better and better at this. It’s not a given that we know how to do this, as you said, there’s no course in college, typically, offered on it. Irvine, when you hear that definition, how would you assess yourself in this area of self-advocacy? What are you good at and maybe, what’s the hardest part of it for you?
Irvine: Oh, boy, am I a work in progress, I would say. As I listened to that, there’s just somewhere, even as you read that, there was one word that I just assert and it was like, I could feel myself just like, Ooh, that’s a big word, you know? And so, it’s interesting. I think it’s interesting because we all grow up in a wider culture, and we grow up in a culture of our family, and I know I grew up in Ireland, and culturally, self-advocacy is not a thing that comes natural in both my family and then also the wider culture; that in some way there was this notion that was embedded, it’s a little bit of boasting, don’t boast.
And so, I have had to really learn that. And when I came here to the US and I’ve been here 30 years, culturally as well, there was a struggle. I think I have become much better at recognizing my contribution and the gifts that I bring and being aware of that. Where I still struggle and it still is asserting that and expressing that, I would much rather wait for others to do that for me, and in fact, when others do that for me, it’s a relief. So, it still is a struggle for me and it’s something that element, I think, the awareness I have, but then it’s that ability to communicate that, to find value in that communication.
Bridgette: Interesting. Yeah, love it. So, you’re a work in progress, right?
Irvine: Totally. When it comes to this, I am.
Bridgette: And myself too.
Irvine: So, I know we mentioned at the beginning, we do want to get-on to some of the myths around this, but is there anything else you want to say about self-advocacy, Bridgette?
Bridgette: I do because it, kind of, tags-on to something you said about not boasting, and we’ll talk in depth about that in just a minute, but I think that at the heart of being a really good self-advocate is a balance. And there are, I think, two important ways that we need to strike a balance. And the first one is between balancing confidence with humility. People who are confident, but lack humility often come across as arrogant. And people who are humble, but lack confidence can sometimes appear to be meek, they, sort of, fade into the background. And really, when we advocate for ourselves, it’s about bringing the two together, they’re so potent together, right?
And so, to our listeners, I’m just inviting you to think about how are you right now at striking that balance of confidence and humility, and who do you know who really embodies both of those? Who can be an example to you? And, Irvine, I don’t know if you’ve ever coached somebody who you think blended those two together extremely well, but if so, would love to hear about it.
Irvine: There is. There’s a client that does come to mind who I think really embodies both of them well. First of all, there just is an ease, and I think that’s the way, I would say there’s an ease with the way that they’re able to express their contribution, to express their genius, to express what they bring, and to be able to express what they’ve achieved. And I remember when I was first with this person, I felt a little, almost like I could feel that I self-talk, well, aren’t you full of yourself? You know? It was my own bias. And then, no, I said, this is what beautiful confidence means. And yet, there is a humility. And I’d like to say there are two ways that humility comes out with this person. One is their ability to truly listen.
So, in other words, they’re ready to express for themselves and extremely open to hear any feedback in that. And they’re aware of some defensiveness at times, and it’s not that they’re perfect or anything, but it’s just that there is a radical openness to that kind of feedback and to what that means and to make adjustments. And I think that humility’s there. And I think the other sense of humility is that they’re still striving for more. That, yes, I am here and yet I have other things to learn.
Irvine: And that the learning is not over. And I think that’s the balance there. That is a balance, it’s always a fine equation, I think, which is being worked upon.
Bridgette: So, it’s like they know they haven’t arrived yet. They’re not fully congealed.
Bridgette: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And when you were sharing that example, it reminded me of somebody I coached, who I would describe very similarly to what you just said. I think the other balance that is really important to put on the table is this balance between giving others credit where credit is due, giving your team credit, giving your colleagues credit, but then giving yourself credit and claiming that credit. And, boy, is that a tough balance sometimes, right? So, I’ve been coaching somebody who’s so good at giving her team credit and her colleagues credit, and then is like, but I don’t know how to give myself credit.
And I’m guessing some of our listeners can relate to that, right? Because the last thing we want to do is be one of those managers that takes an idea that really came from the team or a colleague and says, I have this great idea I came up with. We’ve all been around people like that, and it’s incredibly annoying. So, I was thinking of an example of what this balance would look like. And so, imagine if you were leading a project, very complex, very visible, and you hit it out of the park and it was difficult, but you managed to lead your team to great heights through it. And your manager is meeting with you at the conclusion of this and says, basically, to you, boy, congratulations on that very successful project. Your team really hit it out of the park.
