Advocacy and negotiation go hand in hand. Advocates need to understand the difference and be ready to use both approaches in different situations.
When you advocate for something, you plan to convince someone of your position. In negotiations, you are looking for a mutually beneficial agreement for both parties.The language and techniques can be similar but the outcomes will be different.
“When negotiating, you need to use language that encourages discussion and bargaining, with the goal of reaching a settlement or compromise. When advocating you need to use language to prioritize your position over other options.” – Churchill Banks
Wrightslaw is a fantastic resource for people involved in special education. In an article for the site “Learning to Negotiate is Part of the Advocacy Process,” Brice Palmer lays out five techniques that you can use in a special education case:
- Listen carefully to the other side.
- Do not personalize statements made by the other side.
- Learn to outline conversations and recognize educational jargon.
- Try to figure out the best alternative to a negotiated resolution for you and the other side.
- Learn how to deal with different kinds of negotiators, including hardball players.
- Know what you want to accomplish with specificity.
- Know what your “throw-aways” are.
Lawyer Bonnie Schinagle blogs about the importance of confidence, preparedness, and calm when engaging with the special education system.
As parents of adults with Down syndrome we have survived the IEP process and I would argue that most have not emerged unscathed.
I have written about and discussed how difficult those meetings were for me personally. I did not feel that I was part of a negotiation and therefore left those meetings feeling sad and abused. On more than one occasion I had to use the only tool parents (at the time) were given – the threat of legislation. In the early ‘90’s when my son was in school it was difficult to know whether school officials were willing and/or able to negotiate. The threat of legislation enabled an individual teacher/principal to effectively “kick the can” up to the county or state level.
While we can hope that decades of advocacy have improved the general situation in classrooms across the nation, we still hear stories of individual school systems that refuse to comply with special education law.
“Negotiation is a mechanism that promotes the coordination of differing stakeholder interests in a constructive way; it is not a vehicle to force or coerce the capitulation of one side or the other.”
“Willingness and capacity are equally important in generating the decision to negotiate. Parties must believe that it is in their best interest to negotiate an agreement rather than to continue the conflict. If the disputing parties lack a sufficient level of capacity, they are not likely to decide to negotiate their differences…” –Bertram I. Spector
So what have we learned about advocacy and negotiation in the decades since the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975?
Some issues demand advocacy and complete change of the status quo.
Other issues can be handled with negotiation between parties who can agree on how to move forward.
As a community we many never completely agree on which tactic is called for on every problem. We need to understand the difference and hopefully find ways to negate the emotional damage confrontations can create.