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Neurodivergence in the Workplace

Neurodivergence in the Workplace

This is a bit of a departure from my normal post, but I've been discovering so much about myself and my peers in the Neuro-different space and wanted to provide some of my story and some tips on how to engage with your colleagues and friends so that you are more inclusive -- as of course, we are better together!

Firstly, what is Neurodivergence anyways?

Neurodiversity is the range of difference in individual brain function within the general population. While most people are neurotypical, between 15 to 20 percent are neurodivergent. This means they think, perceive things, and act in ways that can diverge significantly from what is considered "normal" or neurotypical.

What does that mean for me (and you!?)

Well for me it has meant a lot of challenges and also hidden blessings throughout the years. First, the good -- I've always had an incredible ability to focus. However, on the flipside, I over-focus and you can't move me from one spot without much difficulty (and a lot of irritation from me) once I start. For example -- I will start working on a project today and it becomes obsessive. I go into hyper drive and can sometime complete massive amounts of work in one sitting. Sometimes I won't eat for an entire day because I get so fixated on my task. When I am interrupted I struggle GREATLY to pull myself away from what I doing and get overly frustrated (with others and myself). Scheduling meetings during the day has become daunting as I struggle to STOP and move to the call or meeting I booked with any sort of real attention span. I also see patterns exceptionally well. I can sit in a clover field and find up to 20+ four leaf clovers in a very short amount of time. It has zero benefit to me (at least I haven't figured out a way to monetize it yet!) but I am happy to have this quirky skill.

On the other side of the spectrum, I deal with (and have dealt with) a lot of difficulties. In my early years I couldn't pick up the phone to even call for a pizza. The idea frightened me. In fact, I couldn't get on the phone with friends or ANYONE without having a written script. This bled over to my high school and college years where I would physically shake in fear of social situations and having the "spotlight" on me. When asked to go around and say our names, I would sometimes literally have to leave the room. The fear and inability to speak would take over. I spent a lot of years compensating for this problem by OVER doing things. Acting EXTREMELY social when I felt comfortable, and utilizing (and sometimes OVER-utilizing) alcohol to be more out-going and less afraid. I also struggle to learn audibly and to this day I almost cannot track when someone reads something aloud to me and I must visually read it myself to comprehend. I also struggle with a "flat affect" sometimes. My voice tone doesn't reflect my feelings and people often call me out for not liking something or an idea when I actually like it just fine. (Personal side note: I always thought it was my "resting b*tch face" that made people feel this way, and perhaps that doesn't help much during in-person meetings as well!)

There are a ton of other quirks about me that I've learned to love -- or at least mostly deal with. I forget things/events quickly and tend to focus on the future and "what's next". I have always read at a really high level and very fast (hyperlexia) but when you ask me about the book titles and characters, I have no clue what they are - even after just reading the book. To this day, I feel like I have great ideas but I fight against myself to share them orally with others. I feel my ability to write my thoughts and ideas is just so much more clear. When you ask me how I am doing you will rarely get more out of me than a "good!". I just really cannot orate more in a situationally appropriate way.

"So Carrie, all of this is interesting but what does that mean in the workplace?"

Within the last several months, my focus has shifted slightly from helping women in leadership to helping neurodivergent people thrive in meetings and in the work zone! Recently I was part of a task-force to reduce unnecessary meetings in the office, but that has caused me to deep dive into how we BEST utilize our time together so that we can free up other time to actually DO.

Some tips I've discovered during this journey to be more neuro-inclusive;

  1. Set Efficient Meetings.

    1. Have set agendas for each meeting you call virtually or in-person. Have structured topics and times - even if you need brainstorming space, put it as an agenda item and give it a set amount of time.


    1. If the meeting starts at 1:00pm, begin promptly on time. Do not cater to late people and hold hostage those that show up on time. Record meetings for those that may need accommodations. This may sound counterproductive, but if you want to make everyone happy - do both of the above.

  3. Carve Space Out for OTHERS Ideas.

    1. This has been the toughest one to get through to those that don't mind virtual or in person meetings. You know who I am talking about (and it may be you! No shade!) -- those that easily raise their voice over others or quickly speak so that they can share their idea. What a meeting organizer or facilitator (or you if I am talking about you) may not realize, is that some of us have really brilliant ideas but struggle to be the first person to speak or raise our hands. Offering the ability to vote via polls, or to share ideas in chat, or to share ideas in a Google Document after the fact may help capture ideas from others that aren't as extroverted or able to orate their ideas in that type of setting.

  4. Nix Unnecessary Meeting.

    1. Get rid of "death by meetings" -- or just empower your people to choose which meetings they do/do not attend. If they don't feel a necessity to be there, make sure they know they have the support not to be. This includes creating a great working environment where you don't feel you have to "be present" physically everywhere just to "show your face to earn your space".

Lastly, managers, - meet with your employees and actually ASK them how they best work. Ask them what ways they are most comfortable sharing ideas and lean in to their unique talents and needs! This of course, isn't a comprehensive list -- and deals with virtual and in-person office meetings. Watch out for my next blog that dives into how to plan a successful meeting or conference that encompasses spaces for the neuro-divergent...

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