Advocating ADHD in the Workplace

Episode 176

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Asher and Cam have discussed advocacy in past episodes but not in the context of the current theme of being misunderstood. The hosts share lots of client examples of advocating for one’s needs and how each situation is dependent on several factors. Is the environment a safe place to share and advocate? Is it more ADHD or more about challenges beyond our control? They discuss how we tend to not communicate our value assuming it is known and how advocating is nearly impossible when you don’t see yourself in the picture. The hosts emphasize that it takes time in the coaching process to discover challenges clients are facing and they encourage listeners to do the same when considering support at work. They share the BEANS acronym from previous episodes – Boundaries, Expectations, Agreements, Needs and Safety focusing mostly on the latter two. They share what needs to be present in an environment to advocate (respect, clear mission and roles and safety) and red flags to be wary of (politics, unwritten rules, ego and intense emotionality). Cam shares an example of one client’s journey from a challenging environment to one that is supportive and engaging. Both discuss how confidence is something that is a product of effective advocacy, signals of reassurance and feeling like a contributing member of an organization.

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Episode Transcript:

Ash: Hi, I am Ash.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Quick reminder that our upcoming group coaching course Resilience begins Tuesday, June 20th. This is the last week to register, so if you are interested in this course, please visit the website for pricing and information on the class. Click on the group coaching tab and you will find the application there.

So Cam,

Cam: So Ash,

Ash: What are we talking about today?

Cam: We’re talking about advocating for oneself at work today, but I just wanna go back to the Resilience class. The Resilience class is I think our original class that we came up with. And it was one of the motivators for this, podcast, right. This idea of translating one’s ADHD is to connect our experience with causation. What is going on? This is that pause, disrupt, pivot. This is understand, own, translate, and it’s so hard to see ADHD showing up.

We’ve been talking about our theme here being misunderstood with ADHD. And we had an episode a few weeks back on, you know, being misunderstood when we misunderstand ourselves. This is really unique to ADHD, is that the area that is impacted cognitively. The executive function center is used to distinguish and determine and to turn our attention to something and investigate with curiosity. When that is not working for us, it’s a real double whammy, right?

We’ve got this thing that’s really hard to pin down. The Resilience is an opportunity to work with both of us. Look at your ADHD experience, the whole thing. Look at how your ADHD informs. I’ve gone on and on about my inability to complete my awareness of completion and recognizing there’s this big idea generator that is always in play. I was not aware of it. I just had ideas and thought I needed to work on every single idea I had and realized there is a physics problem there. I generated way too many ideas in order to complete. But I just, again, I thought it was modeled around me to, you have an idea, you go do it. But I had this real imbalance there.

So that’s my presentation, and having that realization allowed me to have some objectivity to then start to look at this and sort of separate myself from my ADHD. And that one down and the not seeing myself in the picture. So of looking at it and this interesting cause and effect relationship, we can start to understand ourselves and then advocate.

So a little bit of a plug for our group coaching class Resilience that’s coming up. But also really a good lead in into our discussion today. So last week we talked about advocating for yourself in a misunderstanding world. That here’s this thing where any time something comes out in the media about ADHD, there tends to be this sort of pile on. I’m like, yeah, I told you so. And then it’s carried out to the nth degree of it’s over-diagnosed. I don’t even know if it really exists. Doesn’t everybody have it? You know, are the meds safe, meds are dangerous, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And I’ve been seeing this for 40 years.

And back when I was a teacher in 1990 – sorry people that weren’t even born yet – 1991 of taking kids on a trip down in North Carolina from Baltimore for two weeks out in the woods – outdoor education trip. And the parents decided to give them a medication vacation. And that was my introduction to ADHD right there. It’s like, wow. So advocating at work and Ash, I love what you said last week about this distinction between advocating for oneself and advocacy. Advocacy is to educate, to inform. Where advocating for oneself is we’re really looking not so much for education, but support so we can be more effective in our personal relationships, in our work situations.

And there’s a lot of different ways we can go. What I wanna do is I want to bring in this acronym that we introduced a year ago in one of our episodes. It was April 25th, when your partner isn’t supporting your ADHD journey, so not having a partner yet. These relationships. So what is it about? It’s about relationships. It’s about people understanding you and seeing you as a valuable contributor. What’s your value? What are your strengths? And in part, it’s up to us to be able to articulate and demonstrate our value and our strengths. But with ADHD, it can be a bit of a challenge.

I just got off a Zoom call with a client who’s in a leadership position. He is like, you know, I tend to internalize my needs, but I don’t really tend to articulate my needs. I have this kind of assumption that people are gonna pick up clues, sort of just, I didn’t really think about it.

So these are things that we don’t think about. And so BEANS is a great little acronym and BEANS is this: Boundaries, expectations, agreements, needs, and safety. And so starting with safety, we need to have a safe environment first. Back to last week of we don’t know the situation that we’re in. What can I share? If I share that I have ADHD, how is this person or this organization going to respond to that? So you need to do a little due diligence to think about when I share, what am I gonna share? Am I gonna disclose my ADHD? If not, then what can I disclose? So that’s really the starting place. How safe is it to be transparent?