So, now how do you respond to where you give the team complete credit and specific credit, but still speak to what you did that was unique in that, right? And so, I’m going to share what I think, how that might sound. And then, Irvine, I’m curious what your thoughts are. So, the manager says that, and then, maybe, you respond with something like this, thank you so much. And yes, that accomplishment was a total team effort. Everybody on this team, without exception, worked incredibly hard. They went beyond what I expected, and I am so proud of them. And I also at the end of the day felt good about my ability to lead the team through some really difficult patches.
There were a few times when I wondered if we were, actually, going to make it through to the end, because the client got really testy and pushed back in some very uncomfortable ways, and I was able to hold my ground with them, but still keep their trust. So, anyway, in the end, it was such a big win, all the way around, a win for the team and a win for the client and a win for all of us. So, how does that sound to you, Irvine?
Irvine: I love that. Because there is, I think there’s an acknowledgement and there’s also the filling in of some other information there. I think culturally, maybe, we have to give acknowledgement to the team, or we feel we have to. And yet, it’s possible to do that, and at the same time, step into the fact that every team has a leader, and that when a team is successful, there has to be something that’s happening for, it just didn’t happen. It happened because of some decisions the leader made and the way that the leader managed that, and I think that is important because that’s what good leadership entails. And I think part of this is just acknowledging the role of the leader and acknowledging good leadership when you see it. And, at times, that can be done by others, but that can be done by ourselves as well.
Bridgette: Excellent. Okay. So, what about those myths? What myths, Irvine, have you seen that, kind of, hold people back from doing this?
Irvine: Yeah. I think there are other messages that come up and some of these, I want to mention a few, and as I describe them, kind of, think about yourself, our listeners, as you think about, have you ever fallen into this. So, I think one of them is, kind of, segueing out of that wonderful statement that you just made, is that we don’t need to self-advocate because our work should speak for itself. How many times have we heard that? And so, and there’s a problem with this, the problem is that we expect others to really see our work and see that the contributions were made.
And that’s not always the case, because if there’s one thing we’ve expressed in this podcast, it is that everyone is running around, we are so busy, we don’t have time to breathe at times. And so, this expectation that magically others are going to notice what happened, it’s just not the case, and so, therefore, we have a role to educate, including our manager, including managing up what we have done and the impact it’s made. And so, at times, a manager can say, we have a deadline to make, that this work has to be done by this deadline. And that’s a really tough deadline.
And the team goes about and through the work of the leader and through, maybe, the ability of the leader to really bring the team together and to go above and beyond, this is done, and then they present the work on deadline. And the manager can say, well, that’s wonderful, but then what we have to do is educate. How did that happen? And that’s what you just said, really helps in that way; that, yes, the team pulled themselves together, but I got on immediately and I created a plan and I was able to put all of these things together.
So, I think we do have to speak up for ourselves and we can’t assume that others are going to see that. And, many ways, the work of leadership is a little bit invisible. It isn’t always visible. And to be able to, kind of, bring to light some of the things that are happening in that invisibility is very important. And I also think it has, kind of, a sub category here that’s really important is that if we don’t bring to light some of the struggles we had overcome, then we also miss that opportunity to shine light, perhaps, on issues that an organization needs to deal with.
So that, yes, I absolutely was able to make this hit the ball out of the park, however, in doing that, there are some real issues here we need to deal with. And so, to speak up about that, even in the midst of our successes, at times, we have to shed light on processes that, perhaps, we need to bring to light as well.
Bridgette: Really, I love that point, Irvine, I hadn’t even thought of that. And it’s so true that sometimes, against all odds, we succeed, but do we really want to keep succeeding against all odds?
Irvine: Correct. Correct. Absolutely. Yeah. And part of that self-advocacy is that ability to have say, yeah, we made it this time and I went above and beyond. However, there was, maybe, a little bit of over-functioning going on here. And maybe, perhaps, we need to reset the calibration. Now, another myth as well and, kind of, which leads on from this is who’s responsible, who’s responsible for self-advocating? And it really is self, it’s not your manager; at times, we get into this thinking that our manager should be responsible for advocating for us, and, hopefully, they do.
Hopefully, we have a relationship where we’re able to really the manager is aware of the work that we’re doing and the good work we’re doing, and is able to be primary, but, as I said before, sometimes the manager’s running around crazy as well and doesn’t have the time to do that. And so, not to relegate that advocation to someone else, but really, it’s our primary responsibility.
