Identifying Red Herrings at Work with ADHD

Episode 174

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Asher and Cam continue in the vein of being misunderstood with ADHD, and how we can create our own misunderstanding in the form of red herrings that distract us from the real challenges and real opportunities at work. When we let fear inform our behavior, we can manage by avoidance.

Managing by avoidance is to avoid looking bad or to avoid not having the answer. We will avoid rocking the boat or avoid the spotlight. When we embrace journey thinking and look for the learning opportunity in every situation, we can start to get a clearer picture of the real dilemmas we are facing at work and the real opportunities at hand. Ash and Cam share numerous client stories to illustrate this dilemma and how listeners can start down this all-important path to change.

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Episode Transcript:

Ash: Hi, I’m Ash.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Quick reminder that our next group coaching course, which is Resilience, begins Tuesday, June 13th, and it meets at 8:30 PM Eastern. For more information about this class, including pricing and how to apply, visit the website and click on the group coaching tab.

So Cam, what are we talking about today?

Cam: So Ash, what we are talking about today? It’s one of these times when we could go in so many different directions. And that our conversation around being misunderstood started off with childhood origins. And then, moving on to relationships and at work. And so what just dropped was around planting the seeds of misinformation or misunderstanding.

And so today we are really talking about how do our clients, how do our listeners, start to take counter-steps to those seeds of misunderstanding? And I think that we really talked about a few of them last week. Around effective communication, talking about expectation, talking about our, value in our roles and how we can get stuck in certain roles.

So there’s a lot here. This is about advocacy, the ability to communicate our value. It’s also looking at things that are not easily seen by us – is like those unwritten expectations that can be in an organization that go beyond our job description, and how do we play the game of what is expected here? Because that can be difficult, too.

The one that we, I think, landed for today is to think about the own part of understand, own, translate. And you were relaying this story about a client that really was about identifying these red herrings, these areas she thought mattered. And we kind of get focused on these areas of what we should be doing. We’ve talked about shoulds and this whole process of starting to identify, okay, what is the real dilemma? What is the real challenge and putting our efforts there.

And as we do so, then we can just turn that corner to start to develop some agency and some choice in our day. And I’ll just start with that metaphor the client shared with you. So this feeling of, kind of holding onto the bumper of a bus. She was coming into coaching and sort of describing her workday. And in the work that she’d done with you was that I shifted from kind of holding onto this bumper of this big bus, kind of was just getting dragged along, to being in my own car, in the driver’s seat in traffic, right? There’s other things going on, but I’ve got visibility. I have agency. I’m in control here. And so I think that’s a really good place to look. And look at some specific client details here or examples of how do you start to address those areas of misunderstanding.

Ash: Yeah. So with that client, the situation when she first came to coaching was that she had stepped into a family business, her family’s business, as a temporary measure. She was unemployed at the start of the pandemic, bad time to be looking for a job. So this was this temporary win-win situation. Her first really important realization was that even though she thought that a life that fits moving forward would eventually not be working at this job, she did not want to jump from the frying pan to the fire.

She didn’t know where she wanted to go from here. And she was also recognizing that the ADHD challenges that she was having here in this workplace, and the here and now, and that she had in the past were gonna keep plaguing her and weren’t going to set her up to make a move that she could feel good about. Even if she did know where she wanted to go next.

And so there was this shift from, I want to be free from the pain of this workplace, to what is the opportunity here and now that will give me some skills and some knowledge to carry forward into whatever I might want to do next. So we invited some curiosity into the room, and when we did that, all of a sudden there was all of this opportunity that my client hadn’t seen before.

Again, she initially stepped into this role thinking it would be temporary, and working for family adds this extra layer of dynamics, right? Because it’s not just her bosses and her supervisors. These are also family members that she has context for beyond the scope of work. And so those things were just completely keeping her from putting herself in the picture in any way, shape or form. And telling herself this story that she couldn’t put herself in the picture, that she just needed to do as she was told. She didn’t wanna upset her bosses/family members to this place where she realized there is room. There is room. These people aren’t so rigid that there’s not room for me to have some say in what my role is here and what it’s not.

Cam: There’s a couple things that come to mind as you’re sharing this. And I think that it’s finding our place. And this permission to have a creative and individual expression. I love what you just said there, is this is one of these big shoulds. So, listeners, you have to sort of understand where Ash and I are coming from here today, just to really think about the common concepts that we want to couple together in this episode, because there’s so much. And this whole idea of what can lead us astray is misunderstanding, misinformation – kind of these false targets, red herrings. It’s like we come into this situation thinking it has to be a certain way, but there’s a certain expectation I gotta come in and do my job and don’t, you know, what’s the term?

