Finding your voice at work whatever your communication style


Communication is important in any job. But so is embracing differences in how people express themselves.

From the initial interview to making connections on the job, in any role, we are encouraged to be extroverted and for those who are not naturally confident or verbal, this can create unnecessary barriers, especially for people with cognitive differences.

In this post Maxwell Dean, a marketing and content executive at The Autism Directory, explains how by embracing different communication styles, the whole workplace can benefit.


The most important change an employer can make is recognizing someone’s strengths, not their weaknesses, and consequently empowering them to find their voice. This change in mindset can even begin at the interview stage, as Rosie Weldon, an accountant at Exchequer Accountancy Services, highlights here.

While an employee might not thrive in one role, managers can work with potential employees to identify one that fits their strengths and needs, perhaps including new activities they did not necessarily consider before. Similarly, at team meetings, a manager can offer to speak or work with other colleagues, to find someone to speak on their behalf. 

Ultimately, before anyone can communicate confidently in the workplace, they must feel they are being listened to. 

Ultimately, before anyone can communicate confidently in the workplace, they must feel they are being listened to. 

Neli Urruela, a video editor, shared her thoughts with us:

“I wish that we, as a society, cherished listening to others and getting to know quiet people more, instead of wanting to have the word most of the time.”

Neli highlights the challenging nature of the industry within which she works:

“The film industry is all about being out there and making connections. I had to push myself hugely at early stages of my career. The idea of having to go to events constantly and meet up with strangers is exhausting. But I have to do those connections! I use my ADHD powers to just go and talk about whatever goes through my mind, but I find it quite difficult to do this networking.”

Neli also feels that recognising that we all express ourselves differently is vital. 

“Let’s give a chance to everyone, no matter how they process social energy! I’m not saying I’ve got the answer to how we can do this, but we can start by focusing a bit less on people that have it a little bit easier, and offering help to those who don’t.”

Here are a few ways in which employers can make sure that neurodivergent employees succeed in the workplace:

Here are a few ways in which employers can make sure that neurodivergent employees succeed in the workplace:
 

Visual Tools

Uses visual aids to replace words is a very effective way of reducing anxiety. In Maxwell Dean’s workplace, they have implemented anxiety cards to show someone’s level of anxiety on a given day on a scale of 1-5. This indicates if they are either ready to speak or too anxious to do so. 


Messaging Apps

Using instant messaging applications such as Slack can also be a good way for colleagues to communicate their ideas.

As a writer and editor Abi Silvester explains, long face-to-face meetings can be stressful for those who have ADHD, ASD and other neurodivergent conditions.

“In lengthy meetings, I’d often lose the thread and miss out on important information, and speaking in these situations was also a challenge, as I struggle with conversational cues. Colleagues have sometimes criticised me for being ‘too honest’ in meetings, and after a while I just learned to keep my mouth shut to avoid confrontation.”

“At some point we started collaborating with another team in the office who were using Slack, and suddenly I felt a lot more connected to what was going on. Once I was able to chat to other members of the team in a medium I was comfortable with, I felt a lot more connected and on top of my work.”

Another benefit of Slack and similar tools is that you can revisit past conversations and have time to reconsider any thoughts that slipped your mind in your own time without the stress of a face-to-face situation. 

Another benefit of Slack and similar tools is that you can revisit past conversations and have time to reconsider any thoughts that slipped your mind in your own time without the stress of a face-to-face situation. 
 

Email 

Rosie Weldon, highlights phones as something which made her anxious about adapting to job roles, yet within a flexible working environment, this was something which did not become a barrier. 

By using alternative solutions such as email to replace phone and face-to-face communication, Rosie is still able to do her job in a way that fits her and that is more efficient. 

“Phones were my biggest concern with entering the workplace. I cannot begin to count the number of people who told me I would never find an employer who didn’t expect me to use the phone. The bank never questioned it, never made me feel guilty. I relied on emails and instant messaging, very rarely needing to phone a trader and if I did a fellow colleague did it with no questions asked as to why.”

Email can also be a useful channel for indicating your preferred communication style to colleagues, and some neurodivergent professionals even make use of their email signatures to include this information. Others use this digital real-estate to explain any communication challenges that recipients may pick up on: for example, Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots, signs off as ‘delightfully dyslexic – please excuse typos’. 


Calmly switching when words fail

Tania Melnyczuk, Director of Programme Design at ProjectManagement.co.za shared her experience with us of working with a client to meet a deadline. The work session had continued for more than 12 hours, and Tania began to experience sensory overload and to lose her ability to speak. Tania called her colleague, who helped by explaining to the client why Tania was losing speech and eye contact. He then continued to facilitate the meeting, while Tania remained in the meeting and added a staccato word here and there, and also contributed by typing. With this support, Tania was able to continue to work. 

Though this may not always be possible, having a trusted colleague to help you is always useful.

Having a trusted colleague to help you is always useful.
 

Conclusion

Neurodivergent or not, people vary enormously in terms of their preferred modes of communication, and workplaces need to accommodate these differences.

We are lucky to be living in an age where this is possible: 20 years ago, offices were dominated by the phone and anyone who had difficulties with verbal communication was at a disadvantage. Today, far more communication is conducted via text-based media. But we need to ensure we’re not simply replacing one communication tool that is inaccessible for some with one that doesn’t work for others.

In many workplaces it still comes down to luck whether our communication styles are supported or not, which isn’t acceptable in an age where we have a huge choice of tools at our disposal. There’s no longer a reason to expect everyone to adapt to a single medium

There’s no longer a reason to expect everyone to adapt to a single medium. 

Workplaces have a responsibility to its employees to ensure that no one medium is prioritised over others, and that there are always alternatives available for staff to choose from without fear of exclusion. This way, everyone can communicate to the best of their abilities, removing a significant obstacle to success for neurodivergent and neurotypical staff alike. 

 

Edited by Abi Silvester and Lucy Hobbs

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