Neurodiversity: Employers, Managers, Are Your Instructions Understood?

When managers and employers get their message out, and everyone has understood them, they are delighted, as it means they presented well. Those around them join their cause and know what to do to get the task done.

The question to determine is how often they are truly understood and how often they take the time to ensure those that they lead and manage truly understand the message.

Too often leaders and managers fire off instructions or commands with the expectation that because they have spoken, all is clear and everyone has understood. What is even more funny is they tell them to take notes as if the note-taking alone will further signify that they had understood.

Or, in other instances, there is the underlining message that has not been spoken, which is what was really meant and that one can only know this if they read between the lines or they live in your head.

I have personally experienced this scenario:  instructions being given out; the manager returning to his office and immediately closing the door; I ask for clarification on the instructions and am told to read my notes or the email, as all has been said in what was said/written…

For Neurotypical individuals, this can be frustrating and for the Neurodiverse individual, it is compounded by the fact that they learn differently; this has not been taken into consideration and when they try to get a clear understanding or to try to push through and fulfil the task through interpretation, are punished for not understanding what was ‘dictated’.

Let’s pause here and look at what may seem to be an off-topic study, to give you an idea of what I mean.

In 2015, a study conducted by Professor Jo Boaler of Stanford University found that a majority of students didn’t understand math. Let’s be clear, they may have understood how to perform the calculation, but they didn’t understand why the answer was the answer.

They knew that without a doubt, as long as they follow the formula, they will get the answer, but didn’t know why the answer was the answer. Let’s dig deeper. The study found a few particular reasons why this is the case:

First, we teach Rote system, which basically means we drill repeat memorisation which is not reliable.

Second: We don’t teach by using visuals. I can speak on this as I have had memory training and coaches. The human mind prefers the learning method of images and stories. Therefore, it is best to turn anything we want to remember into images and stories.

The business world has embraced this because they now teach how to sell through stories.

Third, anxiety, especially during a timed pressure test. Anxiety kicks in and this affects memory, performance, causing stress and affecting self-esteem.

The fourth is critical thinking. When they try to show them different ways to come to the same answer, the students couldn’t do it because it was not the formula they knew, the one they were taught.

I have tried this with my daughter and let’s just say that we were both in tears.

When they tested a wide range of students, those who had committed to memory alone scored the lowest out of the group.

When we look outside of the study, we find evidence that supports this:

In Canada, in the province of Calgary, there is a third party organisation, known as Jump Math Program. They found that there was a large percentage of teachers who were teaching math that didn’t fully understand what they were teaching.

This reminds me of an encounter I had with a client a few years ago. He had a small architectural firm and one day the power went out. So he told the staff, a vast majority of them recently graduated from the local universities and colleges, to move the work on paper, they could not perform the task.

They were so dependent on the computer that they didn’t know the formulas to calculate the renderings on paper. This sixty-year-old owner had to sit down to teach them and, frankly, did most of the work till the power returned.

What can we take from this?

We can see that how we are taught in schools is carried into adulthood by both the employee, managers and business owners. In particular, how we give instructions. What is interesting is that you have two types of instructors, one who understands the task and the other who might not. In either case they give instructions, but don’t provide support to ensure they are properly understood.

The highlighted points from the study give us some insight into how we can give more of a sufficient manner of directions.

In order for us to be more successful in how we lead our teams, we must take the time to communicate properly, and this is especially more relevant when you have Neurodiverse team members.

Let’s revisit those points from the study and add some helpful tips

First, sit down with your team as a group, and then one by one. The one to one is crucial for your Neurodiverse team members. Walk them through the instructions, be clear and don’t assume they can read your mind. Encourage active listening. Let them take notes and this means to slow down, give them time to process what they heard and transfer this onto paper. Once this is down, then you can move on to the next point.

Why is this important? The human mind can hear 500 words per minute, but we cannot listen and write at the same time. We write as we read, word by word! By the time they have made their notes on point one, you are at point 6. Think about it! Have you ever had someone ask you to repeat point two while you were at point 10?

Second, add visuals to your instructions. Remember, we are visual people; words or written instructions are not enough. Take your instructions and turn them into powerful images so your team can also see the vision that you are conveying.

Third, don’t overwhelm your team, especially those who are Neurodiverse. Remember, they tend towards low self-esteem. The mental health of your team is often overlooked and because of this, it leads to poor performance, sick days and great talent leaving or being let go.

Fourth, explain more than one way does to the task, ask them how they could do things differently, where can they find improvements and perform the task in a more efficient manner.

The fifth suggestion: allow for questions. Give them time to take in the information, process the information, and then give feedback. We learn more effectively when we ask open-ended questions; it allows us to dig deeper and increase our ability to comprehend the given instructions.

The sixth and last tip is to have an open-door policy where your team feels safe to talk to you, seek help and guidance.

My final thoughts:

Management is more than handing out assignments and setting deadlines. It is about leading and mentoring. Ensuring your team members have the support and resources they need to understand what is being asked of them so they can get the job done.

If your team is having difficulty in understanding and is not producing what is being asked, then the fault doesn’t lie entirely on them. Business owners and managers must attempt to make sure that they are understood, even more so when their workplace employs Neurodiverse team members.

Now, do you have any thoughts on this?


Looking to make a change of diversity and inclusion for the neurodiverse in your company?  then click here for a consultations

Listen to this topic and others like it on my podcast Take A Leap & Transform: A Neurodiversity Journey

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