Some people succeed, others don’t. After living with ADHD and LD, and working with people with disabilities, I’ve concluded that career success depends on how well you advocate for yourself. Self-advocacy is the key that unlocks the door to achievement.
If you need to advocate for an accommodation, a change in your workload, or a second chance, think through these questions get what you need.
1. What Is the Problem? You must evaluate the problem before you come up with a solution.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
> What, specifically, is the problem? Is there more than one?
> Why is it a problem?
> What are all the components of the problem?
> Who is involved? What part do they play?
> Am I doing anything that contributes to the problem that I can easily change?
> Who else might be affected by this problem? How are they affected?
2. Who Can Help You Formulate a Strategy? Do your research before you propose any solution. Ask people you trust — family, friends, and co-workers. Make sure the coworker you choose has your best interest at heart and will keep your talk confidential.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
> Who has had a similar problem in the past?
> What did they do to solve the problem?
> Will their solution work for you?
>Do they have any advice, beyond their own experiences, that might help you decide what to do?
>Can they help identify what went wrong in your situation (or where your weaknesses are) and what you’ve done right (or where your strengths are)?
3. What Are Three Reasonable Solutions? Don’t present a problem to your boss without at least one solution. If you don’t have a solution to suggest, you are complaining.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
> Are the solutions reasonable?
> Can they be easily implemented?
> What might make them difficult to implement?
> What changes in the work environment are needed to implement your solutions?
> Whom, besides you, will these solutions affect?
> Who else might benefit from your solutions?
> How will you explain that your work will be better if your solutions are implemented?
> Why might your employer say no to these solutions? How will you deal with and answer these objections?
> What will be your next step?
4. Who Can Fix It? Decide on who can help you meet your challenges. Find people who are empathetic, and who have the power to make things happen.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
> Is your manager aware of your challenges? Does he or she seem willing to accommodate your needs?
> How can you explain the problem in a non-confrontational way?
> How can you propose a solution that shows the most benefit for the company and co-workers?
> How can you raise the issue so it won’t negatively affect co-workers whose good will is important to you? If some co-worker’s workload would change because accommodations are made for you, can you earn their support before the change is made?
> What role, if any, does the human resources department or legal department play, and at what point should they be brought into the discussion?
Remember This Before You Self-Advocate
>Your life is up to you. You are entitled to reasonable accommodations under ADA, but nobody can read your mind. Let your supervisors and other helpful people know you are having problems.
> Write down the objectives of what you want to say. Perhaps write down everything you want to say, word for word. This will keep you focused and clear. Self-advocacy is a jungle, and it is best to have a road map.
> Be flexible. If your employer offers a solution that might work, try it. Decide what you need most, and compromise where you can. Have a clear goal in mind and don’t get bogged down in details.
> Don’t give up easily. You may have to take no for an answer, but you don’t have to give up. Ask why the person said no. Get specific reasons, so you can modify your solutions accordingly and find answers that work for both parties. Ask if there is anyone else you can talk to who may have a different perspective.
> Getting belligerent never solves anything. No matter how legitimate your argument is, few people will listen if you sound like you are on TV with Jerry Springer. Be firm, clear, dignified, and concise. Most important, be respectful, even if the person you’re speaking with is not. Do not give anyone ammunition for a personal attack by losing the high ground.
> Keep track of dates, times, and outcomes of every interaction you have with your supervisor, co-workers, or HR department that is related to your problem.
> Record it for posterity. Suggest to your supervisor that you want to remember everything he or she says, so you would like to record the meeting. This is a great way to keep everybody honest.
> Follow the pecking order. Talk to your direct supervisor first. If you don’t get the answer you need, move up the ladder. If you go over someone’s head without giving that person a chance to respond to your problem, it creates mistrust.
> Not everybody needs to know about your problem. If a coworker is not directly involved, or has not suffered and solved his own similar problem, he probably doesn’t need to know. Before you confide, ask yourself whether the person would have anything to lose or gain from the solutions to your problem. Those who would benefit will be more willing to help.
The most important element of self-advocacy is “self.” Know your strengths and your needs, and be able to tell the world about them. You are in control of your life. What will you do with it?