Advocacy – it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it
Posted by gazjjohnson on 17 May, 2010
And with apologies for the terrible grammar in that title. Friday I went for my second jaunt of the month down to London to attend their Communication Skills for Advocacy event. As someone who’s run a few events of this kind myself in a previous life I wasn’t originally planning to attend, until Dominic Tate of the RSP invited me along as a facilitator. I’m glad he did as the day was actually incredibly useful, even to someone like myself who likes to think of himself as an old hand.
The event took place in the one of the rather wonderful conference suites at the Kings Fund, Cavendish Square. Along with about 30 other repository managers and workers we were welcomed to the event by CRC’s Bill Hubbard. The bulk of the day was facilitated by Deborah Dalley whom did an excellent job (although I’m not sure I was overly keen on the use of the phrase “Did that resonate with you?” – but that might have been a simple gut reaction).
During the morning we looked initially at the four stages of effective influencing:
- What do you want?
- Who are you trying to influence?
- What power do you have?
- How to communicate the message
Following on from this we did an audit of our own sources of power, which helped us to understand where we were perhaps coming from ourselves. I think I concluded that personally within my role I end up using Coercive, Expert, Reward, Personal, Information and Connection sources of power; but was weaker on position (aka authority) and Association Power. We also took a look at the perception position that we adopt with respect to influencing, the importance of adopting the 2nd position (that of the other person) to truly understand where they are coming from and why they might not want to agree with us. Before we moved into a coffee break we turned to examine channels of communication – which I was proud to say I managed to have a large number of. Okay, so I’ve plenty of ways to communicate with people, I just need to work on my influencing skills somewhat was the message I emerged from the morning with.
After coffee we looked at putting influence into practice to develop a short pitch (2 minute) to an academic. In the group I was in I can’t say that we developed a clear pitch, but we did have an excellent discussion about how we would make these kinds pitches in our own organisations. We didn’t have to deliver our pitch, which was a shame as I think it might have helped the groups focus down to a practical output a little bit more. Then before lunch we looked at the challenging realm of understanding and managing resistance; including how resistance manifests and the steps we can take to address and hopefully overcome it. Quite a key point here was not emotionally engage but to view resistance as part of a broader context – 80% of our first thoughts on hearing an idea are negative, so this it is only natural for people to resist.
After a fabulous bento box lunch (kudos Dominic) we went back into group work to generate as many objection to repositories and open access as possible, from the academic’s perspective. Or as I suspect ones that we ourselves have heard our academics talk about.
This was followed by perhaps the most challenging part of the day when myself, Dominic and Bill moved to the front and essentially tried to offer our collective wisdom in how to overcome these objections. Interesting our approaches were divergent at times, but generally just as valid. Hopefully the rest of the room were able to take something away – although I’m aware we ran out of time to deal with all the objections on the day.
After another tea break we broke into threes to roleplay academics and repository managers (and observers) with specific problems and objections. This was a chance for us to put all our learning into action, and naturally a chance for me to roll our my thespian skills once more. I hope my group enjoyed my embodiment of an academic! Finally we wrapped the day with feedback on this session and thoughts about the day.
This was a really excellent day, and I’ve come away with some ideas and plans that I’ll put into action the next time I’m speaking to a group of or individual academics. It was interesting to note that a lot of the objections we face are very similar, which gives me hope that the routes to resolving them will become plainer overtime.