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Podcast conversation

Nathan Whitbread in conversation with Claire Pendrick MMC

It was the most amazing privilege to join Claire Pendrick MMC for a conversation on her podcast the Coaching Inn. For those of you who do not know, she is the author of simplifying coaching, one of the most inspiring and interesting books on the subject. In the podcast, we talk about all sorts of stuff from Neurodiversity, Intersectionality, the workplace, hopes, dreams and beyond.

Please take a listen here.

PS it is me Nathan Whitbread (not Nathan Whitehead honest)

neurodivergent traits are strengths

Neurodivergent traits – How to retain and empower them

Article originally published on FE News

Based on statistics from the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) it is estimated that at least 15% of the working population have some neurodivergent traits. Neurodivergent traits are those associated with conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, ASC along with medically diagnosed and acquired conditions like PTSD and migraines. These traits are likely to appear in different combinations in each individual. This is supported by research carried out by Professor Amanda Kirby that shows it is more common for individuals to have co-occurring traits from several different neurodivergent conditions, rather than traits just associated with one.

As we consider these traits, I believe it is essential we take a strengths-based approach looking to understand what the individual is great at. While at the same time helping them to understand the things, they find difficult and how to mitigate the impact of these on their effectiveness.

These neurodivergent traits include (this is not an exhaustive list):

Neurodivergent traits (strengths)

Creative, imaginative, energised, solution finders, emotionally intelligent, persistent, inquisitive, and have fresh eyes.

Neurodivergent traits (difficulties)

Short-term memory, anxiety, fear, disguise, and sensory overload. Screening, diagnosis and understanding of these various traits and conditions are improving rapidly though there is still much more to do.

How these traits impact an individual’s working environment and their effectiveness at work is unique to them. I work with a wide range of individuals across several different sectors. Though their stories are all different the recurring theme is that they have hit difficulties at some point in their working life that has caused them to reach out for support. Some of these individuals have been recently diagnosed while others have known about their traits since primary school. The challenge is not just to know that you have these traits but how these traits affect an individual’s effectiveness in the workplace.

Some of the ways that common neurodivergent traits impact individuals’ effectiveness in the workplace include:

Memory and concentration

Working in environments where a lot of information is shared orally can be extremely challenging for individuals who have poor short-term memory.

A way to think about this is like a bookshelf. The average person (if they exist) can typically hold around 7 to 9 books on a bookshelf. However, someone who has difficulties with their short-term memory is likely to be only able to hold one to 3 books on the bookshelf. The implications of this are when a new book is added the first book is pushed off and the individual is forced into a situation of grabbing the book that has fallen often disrupting the rest of the shelf.

If the culture of the organisation means that this is just the way things are done it can be incredibly challenging for these individuals to keep and recall information.

There are ways to help individuals through coaching and technology that allow them to support their short-term memory. This can enable them to work effectively within their organisation.

Organisational skills

In workplaces being organised and understanding what is going on is an essential skill especially when collaborating with others. If however your sense of time and your ability to follow processes are challenges for you then this can make life very difficult. We often assume that having a calendar allows us to be organised, but what we take for granted is that there are a whole bunch of skills around making that calendar work for us. These include building in time to do post and pre-meeting work, accounting for travel and building in buffers to deal with unexpected situations.

Not being able to organise effectively can be very debilitating but through co-building processes, the individual’s situation can be improved dramatically.

Time management

Having a sense of time and being able to estimate time effectively are again essential skills within our current workplaces. If you are unable to do this effectively it can detract from your credibility in the workplace. For some individuals, this could just be that they have no sense of time while for others they may be overwhelmed by the sensory inputs from their environment.

There are various solutions to this difficulty including the use of alarms and wearable technology. It is important to work with the individual to understand their unique working environment and how time management affects them.

Wellbeing

Some individuals feel that they are unable to share or not aware of their neurodivergent traits and as a result, try and mask them. This can often mean that they spend far more time working on tasks than their colleagues. This type of behaviour can generate a considerable amount of anxiety, especially when coupled with change. This is because the individual may well be barely hanging in there when they need to reconsider changing all their strategies.