Ash: Rock the boat.

Cam: There we go. There’s one for it. Rock the boat. Right? I’m just gonna come in, do my job, and that’s it. And so right there, that coming in and thinking that there’s one way to do this versus, wait a sec, if I see myself in the picture and I’m a little curious, then what’s the opportunity now here?

And that’s something that can be very helpful in any work situation. So often we can get even a tough situation. It’s like I have to make this one work and I have to make it work a certain way. When in fact you’re gonna have lots of work experiences now, tomorrow, next year, five years, and that’s journey thinking, Ash. That’s journey thinking right there of what can I learn here. These challenges I’ve had started before this job. They’re in this job, but what can I learn from this that I can then pull forward and apply to whatever version I am a month from now, three months from now, three years from now?

Ash: And by the way, Cam, it’s worth saying when we talk about what can I learn here, when this client and I were having that conversation, it wasn’t just about fixing quote unquote her ADHD. It was also about reflecting on things that she liked doing in the past, what her strengths are, and what are the opportunities to maybe add or increase those things in her role now.

Cam: We have this capacity to try to reduce situations to the simplest terms. This reductive approach where it’s sort of like, we’ll take a situation and we’ll kind of sketch it out in a way that I’m just gonna make it simple. Like, here’s the job, here’s the way I’m gonna show up, and we miss an opportunity.

Number one, it’s typically more nuanced and complicated than that. Number two, we miss an opportunity to really think about what can I bring to this organization? What can I bring when we are one down, when we don’t see ourselves in the picture, when we think that we’re not bringing value, I’m gonna bide my time. I’ll do my job, and I’ll come in and not participate or engage, develop, grow. And that’s the self.

But back to yours, mine, ours, is how can I contribute for myself? How can I contribute to others? How can I contribute to the whole team? And it becomes this really textured picture with lots of nuance and distinction, right? It’s just the color starts to pop. So that’s something really interesting.

Ash: Yeah, Cam, and certainly part of what I see happen there with my clients is back to not wanting to rock the boat. There’s such a fear of negative feedback, kind of back to that defensive crouch that we talk about so often. That all of the energy is going there, and to what outcome? If all you’re doing is avoiding negative feedback, what’s the outcome there that you’re just not noticed? You fly under the radar a little bit, which can be okay, but it isn’t tapping into strength and value.

When we start tapping into strength and value, what you can bring, what is the opportunity here? You get a more balanced picture again and challenge two sides of the same coin. So it’s not that bringing strength into the workplace eliminates challenge, but it adds more facets to the picture. It’s not this, I’m either rocking the boat or not rocking the boat. I mean, my gosh, what a kind of depressing way to look at work, right? Am I flying under the radar or am I rocking the boat? And the thing is, is for most of my clients who are in that place, they do have strength that is being appreciated and recognized at work.

Cam, we had somebody in a group coaching class like this who was so concerned that her billable hours weren’t where they were expected to be, and was initially going to walk into a meeting with her boss apologizing for that. Decided not to do that. Decided instead to see what happens and got told how much she’s appreciated for her unique strength in dealing with really, really challenging work in her field.

Nothing was said about her bill of hours. So those negative things are such a big signal. So often my clients just miss the positive stuff. In fact, when a client is telling me that they’re not appreciated at work or that things aren’t going well, and in fact with this client we did do this, you know, I’ll just sometimes ask like, is that really true? You don’t have any strengths that you bring to the table, you’re not appreciated. Even in terrible work situations, that is never true. That is never true.

Cam: So this whole idea of like coming in and this avoidant approach, right? Avoiding negative feedback, driven by fear. This is understandable. Over a lifetime, we start to turn tighter and tighter circles, putting up defensive barriers to protect ourselves. And it’s like, again, as you said, I don’t wanna rock the boat.

We talked about before this episode, I don’t want to get caught, right. I don’t want to get caught. We’ve talked about this with our knowledge workers. So many of our listeners are in knowledge-based fields where that knowledge is of value, and as we set a double-edged sword, but one permutation or way that it can play out is I don’t wanna get caught not knowing.

So then there we got that whole thing going on of, I gotta know. I have to know the answer in my whole area of expertise. So guess what, listeners, that’s where we are. We’re focused on that. And we’re not necessarily focused on the positive, the opportunity, the change that we can create. The agency that we can be a part of to move from the back of the bumper of that bus to really find your car and get in the driver’s seat there.

