Advocacy, Politics and the 2012 Elections

I’ve been in Florida for the past week, working, advocating, feeling my jaw clench and my back go up each time I’ve seen or heard a commercial or watched a newscast that focuses on one of the Republican primary candidates. (As an aside – it’s not because they are Republican – it’s because the commercials are so nasty, denigrating, and insulting or because the candidates or their henchmen say such nasty, denigrating, insulting things about each other.)

Florida, of course, is the next primary state, to where all the candidates will rush once the results are in from South Carolina. Even though they aren’t here yet, they have already ramped up the vitriol. It’s not pretty. And to my ears, it’s abusive.

Since this is my first APHA – AdvoConnection blog post written during a presidential campaign, I thought it might be wise to raise the issue of the profession of health advocacy and the discussion of politics.

I have a one word piece of advice for combining the two: DON’T.

Especially during the next 10 months when every discussion of healthcare will be colored by the national elections, trying to discuss the topic with a potential client, or even an already-client, will be dangerous at best, and may be cause for losing not just that one client, but all potential future clients affected by that one’s word-of-mouth.

If you disagree with each other, even on minor points, it will taint the relationship and cause stress – which neither of you needs. Put another way – you have everything to lose and nothing to gain by political discussions with clients or potential clients.

Even if you think you would agree with each other, you don’t know that their friends (or even the adult child who may be the one who hired you!) would agree. Getting involved in political discussions cannot, will not, be good for your business.

So – just like avoiding the topics of religion and politics on a first date is a good approach, so it is with politics, healthcare and advocacy.

I’m not suggesting you should be void of opinions. I’m just suggesting you keep them to yourself, sharing only with your significant other and close friends.

So – what should you say if your client asks you questions that relate to politics?? Well – you can just say something innocuous like, “That would be a long discussion – perhaps for another time.” Or, “It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out, won’t it?”

Or you can say what I say when people ask me… “Healthcare reform? It confuses everyone whether they agree or disagree with it – so I call it job security!”

Sometimes it may be more difficult to dodge the question, though. For example, it’s easy to get riled if someone tells you something they heard or read and it’s quite the opposite of what you believe is true – or – it’s inflammatory or disturbing. We saw plenty of that during the 2008 elections, and I suspect we’ll see even more of it during 2012.

If your client asks you what you know about a specific point, it may be tougher to dodge than the big picture. But what you can tell him or her is that it’s something you would have to look up before you could discuss it. And by all means, learn what you can! Learning is always good – but that doesn’t mean you need to raise the subject again.

(By the way, if you do want to learn more, there are some great resources available online. Here are some ways to confirm or debunk those claims you hear about political issues, including healthcare reform.)

Just FYI – this is advice I would give to almost any business owner – not just patient or health advocates. Mixing politics and a service business, especially when that service is so closely related to the work one does, can only be problematic (unless you are a lobbyist or campaign manager….)

So, prepare yourself for the onslaught… and when it comes to business and politics, even if you must bite your tongue, keep your opinions to yourself.


4 thoughts on “Advocacy, Politics and the 2012 Elections”

  1. I sincerely disagree. I do believe that you must be cautious in how you express your views, but if you truly believe in something, I think you should be able to voice those opinions without fear of losing clients. I don’t necessarily think you’ll lose as many patients as you think.

    I firmly believe that part of my role as a patient advocate includes getting involved in the policy debate about how to reform our system so that we better care for those we serve as well as ourselves. Unfortunately, this will be off putting to some. I’m not saying argue your point with everyindividual to the point of a full on fight, I’m saying you shouldn’t have to hide your views. Just as you wouldn’t necessarily introduce yourself as “Hi! I’m a Christian” you probably shouldn’t start with “Hi! I’m with the Democrats on this!” It’s only fair to listen to where that person is and meet them there. Sure, we can leave out politics and religion. That’s the safe way to play it, but if we are truly patient advocates, we should be out there to make a difference and staying mum on the topic won’t bring about any changes. This isn’t just a business, this is an endeavor we entered out of a passion to make change the way health care is delivered.

    Again, you needn’t alienate those you serve. You needn’t shout from the rooftops your ideals. You should listen to your clients and learn from their perspective. But I don’t think you have to leave out your views when acting as a patient advocate. You don’t have anything to lose by being true to yourself if you really believe in patient advocacy as a way to pursue change versus a way to make money.

  2. Nice article. You could say the same about your business partners and associates. If your partner repeatedly comes out with some most outrageous, noxious claims, it’s best to hold your tongue, smile and reply firmly, “Let’s not talk politics. Let’s concentrate on giving patients peace of mind and getting the most for them from an imperfect health system.”

    Don’t let political differences spoil a good business relationship!

  3. I agree with Trisha on this. I sometimes have a hard time “holding my tongue” and I am very opinionated! But when it comes to working with clients, I do feel that discussion of politics, religion, or other touchy topics is just not worth the risk. And the truth is, the clients I have worked with thus far have been VERY sick–they are suffering, and I don’t think they want to argue with me or debate with me when they are in that state of body and mind. It would be rather insensitive of me to engage a client in a debate about politics, especially if she and I do not share similar views. And as David alluded to, we are here (I am here) to give clients peace of mind, not stress them out with discussions about politics!

  4. Very timely, Trisha. This whole healthcare debate is so volatile, I don’t even like to discuss it with my friends – and nobody really knows everything there is to know about it. So until it is all black and white and carved in cement, with no repeals in the wind, I’ll stay away from the topic using your comebacks, or something similar. The other day I heard someone call in on a talk radio show claiming to be a neurosurgeon (he sure sounded like one) complaining about how the new law would affect his ability to perform surgical procedures on some elderly patients. Seriously, do I want to engage in a conversation about something like that? Right now, I’ll just concentrate on being the most professional advocate I can be for my clients and leave my ego out of it.

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