Spending time assessing an individual to help them understand their traits and how these impact their work is invaluable. It can help them flourish and become their true self at work. This should focus on amplifying their strengths and building strategies to help mitigate their difficulties.

Don’t underestimate the power that these changes can have

Christopher Reeve the actor who played Superman, paralysed in a horse-riding accident in 1995 – put it like this.

“When the first Superman movie came out, I was frequently asked, ‘what is a hero?’ I remember the glib response I repeated so many times. The answer was that a hero is someone who commits the courageous action without considering the consequences – the soldier who crawls out of the foxhole to drag an injured buddy to safety. Now my definition is completely different. I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Unfortunately, overwhelming obstacles are present for many individuals with neurodivergent traits and if we do not change this then our organisations will be poorer for it.

With implications including:

  • non-compliance under the equality act 2010.
  • Attrition of staff who can add value to our organisations.
  • loss of competitive advantage and innovation.

To this point, we have discussed supporting the individual. It is important that changes to support the individual are not sticking plasters but instead part of an organisational wide environmental support.

The road to success

This journey starts with raising awareness of Neurodiversity and specifically the neurodivergent traits. This mustn’t be a sheep dip approach, yes Neurodiversity training is good, but it needs to be supported by mentoring and coaching for managers and leaders of Neurodivergent staff.

This then needs to be supported with high-quality processes that are easy to understand and are embedded across the organisation (Not buried at the bottom of some old filing cabinet).

For example:

  • It should be obvious where to seek support
  • It should be clear how you will be treated
  • It should be clear what you can expect to happen and when.

Is there an opportunity to be assessed by a professional who can look at your strengths and difficulties and then be given tailored help and support to amplify your strengths and manage your difficulties?

If you have met one person with neurodivergent traits you have met one person.

Technology agnostic TT

Neurodiversity and being technology agnostic

A few years ago, I wanted an Audi TT (225bhp for those that care) it is a beautiful car, fast, agile and the envy of my mates. Being six feet 1 inch tall with long legs means that I ended up sitting virtually in the back seat. Turning a four-seater car into a two-seater car was less than ideal.

This story has resonated with me a lot especially as I look at the area of solving difficulties related to neurodiversity (find out what neurodiversity is here) with technological solutions.

Technology-agnosticism is about saying there is ‘no one size fits all for a particular problem. That is not to say that a particular solution cannot solve a problem for many different people it just will not solve it in the same way.

Think about it

It is the difference between an adjustable spanner and a standard spanner. One of them adapts to lots of assorted sizes of bolts with a greater margin for error and the other one fits one size of bolt perfectly but lacks flexibility. The question you always need to be asking yourself is do you even need that flexibility or is it okay to just do one thing perfectly well.

Many technologies, platforms and software products try and do everything for us meaning they can end up not doing anything particularly well, so we need to make bigger compromises. It is easy to be bamboozled with a multitude of tools and promises that these tools can deliver but if we lose sight of the problem that we are trying to solve the danger is we end up with a solution to a problem that does not even exist.

Or to put it another way, a screwdriver to fix your nails in the wall.

This becomes clear when you speak to individuals about the processes they perform and instead of describing what they do they reference the tools they use and how those tools perform the task. On its own, this is not an issue but where it becomes a problem is when the limitations of those tools start defining the process and its boundaries.

Here are some things to think about.

Being technology agnostic when things stop working

Take a pause and reflect on what it is that the thing that has stopped working is supposed to do. Do not just switch to another app or another piece of technology before you have asked this question as you may well find that something more fundamental has changed either with the environment or the processes you are using.

For example, I like to-do lists and I use a product called Todoist.com it has worked very well for me. Unfortunately, when I started blogging, this platform just did not work for me anymore, so I had to go back and look at what the problem was, and it was to do with the amount of information I wanted to collect within my to-do list. So, I went back to the drawing board to map out what I wanted to achieve and then I was able to select a new software solution that help me solve the problem in this case Trello.