Ash: Cam, do you remember my client who initially came to coaching and said he wanted to be more like the politician – personality, confidence, witty, quick on his feet, and a big part of that was having the answers? So he was looking at another member of his team who just has that type of memory. Boom. He just has the answer and feeling like that was what he needed to aspire to.

It was causing a lot of disruption in his productivity. Because anytime he got caught not knowing, it was then, well, I better learn everything about this that I can so I don’t get caught not knowing again. Or if he was working on solving a problem at work, and he works in a technical field, not asking for help. Not seeking outside resources, feeling like I have to find the answer myself.

So what was interesting when we got under the hood of that one and started to distinguish a little bit more was a couple of things. Number one, that client works really well in collaboration. Cam, you and I talk about all the time how we are continually learning by collaborating on this podcast together. Well, when this client wants to solve a problem, the best thing he can do is go find somebody else to bounce it off of. It gets that creativity flowing, which is very different than him sitting alone in his limbic brain, sitting with fear and panic, feeling like I have to find the answer. I have to solve it now.

So, When my client started having different experiences there, started asking for help, started leveraging that support of collaboration, he realized something else, that person he was aspiring to be, that always has the answers, was a terrible collaborator. He’s the guy that if you ask him for the answer, he’s gonna give you the answer as far as he knows it, and that is the end of the conversation. So he has great memory, great resource if you just need to know the answer. But as far as getting in and solving a problem collaboratively with another person, not his thing.

And so here now my client is recognizing that that thing that he held up is just pure strength of somebody else’s that he thought he ought to have really is strength and challenge. Just like his collaboration is strength and challenge. He’s so good at it, but it also means that if you ask him a question in the moment, he may need a little time to bring up recollection of that answer or to sit with that problem or to bounce it off of somebody else.

It doesn’t make one of those people on the team better than the other. It just makes them different in terms of what they bring. And when we got that far, where my client was really able to appreciate that everything changed, he went from spending his workday worrying about getting caught not knowing, getting caught not doing, or not doing quickly enough, to being able to recognize when he was stuck. And knowing what works for his brain to get unstuck.

Cam: Listeners, if you come into work and you sort of, again, are turning tight circles. Meaning in that defensive crouch or kind of really thinking of what I can’t do, I’m not gonna rock the boat or I’m not gonna do this. That there’s avoidances present, and it’s informed by fear.

So remember that’s ARC. It’s very natural for us to do that, to sort of have that as our setup. Gotta make sure I don’t, right. We’re hyper-vigilant about what we can’t do better, not make a mistake. That was what was present for me when I was in an organization, and I really didn’t know what was going on. Just imposter syndrome is just blaring at me. It’s like, can’t make a mistake. So can’t, shouldn’t, don’t.

And to pause there. Pause, disrupt, and pivot that line of thinking, and assume you are there for a number of reasons. I wanna point to in two different areas your value. Do other people know your value? Have you communicated your value, or if they communicated your value to the team? When I learned I actually belonged at the school that I worked at, it was when my head teacher and the people around me said, no, no, no – this is your value, and this is how you bring value to our organization.

Then I could start to focus and prioritize because remember, we just try to do it in all areas because priority is very difficult for us. So, this assumption that you do bring value and what can I do? How can I contribute? Where can I communicate that value? Where can I demonstrate that value?

Because that’s the other thing, Ash, that happens, is in the day and we’re just like busy answering emails and answering, you know, the immediate, the urgent. We’re not really getting a chance to show our true value, which is something that is creative over a period of time. Right? There’s that whole dilemma of being able to work on something that is contributive. Is that a word?

Ash: It is now.

Cam: It is now.

Ash: I like it.

Cam: Hi. We made it. Yeah. And then expectation. We can be so fast as your client demonstrated going into the family business, this assumption of the expectation of, just had to kind of do her job and not really, again, just speak up. What are we trying to do here? And we maybe do it a little differently.

You talked about how when she embraced this idea of the opportunity now, it was then to kind of really think about, okay, I need a little space, kind of find my way. And that’s that own part of understand, own, translate. We’ve been spending so much time about understand, we talk a lot about translate and this is this ownership aspect. This is owning. I have value and how can I communicate it? How can I demonstrate it? And then what are the expectations here, and how am I running the expectations up? Right? How are others maybe running the expectations up?

And then when we start to have a conversation, it can be so clarifying. The thing that’s missing for us is often this accurate feedback loop to get a sense of what are we trying to do when we don’t have a clear picture of it. We assume, you know, I gotta do it all. then people struggle with perfectionism, right? Of, well I’m just gonna give them the whole encyclopedia. I’m just gonna give ’em the whole kitten caboodle. Rule expression there, Ash, from, from back in the day.

