Author: Rikki Chaplin
We all experience those situations where it seems we bang our heads against the proverbial brick wall, and still we are confronted with a complete lack of recognition or acknowledgement of previous conversations we had, in which we thought our advocacy had been successful.
As advocacy staff, it is very common to hear from people who have been in long-running negotiations with companies, government agencies and the like, only to have to start from scratch as new staff are brought onboard or policies and procedures change. Yet, if we give up when these frustrations repeatedly occur, our efforts are thwarted. Things will go on in the way they always have, and nobody benefits.
Even for a professional advocate, this can get very difficult to remember. It’s easy to become disheartened, and that sense of futility can manifest in a couple of ways. Either we can walk away, or we can start communicating with the stakeholders concerned in ways that are not going to get us the results we seek in the long term.
So how do we deal with these legitimate frustrations while channelling our energy into communicating in the most productive manner? Here are some strategies you could use to vent that frustration, and become more strategic in your advocacy efforts.
1. Confide in a friend or trusted confidante
There’s nothing more fun at times than getting together with a good friend or someone you know you can trust in understanding your intentions, having a good laugh and saying all the things you’d like to say but which you know would be counterproductive. Note that sharing these frustrations on social media is seldom a good idea. As valid as they are, you can leave yourself open to unwarranted criticism if you share your thoughts in public forums. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way! Rather, confide in someone you know will respect your need to express your frustrations privately, and deal with them in an environment that’s safe and which poses no risk to your reputation.
2. Write it down
There are times when you might not be able to confide in anyone, or when your trusted confidante is not available right when your frustrations are at their peak. Writing apps, whichever one you choose, are a good replacement in these circumstances. It can be as simple as notepad on a laptop or your favourite note-taking device, or indeed your phone with the appropriate app. The key thing to consider here is the avoidance of using a platform where your thoughts can be accidentally sent to anyone. Hence, avoid email programmes or messaging apps. Accidents happen, despite our best intentions. So, if they can be prevented, all the better. Again, I’ve learned from bitter experience about the need for this consideration.
3. Seek advice
As well as venting our frustration, we need to acknowledge that we can be at a loss to determine what the next steps or strategy should be. In advocacy, you are never alone. It’s important to understand that others will be experiencing your issue, and to know that there is help available to you. You may have a friend, confidante, or mentor to whom you can turn. BCA staff are always here to help, as well as our vast membership. It’s important that people advocate for themselves, but there are times when we all need some good advice from people who have been in our position before, or assistance from someone who can add their authority and organisation to your efforts.
4. If it’s getting too stressful, seek assistance
There are times when we become so frustrated or stressed that it becomes impossible to think through the situation rationally. If this happens for you, it may be time to enlist someone independent, such as a BCA staff member, for help. It is not a failure on your part if you’ve done all you can within your own resources, and you haven’t achieved the results you’re seeking. An independent advocate can approach the issue with no emotional involvement, as they are removed from the situation at a personal level. This can be beneficial, particularly in situations where an issue is being mediated by a body such as the Australian Human Rights Commission or the state equivalent.
5. Accept some issues are too big for one person
In many cases the issues we all face are systemic in nature. They are not things which one person’s advocacy efforts will resolve. Our collective input however, combined with BCA’s authority as a peak advocacy body, is more likely to get the results we all want in the long run. There are smaller wins you may be able to enjoy, however. Even though they will not solve the entire issue, they may benefit you in the short term. They may not always occur, but sometimes, focusing on smaller victories can take the pressure off us as individuals to solve the problem that’s causing us constant frustration.
Unfortunately, I’ve learnt from my experience, and those of others who have sought assistance from BCA, that we can never regard an issue as being permanently resolved. Staff and processes change, and documents such as inclusion or equity and diversity policies are not necessarily representative of what happens in real life. Perhaps if we accept this, we will not become so exhausted when we need to reinvest in issues we thought were dealt with.
Even if this is the case, it highlights the ongoing need for advocacy, and the fact that our purpose as the peak advocacy body representing Australians who are blind or vision impaired remains vital. As professional advocates, we have had many victories, both individually and collectively. Those victories were built on effective communication, diplomacy and patience. There is a fine balance between maintaining high quality relationships and highlighting ignorance, inaccessibility and discrimination.
In most cases however, it is the maintenance of good relationships that brings about the best results.