Invisible inefficiencies

Adapting a process that we use to fit the software tools with which we are lumbered. Are we keeping process components that really should be obsolete because the software demands them? I believe that if you look at your processes through a set of technology-agnostic glasses, you will find improvements and make changes that will simplify things!

Collaborating with a client who had used MS outlook successfully to manage their diary, and who was now finding it did not give them the flexibility they needed to annotate it. This caused a huge amount of anxiety about appointments. The other issue was the client felt they were not in control of their diary. In this instance, the client moved back to a paper-based solution. Now I realise for many reasons this is suboptimal in lots of organisations but for this client, they were able to increase their effectiveness by not being stressed about their diary.

Revolutionising your processes

When evaluating what you are doing or why you are doing it being technology-agnostic allows you to look beyond the constraints of the platforms and software that you are using. It allows you to imagine all the possibilities you might like to carry out, giving you scope to dream big and not have them thwarted by inappropriate tools.

Creating opportunity by being technology agnostic

When the shackles of “it’s always been done this way” are broken all sorts of possibilities appear. This is also likely to enable you to move forward and to recognise your potential in terms of what you can achieve and how you are going to achieve it. Inappropriate tools that cause us to carry out actions and use time inefficiently reduce our effectiveness at work. Re-evaluating the tools, we use creates an incredible opportunity to do things differently and to be more effective in our workplaces.

If you would like to explore how to be more technology-agnostic in making decisions around assistive technology, then please get in contact.

aesthetics

Why aesthetics matter to neurodivergent people

How does your workplace feel?

I remember walking into a large London charity for my first day at work after being interviewed in a beautiful glass-fronted office. My actual office was a complete mess of papers, out of date banners, marathon running kits, damaged chairs and what felt like total chaos. This destroyed how I felt about that place and as a result put me in a completely negative position about that workplace, breaking the mystique of what I had been expecting.

This was my first job out of corporate life where everything was pristine, and I had certain expectations about what the aesthetics of the workplace would be like. Reflecting on this I recognise that when I saw the office, I was going to be working in that I felt my personal value and been reduced and so had myself esteem.

When we talk about aesthetics in the workplace, we mean how our five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch (plus our gut feeling) are influenced by our environment.

Here are some things that I think are important to consider that can help make workplaces more aesthetically pleasing:

Organised spaces

Though the very nature of work dictates there can be some untidiness from time to time it can be incredibly distracting and sometimes tormenting if workspaces are not kept tidy periodically. For example, some individuals with dyslexic traits find having things in a mess often causes them stress and anxiety and takes the focus away from what they want to be doing.

Lighting

Studies have shown the amount of natural light in an office has a direct impact on employee productivity attention and alertness. This is also true for many neurodivergent individuals as natural light helps the brain work better.

Variability in lighting

In addition to natural light, it is also important to be able to vary the amount of light in your working space. For example, task lighting is essential when working on detailed pieces of work. What is also useful is the ability to change the intensity of the lighting based on your mood and the type of activity you are undertaking. What can often be difficult to deal with though is intense lighting that cannot be changed, think back to those classic 1970s offices with intense strip lighting – not great!

Seating

Materials are key here in terms of things that don’t make you sweat or squeak when you move the seat. It is also important that seats work for the individual in terms of providing them support and avoidance of pain and long-term injuries. Changing seating position is also critical as studies have shown being able to stand up for example when performing certain tasks really enhances the quality of thinking in addition to movement.

Add stuff that grows

Plants add life to the office, though they may not be everybody’s first choice they do also have some important health benefits including giving a focus on something to look after the outside of your immediate work tasks. This can often create a much healthier and calmer work environment.

Colour

For some individuals, colour is incredibly important in terms of the impact it has on their social and mental well-being. For example, some extremely bright vibrant colours can cause migraines and other neurological responses in the workplace. When this becomes particularly tricky is when brand colours are very strong and the organisations that we are working in use these brand colours in particular areas. An example is a cafeteria in a large bread manufacturer that has strong brand colours used in this space, and as a result, an area designed for relaxation and recovery is now for some a high-stress environment.