Bridgette: That relates back to what you said earlier about self-differentiation, because a key aspect of that is taking responsibility for self. Yeah. And whenever we abdicate responsibility for self, we’re giving up some of our power.
Irvine: Yeah, absolutely.
Bridgette: Yeah. I love those. Those are so, so important.
Irvine: Can you think of any others, Bridgette?
Bridgette: Yeah. Yeah. I can think of a couple of others. So, this relates to something you said, Irvine, in the beginning about your culture growing up in Ireland and your family culture, right? So, I think one of the other common myths that can hold us back is that we’ve been taught in our family or in our society, do not get too big for your britches, young lady. Young man, don’t toot your own horn. And for those of us who, like you, you grew up with that message; we equate self-advocacy with arrogance.
Bridgette: And, of course, we’re going to be reticent to do it when we have that myth or that hidden belief, right? But, as we said, look, we aren’t advocating arrogance. We are advocating self-advocacy, which is a blend of confidence and humility, right?
Bridgette: So, that’s one. I think another one is that sometimes we may want to appear self-sufficient, independent, not needy, whatsoever. We have no needs; we can take care of ourselves, right? And so, part of advocating for self is, actually, making requests for what you need. But if you believe that you should be self-sufficient and never needy, you’re going to have an aversion to speaking up for what you need.
Bridgette: And we have to get beyond that, I think there’s a concern there, maybe; that if we appear to have needs that people will think less of us, but I don’t think that’s true.
Irvine: Oh, not at all.
Irvine: Yeah. I agree with that. Yeah. Sometimes those are the simplest things and yet the most difficult to express in the workplace. I need help. This is something I need. Yeah.
Bridgette: Yeah, for sure. And leaders saying I need help is also.
Bridgette: Once we become leaders, we’re really reticent to say, I need help, and yet, we do.
Irvine: Yeah, absolutely.
Bridgette: Yeah. Oh, those are great myths. Okay. So, Irvine, I already know that one of those myths you’ve had to overcome is don’t get too big for your britches.
Bridgette: And I would say one of the myths I’ve had to overcome is, don’t ever appear needy.
Bridgette: Yeah. You know?
Bridgette: So, all right. So, we’re works in progress.
Irvine: We are indeed.
Bridgette: Now, what about strategies for how we do this? What are your thoughts on some tips or strategies, Irvine?
Irvine: Yeah. Building this muscle.
Irvine: The two that come to mind, for me, one is we need to really be more strategic in using the check-ins that we have with our manager throughout the year. I think that can become really formalized into one big meeting, but I think these are opportunities, really; to have a discussion about what’s happening and your contribution as well. We can’t make these assumptions of an event before the manager’s seen everything, but, really, it is an opportunity for education and it’s an opportunity to really help the manager see what I’ve been doing and an opportunity for some feedback.
And to use this, kind of, to say, have you any feedback on what you’re seeing. And I think this will give us a clue to how involved the manager is, what’s the manager seeing or not. And once we get an indication that, perhaps, the manager’s so swamped that they’re not really seeing things, then to be a little more upfront, informing them, kind of, what’s going on and what your contribution is. And that doesn’t have to be a bragging right, it can be just simple questions like, is there anything I’ve missed? Would you like to give me some feedback on anything I’ve missed?
And, kind of, let me outline, kind of, what’s been happening and here are the contributions of the team and myself. And all of that is due, but I think using those moments I think are incredibly important. And then the other thing is, how do you know what to bring in? Well, keep a list of your wins. You should be reflecting as well about what are some of these successes? What are some of the contributions I’ve made? Do I have clarity around that? And to write them out. And I think there’s a second wonderful aspect of this as well. On those days when things are not going well, on those days when you’re not succeeding to pull that little drawer and to take out some of the notes that you’ve written on.
Maybe it’s not going well today, but you know what, throughout this year, here are some of the wins that I’ve had and here are some of the contributions. So, really to remind yourself as well, of some of the successes you’ve had. But I think, at the end of the year, a good clue of this, if someone asks you, talk to me about three or four of your contributions in the last year, you should not struggle. And if that’s a struggle, then, perhaps, this’ll be a tool that can help.
Bridgette: Yeah, love that. Because we are just not going to remember in 365 days, we are not going to remember all of the wins and all of the details about those wins. We just can’t possibly, right?
