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Self-Centered and Unbusinesslike

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.

Other posts related to this one:

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.


4 thoughts on “Self-Centered and Unbusinesslike”

  1. I have had an experience that similarly has the potential to take the focus off the patient and onto the advocate. I have had several experiences where the medical community is genuinely interested in what patient advocacy is all about and wants to discuss it during the patient’s visit, in the ER or at the bedside. This, too, requires redirection of the conversation back to it’s intended priority–the patient.

    Needless to say, I have followed up with these interested parties at a later time in an appropriate fashion. I love the interest… just clients always first!

  2. As an advocate, I see myself as a cog in the wheel, or a facilitator, in the delivery of healthcare and patient support, in an effort to create a better dialogue between patients, providers, and insurers, ultimately decreasing morbidity and increasing compliance and understanding between a patient and their medical team.
    My function as an advocate is to partner with both patient and provider to assure that the patient understands the rationale, risks & benefits, of a particular treatment, IF it considers the patients goals and objectives, and if those goals are reasonable/realistic.
    Every situation is different, but I do want any provider I interface with on behalf of a patient, that I am there to support the providers treatments and recommendations, when reasonable, and to ask the necessary questions, and ultimately be able to articulate that information to my client. Additonally, my primary concern is that the patient understands and has been able to participate in their course of treatment.

  3. Thank you, Trish, for this important, plain-language statement. I’ll add on: I hear many people describe their “passion” for whatever it is they’re doing, as if that somehow qualifies them to do it. For me, that’s an immediate red-flag that the person is more focused on themselves than their work. I encourage people to have a concise summary of their qualifications (degrees, certificates, experience) available to provide upon request.
    Linda Beck, Square One Elder and Health Advocacy

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