Self-Advocacy Process

There are many different paths that you self-advocacy can take. Here we provide some suggestions to help you think about some of the key steps in the process: 

Step 1: Reflect and Research

Before you self-advocate, you need to reflect and research. This should not only include reflection on the thing you want to change and why that change is important in helping you meet your goals, but also research into your specific context. Each context will be different so your self-advocacy plan will likely be different. Before making a plan, it is important to think, reflect, and learn as much as you can. This will help you make more informed decisions during the process. Some key questions to ask yourself include:

  • Your needs or concerns
    • What are your needs?
    • What is the issue or concern that you hope to resolve?
    • What change would you like to see happen?
    • What are some reasons why this issue might be coming up?
  • The context
    • When and where is the issue or concern happening? 
    • What has been shared by the instructor already? 
    • Have you already met with the instructor? 
    • What is already included on the syllabus? 
    • What are the essential requirements of the course? 
  • Possible solutions 
    • How have similar issues been resolved before?
    • How might change happen?
    • Are there any potential creative solutions? 

Step 2: Create a Plan

Once you have reflected and done your research, it is important to set specific goals and make a plan. While you might not meet every goal, it is important to understand the direction you hope to go and the outcomes you would like to see achieved. Your plan can include any of the following:

Goal setting is a vital part of self-advocacy. This is when you get specific about what you are looking to achieve. Without knowing what you hope to achieve, it is not possible to create a good plan or advocate effectively. This is not to say that you already have to know the exact outcome. Goal setting is more around creating a direction which you can then later create more specific objectives for.

  • What are your goals and why are they important to you?
  • What are the key barriers that you face?
  • Are there short-term things that can be addressed?
  • Are there long-term things that need to be addressed?
  • What are some of the different ways you might meet the goal?
  • Is this something you want to handle by yourself, or do you want to include other UNH offices?
  • What is the best way to present your issue/concern?

Goals are important, but when self-advocating it is also important to think about how you might achieve those goals as well. In other words, you need a good strategy. A good strategy is specific and lays out what you can do but is also flexible (plans rarely go exactly as intended).

Elements of a Self-Advocacy Plan

  • Your specific goals
    • What do your hope to accomplish? 
    • How will you know your self-advocacy has been successful? 
  • The steps needed to reach the goal 
    • What steps do you need to take? 
    • What steps would others potentially need to take? 
    • How long will it take to reach the goal?
    • What is the best way to communicate the issue (email, talk after class, office hours, etc.)?  
  • The resources you will need 
    • Will you need any resources to help you reach the goal?
    • Is there anything that you need to gather in advance? 
    • Who can potentially help you?
  • How you will assess your progress
    • How will you know if the goals are met? 
    • Are there things you will need to follow-up with over time?  

Preparing to Implement Your Plan

  • How do you want to prepare to implement the plan?
  • Do you need to or want to script out the conversation ahead of time?
  • Do you want to roleplay the plan before implementing it? 
  • Is there anyone you want to review your plan with before putting it in motion?

Keep in mind that all good strategies are flexible strategies. We cannot predict or plan for everything, so it is important to be flexible and understanding when you self-advocate. It is important to be open-minded and understand that you may have to compromise in some areas.

  • Are there other ways that your goal could be achieved?
  • What are some things that are non-negotiable to you?
  • What are some areas where you can be flexible?
  • Are there other people to talk with about the issue or concern?

Step 3: Put Your Plan in Motion

Once you have a plan in place, it is time to put your plan in motion. Keep in mind that any good plan is a flexible plan. Sometimes the conversation won’t go as expected or you need to pivot in terms of what you are asking for or about. Just because your initial plan might not be working as you hoped doesn’t mean you can’t meet your goals.

Understanding Disagreement

When it comes to self-advocacy, disagreement is common. That is not to say that people don’t want to support you or that they don’t think your goals are valuable. Instead, people don’t always see things from your perspective and sometimes people can have different goals. Disagreement doesn’t mean that you can’t meet your goals, or the person does not value you. Rather disagreement might stem from:

  • A misunderstanding about what is being asked
  • Conflicting goals
  • Uncertainty about how the request might be effectively implemented

Disagreement is something you will encounter in self-advocacy, so it is important to think about what you might do when that happens. 

Navigating Challenging Conversations 

One way to think about about how to navigate conversations where there might be disagreement is the HEAR framework (Navigating the Nuance: The Art of Disagreeing Without Conflict | Stanford Graduate School of Business). This framework helps to reframe things to ensure your conversation is productive. It has four key parts: 

  • H. - Hedging - When there is disagreement it is important to be specific and acknowledge the nuance of the situation. This aspect is about trying to avoid absolutes like "this constantly happens" or "you never..." and instead framing the disagreement through acknowledgement of the specific situation.  For example, you could say "I noticed in this situation" or "during the last time we had class".
  • E. - Emphasizing agreement- There is almost always more things we agree than disagree about. It is important to emphasize that common ground. This can help ensure that we are moving forward with common goals. It doesn't mean we will always agree in the end, but it will help ensure the conversation is productive. 
  • A. - Acknowledging - When there is disagreement, it is important to understand both sides of that disagreement. This aspect emphasizes that we need to acknowledge that we have heard and understood the perspective of the person we are communicating with. This requires thinking about multiple perspectives and actively listening. 
  • R. - Reframing - It is important to keep the conversation positive. Keep in mind, that doesn't mean you have to agree. Instead it is all about how you help to frame the disagreement. For instance, saying something like "you don't care about my accommodations" is very different than "I would like to talk with you about how we can ensure my accommodations are implemented effectively in the future". People sometimes shut down or get defensive with negative framing and are more open minded and considerate with positive framing. 

Knowing Who to Contact and When

Self-advocacy does not need to happen alone or in a vacuum. Effective self-advocates also know their resources and connections and utilize these supports throughout the process. This could include things like:

  • Talking with someone you trust (for example a past instructor, mentor, friend, or family member) about your plan. 
  • Rehearsing your plan with a friend. 
  • Brainstorming possible solutions with a friend. 
  • Contacting Student Accessibility Services (SAS) or another relevant UNH office.

The key thing is to think critically about who your primary contacts will be and when you might need them in the process. 

Step 4: Follow-Up

Even when you can successfully meet your goals, it is important to follow-up. The purpose of this follow-up is two-fold:

  • Ensure there is a clear plan moving forward 
  • Continue to develop the relationship with the person you are advocating with

While solving the issue may be the more immediate goal, building relationships is equally important. Future issues might come up and you might work the person again. Proactively building relationships can help lay the foundations for future conversations and collaboration.