Ash: I know kitten caboodle. Come on. I’m not that young, Cam.

Cam: Back in the day. Yes. 

Ash: Back in my day.

Cam: Yep. Kitten caboodle. 

Ash: Cam, I’m really appreciating a brand new client that I met with for the first time this morning who has clearly, by way of the podcast and other things that came before me, already done a lot of this work.

Cam: Hmm.

Ash: She is clearer than the average new client by quite a bit on what the work is ahead for us. And I kind of wanna articulate that out a little bit as an example to listeners as to what you might start to look for. Right?

So she’s in academia and she knows her strength. I’m a good teacher. I’m a good mentor. I’m a good writer. Passionate about her subject area. What I’m not so good at is a time management and prioritizing. So deadlines sneak up on me day to day, week to week. I’m reacting more so than I’m being proactive, and I have a bad relationship with feedback, which is an important part of what I do.

And so she gave an example of a project that she completed not too long ago where she waited far too long to bring in others to get feedback, which meant she had to go back and rework significant portions of this project based on that feedback. And there was a recognition there, that feedback earlier would’ve been helpful, but she’s got some fear and some stories around feedback.

And so do you see how we can just jump right into the meat of it? Because she’s very clear on what she’s good at. She’s very clear that she’s appreciated in her department and in her role. And she’s also very clear on, and here are my challenges. Here are the things standing in the way for me. And interestingly enough for her, it is mostly for me, when I asked how she thinks she’s perceived at work, something I always like to check in on with a new client, particularly if we’re talking a lot about work, she had positive things to say.

But it’s the amount of time she’s spending on the ARC hamster wheel and scrambling to maintain that that isn’t working for her and isn’t getting her farther along in her career. So her big goal is every day, every week I want to know that I’m moving my career forward. And right now I don’t. There’s just such lovely clarity, clarity that some other clients have to work pretty hard to get to.

And so listeners, if you are not that clear yet, that’s normal, right? But start to question what you assume about yourself at work. What are you good at? What do you think you’re good at? And how can you seek out some feedback or some evidence to support that? Is there already evidence to support that? What are the opportunities to tap into that more? Start there, and then start to look at challenge. Because when you look at strength first, now you’re looking at yourself as a whole person rather than this bundle of challenges, whose only job is to not rock the boat and to mitigate challenge.

Cam: What I like about that example, Ash, is your client doing this work before the coaching and this understanding, but also ownership, right. Owning what she’s good at, her strengths and owning the challenges. Really getting in there a sense of what they are. And you said clarifying, but she’s doing that through distinguishing.

Ash: Yeah.

Cam: She’s distinguishing and she’s separating the challenge from herself. Cuz what we’ll do is we’ll just tie an anvil to that challenge that just drops us down into the deep depths. So she’s done some valley work, and she’s resilient. She’s coming in and having some objectivity of, okay, here’s the dilemma. And I see how it informs what I want to do with this resource in Asher. And so she’s coming more as a partner.

And we talk about coaching is, it’s about questioning, it’s about listening. It’s about effective partnering, and that, again, clients come in different, ways or different levels. But often that partnership is the thing that develops over a period of time. That we model it, we teach it, we share the process with them. But when you start to do understand, own, translate work, listeners, starting to own and kind of see, okay, now I have a sense of I’m getting my bearings. We’ve talked about how to, you know, orient to, this is orienting to the opportunity. And the challenge. And how can I use this resource to work on the thing I wanna work on? Really cool.

Ash: Yeah, well said, Cam. It was really cool to see, right. But again, listeners, if you’re not there yet, that’s okay. And by the way, you don’t have to be there to seek out support to get there. And this client, while that work did not happen in coaching, there was a lot of other work that got her to the place that she’s in now, including in part using this podcast as a resource.

Speaking of…listeners, if you like what we’re doing here on the show, one way you can support us is by becoming a patron. Our patron fees cover all of the costs of running this show, including our assistant and our editor. And Cam and I are really grateful to everyone supporting the show now or who has supported the show in the past because that support really enables us to keep bringing you this content every week. Thank you so much.

In addition to supporting the show, you also gain access to our Discord server, where our listeners are working together to do their own understand, own, and translate work. To find out more, visit the website Click on the Patreon tab, and if you sign up for five bucks a month, you gain access to the Discord server immediately. And Cam and I appreciate your support so very much. So, until next week, I’m Asher.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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