Allowing personalisation

It is important individuals are allowed to make their workplaces their own, this can be achieved by having things that help motivate them and stay on task during their workday. This will often include things like family photos if appropriate or other reminders and tools like whiteboards that they can use to help plan and deliver their day. For some individuals, this can also involve the use of fiddle toys that allow them to do other activities that do not inhibit their processing to stay focused on what they are doing. For example, some individuals with ADHD traits find it incredibly helpful to be able to doodle or fiddle with a piece of blue tack during conference calls and conversations as it helps them to stay focused on what is happening and not get distracted.

To open plan or not to open plan – that is a very big question

Many of us are not currently back in the office when we do return this question is not going to go away.

When it comes to aesthetics, there is a lot to be said for open plan working in the benefits that it can give in terms of collaboration, but unfortunately for some neurodivergent individuals, it can often be incredibly distracting and debilitating. I would argue that this far outweighs any benefit that is potentially gained by the organisation by having a continuous open collaborative space. What I believe is a far better approach is to have zones within the work environment where it is possible to have collaboration when needed but then an individual can retire to a quieter more personal space, and they do not need to collaborate in such an open way.

With aesthetics, choice matters

With all the senses constantly in play updating us on the environment and giving us feedback on what is going on. For some individuals with neurodivergent conditions, this feedback can be heightened to the point of being uncomfortable for example a chair fabric may make your skin feel spiky or a particular colour scheme give you a headache or disorientate you. The position of your desk may expose you to excessive noise and distractions or make you feel that everyone is looking over your shoulder. I believe with simple changes and common sense thinking many of these issues can be avoided.

There is a perception that when you need to change the aesthetics of an office environment that there would need to be a huge financial investment, and this can rather put organisations off looking at it. I would argue that the biggest investment is talking to your people to understand their needs and preferences. I’m not suggesting for a minute you will be able to meet everyone’s individual unique preferences but as with all these things, there is a compromise to be had, as with sensible planning and thinking we can all make office environments better for everyone.

Here is to a neuroinclusive workplace!

If you would like to know more about how to make your workplace more neuroinclusive and how to implement these aesthetics changes effectively. If this is something that is of interest to you, please get in contact.

Neurodiversity

What is neurodiversity awareness training?

This 45 minute neurodiversity awareness training is one of the services that I offer as part of my skills and here is some detail about how it works.

Neurodiversity explained – what it is?

We will explore the language of neurodiversity and how this helps to frame what it is. We will then go onto look briefly at each of the underlying diagnoses that come under this umbrella including what they look like along with their associated strengths and challenges.

Why neurodiversity awareness matters – how it makes organisations better

Neurodiverse individuals are likely to account for 15% of the average organisation’s workforce with specific industries having far more. Many of these individuals will be undiagnosed though this landscape is rapidly changing with more active screening and diagnosis taking place. The negative components of neurodiversity are often well understood; what can be less well understood is the huge positive impact that neurodiverse individuals can and do have on organisations.

We will also briefly explore neurodiversity and decision making and why this is important with case studies to demonstrate the benefits.

Building an inclusive, neurodiverse workplace – What you need to consider and be aware of

We will look at some of the lessons learnt from increasing the inclusivity of other diverse groups including sponsorship and programmes. We will then look at how awareness training and coaching can help specific roles and responsibilities within the business. Then we will look at organisational structure and communication, and how this can be adapted and reviewed to ensure it meets the needs of the business. Finally, we will look at environmental factors that often need to be considered when making a workplace an effective environment for all employees, as well as assistive technology options.

Neurodiversity awareness  – what next, where to get further support and assistance

During this session, we will explore specific issues and give some guidance on what to consider and what to do next. We will also include some advice on what support is available and the types of actions you should be looking to take. I would encourage you that many changes have little, or no cost and we often find that making a workplace more neuroinclusive is better for everyone.

neurodiverse

Being neurodiverse in the workplace

Have you ever been faced with a problem that you just can’t solve? You don’t know where to start, and have no idea what to do next?

