Step Aside Pollyanna! There’s No Room Here for You

This is a message with a little tough love for some of the folks I encounter – Pollyannas – who are choosing advocacy as career move.

Sorry Pollyanna – but there is no room for you in patient advocacy. You have a choice: you can either learn to overcome your inner Pollyanna or you can find yourself another profession. Pollyannaism can too easily get in the way of the professionalism required of good, competent advocates, and can result in deficient service to clients.

The Pollyanna Advocate

Pollyanna is a fictional character from children’s literature, who is known for always being positive – too positive. Her default is to trust blindly. She is foolishly and naively optimistic.

To be clear – I do believe there is plenty of room for optimism in advocacy! Clients are happier and well-served by an advocate or care manager with a friendly smile and a positive outlook on life.

But that’s not the same as the Pollyannaism of blind trust or naivete. The negative effects of being a Pollyanna in the advocacy business range from substandard client service and outcomes, to advocates going out of business.

Here are a few real-life advocacy and care management examples:

The Pollyanna Advocate and Client Engagement

redfaceJust because your phone rings with a possible new client on the other end, and just because you are helpful to that person, doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a new client. Pollyanna Advocate discloses too much and the potential client client just hangs up the phone. No contract. No work. No pay. Eventually Pollyanna Advocate goes out of business.

Too much trust leads to lose-lose for your future clients, and for you, too. If instead you learn how to handle those phone calls effectively in order to maximize the chances of engagement (and minimize giving too much away!), you’ll create win-win instead.

The Pollyanna Advocate Who Doesn’t Get Paid

bluefaceSo – you managed to engage a new client… contract reviewed and signed… off you go! You do great work, outcomes are good, your client is happy, you send your invoice….

But, no payment.

You send a few emails, leave a few phone messages, weeks and months go by….

I wish I had a nickel for every Pollyanna Advocate who has contacted me because he or she couldn’t get paid, who didn’t collect his or her money up front – blindly trusting that they will get paid when the work is finished because the Pollyanna in them thinks everyone will eventually pay them! Too many. Pollyanna Advocate always seems to learn this one the hard way.

So, Pollyanna Advocate – get over it! Respect yourself, your profession, and your practice enough to realize that asking for your money up front (at least partially, invoicing for the balance before your work is finished) is the only way to go.

The Pollyanna Advocate and Working for Free

yellowfaceSo often I hear from new advocates who tell me they are doing their advocacy work and not charging the person they are doing it for. “I’m getting good experience!” they tell me. Or my favorite, “I figure if I do this work for this person for free, then they’ll tell their friends, and their friends will pay me!”

Oh Pollyanna Advocate! There is NO better way to be sure you’ll never really launch or successfully build a paid advocacy practice. This sort of eternal optimism will drive you out of business faster than any other bad-business decision you’ll ever make.

When you help a client for free, then they will never hire you for paid work. Why buy the cow, and all that? Further, their word of mouth will establish you as someone who works for free. Future paid work based on past unpaid work is just a pipe dream.

The Pollyanna Advocate and Competency

greenfaceI heard from an APHA member who had received complaints about the work another advocate had done for one of her clients. She felt as if the client’s outcomes would have been much better if the subcontractor-advocate had done this, or this, or that. She wanted to know whether she should disclose the problem to the client, or whether she should have a talk with the subcontractor about it, and even whether full payment should be charged or rendered.

I was curious about how the two advocates had connected to begin with. I knew the subcontractor-advocate wasn’t listed in the AdvoConnection Directory. I asked Pollyanna Advocate how she decided the subcontractor would make a good choice. “I know her from the Discussion Forum. I felt like we had become friends. She makes such smart comments!” was her reply.

Say what? Just because someone makes smart comments in the Forum doesn’t mean they know enough about advocacy service performance! Blind trust – leaving an unhappy advocate, an unhappy and not-well-served client – one whose word-of-mouth will forever have a negative impact on that Pollyanna Advocate’s work. NOT a good situation.

This same problem translates to medical providers. “Nice” and “friendly” do not translate to competent and able. When it comes to vetting human assistance, competence must be king!

The Pollyanna Advocate and Credibility

purplefaceThis is a principle that focuses on vetting the information and resources we find on websites or in other media, and interfaces with our own belief systems. It’s about objectivity, creating problems where science and common sense intersect with lack-of-veracity and conflicts-of-interest.

I’ve seen some of these resources posted in advocate discussion forums and social media and it makes me CRINGE. Not only does it mean a client may not be well served, it also reflects on the poster. Any advocate who posts “interesting links” as good advice or gospel without truly vetting their credibility is suspect in his or her advocacy abilities. Pollyanna Advocate needs to follow agendas and the money to be links are worthy of sharing.

Pollyanna Advocates are in this boat with naive clients. They don’t ask enough questions about the information they find because it SEEMS so credible! From citing websites developed by pharmaceutical or medical device companies, to pseudo-science-based medical news analysis websites, to questionable “medical journals” to information posted by those who stand to make money either through politics or paid advertising…

The problem with this naive and blind trusting approach is that credibility is a lot like virginity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So long Pollyanna Advocate.

Shedding Your Pollyanna Advocate Tendencies

Enough examples. I’m sure you get the point, and that you probably have some great examples of your own.

I think we all have some measure of Pollyanna in us. The key is to identify our knee-jerk Pollyanna and then make a different choice. In each of these examples, there were better, more objective, more useful choices to make.


So that’s your assignment: wake up and smell the Pollyanna in you! Stop yourself when you feel too much optimism and blind trust coming over you, and then figure out what much smarter choice you might make instead – for yourself, your practice, your clients and your colleagues.

A healthy dose of skepticism, and a policy of trust-but-verify will always serve you, and your client-patients well.

Save Pollyanna for your loved ones, your friends, and your non-work life. She’ll be appreciated there and her presence won’t pose a danger to anyone or anything else.


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