Irvine: Absolutely. Yeah.
Bridgette: Yeah. Those are great, I love those.
Irvine: Any other strategies come to mind for you, Bridgette?
Bridgette: Yeah, a couple do. One is, we’ve alluded to this, but specifically to really practice making requests from a place of strength. And so, what does that mean? It means two things. It means when you ask for what you need, when you make a request of an employee to do something, that you do so without apology, right? You do it with legitimacy. You don’t say things like, gee, I’m so sorry to ask you to do this because I know you’re overwhelmed, but do you think you could do X, Y, and Z by the end of the week? Because that sounds like you’re equivocating. You make your request clearly, plainly and without apology; trust the other person to be an adult and be able to respond back, you know?
Bridgette: And then the other thing about making requests from a place of strength is really making sure your requests, particularly if they’re requests like, let’s say advocating for new staff, right? Or for new resources. Is that they’re really thoughtfully grounded in facts and data to the extent that you can, and you make a good business case for them. So, you’re, actually, thinking your way through the request, not just feeling your way into it, right?
Irvine: I love that.
Bridgette: Yeah. So, that comes up to me. And I guess the other one that I often will suggest to people this practice, which is that they come up with a list of, what I call strength statements, which are a handful, maybe three to five, descriptions of the specific activities in your work that energize you, that engage the very best of you, and where you think you do your best work. And that’s important because no one else knows that but you. Yeah. And then what you can do is share that with your manager and you can say, this is where, I think, I make my biggest difference for the team and for the organization. And here are my thoughts on how I could do more of them, or what are your thoughts on how I could do more of these things?
Irvine: Love it.
Bridgette: But without that, it’s really hard to have other people help you. Yeah. So, that’s what comes to my mind. What do you think?
Irvine: Yeah, I love that. One memory that’s just come to my mind is, kind of, when I knew I was on my way to self-advocacy. And it was my uncle who lives here in the US, he’s from Ireland originally. And we had worked together a little bit and he just mentioned to me, he said, I can’t remember the, particular, task, but he said to me, you did that so well. And I just turned to him, and I said, I didn’t even realize I was consciously doing this. And I said to him, well, thank you. And he said, oh. He goes, I love the way you said thank you. He said, because in the past you would’ve said, oh, it’s nothing, it’s okay. But he said, you just stepped up and you said that so confidently. I love that. And it was like, and maybe, actually, and I remember to this day. So, it’s really interesting, that ability to accept and declare with confidence and not to downplay.
Bridgette: Oh, Irvine, that’s great. That’s another tip for folks, right?
Bridgette: To not only make requests from a place of strength, but accept compliments from a place of strength.
Irvine: Absolutely. Yes.
Irvine: Yes. So, we always try and finish with a practice. What’s on your mind, Bridgette, for a practice this week?
Bridgette: Okay, so what’s on my mind is what I will call, whenever you are stressed, make a request. Kind of rhymes a little bit.
Bridgette: And so, what do we mean by that? Well, when we’re stressed, stretched, overwhelmed, anxious, what often happens is we get tunnel vision. Our field of vision narrows and we hunker down and we keep doing more of what we’re already doing, but just doing it harder and longer. And often that’s not the way out. And so, the next time you find yourself feeling like that, take a breath, step back for a second and ask yourself this question, what requests can I make of whom, in order to get the support or help I need? And see what comes into your mind. Invariably there are missing requests and people who can and should and would be happy to fulfill those requests if only they were asked.
Bridgette: So, that’s my practice. What do you think of that, Irvine?
Irvine: I love that one. What request can I make of whom, in order to get the support or help that I need? Love that. Well, this has been a great conversation and it’s bringing to mind, I know just within me, different feelings and thoughts about my own self-advocacy. And, hopefully, our listeners have got something out of this, maybe some of the myths and some of the strategies. We start this new year and many of us have expectations and promises to ourselves, but maybe, you haven’t thought about building this muscle. Maybe that’s something to think about for 2023, build the muscle of self-efficacy.
So, Bridgette, thank you so much. Next week we have a wonderful episode, where we’re going to look at greater resilience in our lives, and we’re going to do a little bit of revisiting some of the core concepts we’ve talked to this. But happy New Year to all our listeners and, Bridgette, thank you so much and we look forward to our next episode.
Bridgette: Thank you, Irvine. Take care, everybody. Bye-Bye.