Suppose I go to my favorite pizza shop and this conversation takes place:
Me: I would like a pepperoni pizza with black olives, onions, and extra cheese.
Johnny the Pizza Guy: Sure! I’d be happy to help you with this pizza. But first let me tell you all about my pizza experiences – the reason I like to make pizzas. When I was little, we went to my grandmother’s house for dinner every Wednesday. My grandmother always made meatloaf. She made meatloaf with ground beef and always made gravy and mashed potatoes to go with it. It tasted good. It was filling. Then one Wednesday after eating dinner at Grandma’s (and realizing that it didn’t quite taste the same) my brother got really sick and started to throw up. Then the rest of us started to get sick, too. My mother was worried, so she took us to the ER, and sure enough – Grandma’s meatloaf, which had been tried and true and never changed… Well. She had made it with pork this time, the pork hadn’t cooked through, and we all got food poisoning. So now I make pizza.
Me: Seriously? I come in here to order a pizza and I have to listen to that story? Forget it. I don’t want your pizza anymore.
Now, of course, not only will I not get my pizza, but I have to figure out what to do next, and make all new arrangements for dinner!
I know. You think I’ve really lost it now, but bear with me to see how this applies to you, as an independent advocate.
Earlier this week I heard from a long time, very successful advocate, one whose instincts and processes I trust implicitly. I’ll call her Rose Marie (not her real name!). Her report to me:
At a recent doctor’s visit with a top orthopedist, the surgeon said he is seeing a lot of advocates these days and he isn’t loving the experience. His words were “they make it more about them than the patients”.
OMG. I cringed. I groaned. And I realized this is a point that bears calling out. Because the surgeon’s conclusion does damage to our entire profession.
We’ll begin with an important recognition. That is, that most of us (probably 99% !) come to advocacy and care management having some sort of personal experience that led us here. In my case, it was a horrible misdiagnosis. In other cases, it was losing a loved one to a medical error, or shepherding a loved one through a horrible disease, or even being a doctor or nurse who is simply tired of no longer being allowed by their employer to truly be an advocate to patients any more.
Our backgrounds and stories are very important to our work, no doubt about it. But only at the right time, and in the right place.
When It’s OK to Talk about YOU
As professionals, there are many different hats we wear. One hat is a promotional hat. WHY you have chosen advocacy is important when you’re promoting your work, whether it’s on your website, or in a directory listing, or elevator pitch, or when you’re speaking at a Rotary meeting. It shouldn’t be first and foremost, but it should support your marketing work.
…and When It’s NOT
When it comes to actually serving in the role of advocate, perhaps defined as the minute you have a signed contract, then you should no longer be promoting your work because you are DOING your work.
Sharing your story – the injection of YOU – just does not belong any longer.
When someone has hired you to help them, then conversations about you should cease! All conversations should be focused on your client. You step into the role of listener and facilitator between your client and others, but never do you inject your own stories or history. At that point, who YOU are, and WHY you do your work, becomes self-centered and unbusinesslike.
Back to the pizza maker story: When I asked Johnny the Pizza Guy to provide me with his pizza-making service, instead of focusing on me and what I wanted and needed, he instead made the experience all about him. It was self-centered and unbusinesslike! I couldn’t leave the pizza shop fast enough.
So what to do instead?
The rest of Rose Marie’s email provides an alternative – how to make sure you are focused on your client.
…my work is largely done ahead of time with identification of top physicians, development of questions, etc. If this process went well, I shouldn’t have a need to say much except for the occasional clarification.
Great advice, Rose Marie! Thank you for sharing how to be prepared.
The next time you are tempted to share your personal story inappropriately while working with a client, after your contract is signed, I suggest you to remember Johnny the Pizza Guy, and prepare instead the way Rose Marie does.
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Oh! And for those of you who are listed in the AdvoConnection Directory – this also presents a clear and actionable point for your directory listing, too. How? Check it out.