As a litigator, I advocate for my clients in the most traditional sense of the word – in the Courtroom. But if you think about it, isn’t advocacy part of everyday life? We are all required to advocate constantly – for our clients, for our family and friends and for ourselves. We may not consciously recognise that when we are required to become an advocate, particularly for ourselves, for example when we are interviewing for a promotion or for pay rise at work.
So what makes a good advocate? Do you have to be loud? Aggressive? Dramatic? Not necessarily. One of the first things I learned about advocacy is that effective advocates are not striving to achieve that “you can’t handle the truth” moment.
Here are some of our tips on how to be a good advocate:
Listen before you talk
Before you launch into your brilliantly prepared speech, make sure you take a moment to listen to what it is the other person is saying. Do you understand what the issues are that you need to address? There is no point making a perfectly prepared speech which does not address the issues in dispute. Accordingly, it is worth taking the time to listen at the beginning. Some strategies that might help you to actively listen include taking notes of the key points or even summarising them to the other person to ensure you are both on the same page.
There is a lot to be gained by stepping back and seeing a situation from a different perspective. This can be difficult to do when you are personally invested in a situation and this is often why people get lawyers involved in dealing with a dispute. Sometimes it helps to pretend a situation is happening to someone else rather than yourself or to recognise what prejudice or unconscious bias may be swaying your opinion. If you are able to view a situation objectively, you are better equipped to figure out how to best to persuade someone to agree with your view on the situation. This can also assist with being able to identify and address any weaknesses in your arguments.
Have structure to what you say and know what you want to say before you start talking. Fumbling around issues without addressing them head-on is not persuasive and you are not going to convince anyone of your point of view. Clearly identifying the issues and your response to each of the issues before you launch into your arguments will assist in ensuring there is a clear structure to what you say.
It is not effective to raise every possible argument in support of what it is you are trying to achieve. The best approach is to only raise your strongest arguments, which go directly to the crux of your case. It may assist to create a list or a mind-map of every argument you can think of and then pick the best ones to focus on.
If you don’t believe what you are saying, there is little chance that anyone else will. Speak with conviction and certainty. This is often easier said than done, but becomes easier with practice. Try practising what you want to say to a trusted friend or mentor and ask them to challenge your views so that you can prepare for how to recover from a setback.
Come up with various solutions
It is important to be able to recognise when you are failing to persuade someone. It might be worth changing tactics and raising new arguments. It may also be worth considering what creative solutions you can come up with to a problem. Is there another way to reach your end goal? This may involve asking for an incremental pay rise if you are not able to secure the increase you want straight away or considering what solutions to a problem might benefit the other person as well as yourself. There are often many possible outcomes to a problem which will satisfy your interests and it is important not to get stuck on only fighting for what you perceive to be the most favourable outcome.
Don’t be afraid to walk away
There may come a time where discussions become circular and you feel like you are not advancing your position. In these situations, it may be necessary to walk away, either temporary or permanently. In some circumstances, some breathing room can allow everyone to reassess the situation and come back with a fresh outlook. Being prepared to walk away permanently may also result in the person you are advocating to reconsidering their position and being prepared to make some more concessions in order to keep you around.