I’d like to introduce you to Paul who has been working in advertising for 5 years. He has been struggling with managing his diary and tasks for most of this time with many near misses and close shaves. Paul was diagnosed with dyslexia at school but since starting work hasn’t felt that he needed to talk about it and to be fair has done pretty well for himself in winning some key clients as well as building some key relationships that have helped his employer increase their revenue. Unfortunately for Paul as his responsibilities have grown so have the number of things he needs to do, and he can’t hold them all in his head anymore. In addition, because he is now more senior within the organisation and these errors are getting noticed by others, his capability is being brought into question.

This situation came to a head in a recent performance review with Paul’s manager and Paul was alerted to the fact that disciplinary steps may need to be taken if he was unable to sort the situation out. At this point, Paul opened up about his dyslexia and as a result, he was offered a workplace needs assessment. As a recommendation of this assessment, Paul was offered some workplace strategy coaching to help him with his task management.

Strategy coaching is a form of coaching that works with individuals on a one-to-one basis to help them solve problems using skills that they have learnt before. What is different from traditional coaching is that there is also a mentoring component to help them understand how their condition affects them.

Understand the condition then build the strategy

The coach worked with Paul to understand how his workplace and job role worked along with the responsibilities and tasks that he was frequently dealing with. Paul was able to talk through the many solutions that he tried over the years along with some of the frustrations that he had with sticking to a solution consistently. The coach was then able to present a couple of different strategies to Paul and they work together to work out which one would be most suitable for him. This is where coaching crosses over with mentoring and this is entirely appropriate in this situation.

The goal is to help an individual, build strategies that work for them. In addition to giving them the skills to adapt those strategies when situations change. A key part is building a process of learning, playing with and then stress testing strategies while reviewing and reflecting on progress.

Paul ended up selecting a To-Do List app that enabled him to focus on his tasks separately from other items like meetings and calendar events. This was important for Paul as he had often struggled to differentiate between items that were time-bound and items that he had scope to do when he was ready. The other key part of using the app was that his To-Do List was available on several different platforms meaning he could access it when he wanted to. The other big bonus was Paul was able to also manage his social and home life within the same app reducing his stress and arguably saving his relationship, as he had forgotten birthdays, anniversaries and many other key events.

NB: his partner regularly talked about Paul’s memory as a ‘forgettory’.

Part of this coaching also looked at how Paul could adapt what he’d learn in the future as his role developed and things changed because self-sustainability is essential, and it is vital that individuals like Paul are able to know where to get help and how to adapt the help they already have to meet future demands.

Improving mental health and performance

There is a pool of evidence that suggests strategy coaching improves employee mental health along with retention and career progression within a business. Strategy coaching is not a sticking plaster it is a toolkit that equips individuals to become the absolute best they can within the workplace. Clients like Paul who have undergone strategy coaching report a positive impact on their confidence at work along with an up lift in their perceived personal effectiveness. This positive feedback is also supported by their immediate line managers as they reflect on the impact of strategy coaching on their team members. You will be pleased to know this was also the case for Paul’s line manager.

“The coaching I received around task management has helped me keep my job and improved work to the point where I was able to go for promotion to the next level. This has been a complete lifesaver for me, it’s helped me to do the thing I love without fear of making mistakes.”

Paul – Key Account Manager – Advertising Agency

The story doesn’t end there Paul is likely to need additional support and help at different times throughout his career. This is why The Neurodivergent Coach clients can get in contact at any time to follow up after the first coaching session has finished. This is really important as it gives an independent sounding board for advice and support as they progress on through their career and a place to talk through their successes and any potential help they might need in the future.

Ten years on

I experienced strategy coaching first-hand over 10 years ago and although the sessions were quite different to what we deliver now the impact they have had on my career and personal development are incredible. They have enabled me to do things that I found exceedingly difficult to the point that I would avoid them. In fact, without strategy coaching, I certainly would not be running my business today and I certainly would not be able to write this blog post.

If you would like to know more about how strategy coaching could support, you or someone within your organisation please get in touch.