And to start to think about needs. Needs are these things that are kind of always operating at the lowest levels, like the lowest signal. Remember, people, we are wired for the big signal, and we did a whole series on needs back around the new year. Our needs tend to operate in the background until a need is not met. And then it comes out as, again, some kind of drama or friction point. And so starting with that in the sense of what are my needs to be successful here in this organization? To determine that.

And Ash, I wanna start with, again, this client I was just talking to who is like, you know, I don’t go there. I don’t naturally go to think about what my needs are. What are my needs, what do I want, what are my desires? Because it’s sort of like we come in, and it’s like get into there’s a lot of work, and we just are trying to box up boxes and load trucks, right? It’s like I gotta keep busy and, oh, am I in a position to advocate? Am I in a position to speak my mind? You know, maybe I should just come and put my head down and just work hard and I’ll prove myself that way.

So that can work to a point. But again, when we don’t articulate our value, then people start to do that assumption thing. They’ll just make an assumption of, I guess they’re not really interested in this position over here, or they’re not really interested in this project over here. And so, first of all, seeing yourself in the picture, you are deserving, and that to consider what your needs are.

Is it a safe space to work in? I’m thinking about another client where they’ve changed positions, and they are having the most fun ever. Asked them about like, when was the last time you had this much fun at a job? And she could not recall when that was. Now, let’s go back six months. And she was in another job that was very different. And so when we looked at the BEANS stuff, it was all a muddled mess, Ash. A muddled mess. It wasn’t safe to share. Boundaries were all muddled. Her CEO would kind of come in and micromanage and didn’t really recognize her position as a director of this department around graphic design, and sort of like came in and like, yeah, I think this is how it should be.

So boundaries, expectations weren’t clear. Her needs weren’t getting met. Their needs weren’t getting met. and there were no real collaborative agreements. So it was this muddled mess. And back to this recognition of this is not tenable, this is not just about my ADHD, that this is an environment where, again, people are getting cut. It’s a fear-based situation. They’re trying to do more with less, and she wasn’t feeling supported. She wasn’t feeling a sense of empowerment in this situation. So she left. She left, and she took her time to find her next job.

So that was the other thing is not rushing into I gotta get employed, but to really think about what’s the learning from this struggle, from this really difficult situation that I can take and bring into a new situation. Not all of us have that opportunity, but it’s how can I make lemonade from this lemon experience?

And that this leader who knew about her ADHD, but really didn’t know how to support her. She’s like, okay, here are the qualities of that individual where I can’t have that in my next job. And to look for that in the interview. Right. Of, is there some element of respect and trust? But also support and effective communication. Expectations are hard and it’s, I think, more difficult for us because we can sort of be, you know, very fluid in the external and the internal. Right.

I am absolutely sure I sent an email to somebody. In my mind I sent it, and yet I can’t find any evidence of it, Ash, because internally it was like, I did that. Right? It’s like, and we can do that at work and we make this assumption of, oh, here’s the job, here’s the expectation, and I’ll go ahead and do this. Or what we’ll do is run it up the flagpole, right?

Like I can’t figure out the expectation, so I’m just going to over-deliver. Every single day. And then that leads to burnout, full extension. So starting to kind of think about needs and expectations, and are there boundaries? Is there respect for people’s positions and their contribution?

So it’s really hard to advocate for oneself when you don’t see yourself in the picture. And this is the thing that I’m appreciating some of my clients doing, and it’s just so difficult to take a stand, right? Advocating is taking a stand and so often we have the inner critic that’s saying, you can’t take a stand, you can’t speak up. You just need to put your head down and work. So this is the insidious nature of doubt.

And a couple weeks ago we talked about how our contextual wiring, if, there’s doubt involved, we will go out to these ‘what if’ scenarios or catastrophic thinking to play out all these different scenarios that are based in fear. And so, to advocate is to believe I deserve this. I’m deserving of taking up space in this organization. I’m deserving of sharing my opinion.

Now, I know that a lot of people, if they’re high verbal, can often open their mouth and have a hard time stopping. And we will over-contextualize. And that can be an absolute concern. But the difference I’m seeing in this client and another client example is something about confidence. And I was asking this client, again, the one that was in the position that wasn’t where she felt she wasn’t in the picture, she wasn’t valued. She was always doubting and then hesitating. This hesitation and getting caught up in her internal thinking. And we talk so much about this, the planner and the doer, and we get into our modes of planning or thinking and get into doing and back again. She would find herself procrastinating or delaying action because it wasn’t quite right, wasn’t quite right to share or pull the trigger, and then it had her hesitating a lot.

Ash: Cam, when you said the word confidence, you got me thinking because for my clients who are traditionally employed, and honestly even the ones who are not, it’s such an important element. But in a traditional workplace, it’s also not something that’s a hundred percent within our control. So part of confidence is knowing our strength and value, knowing what we bring to the table, knowing that we’re good at our job.

But part of it too is having that be recognized by other people, having good relationships with the people that we work with. Being able to, as you said, voice our opinions, share, capitalize on the strengths that we bring to the table. And in a workplace that stifles that, which sounds like where your client was, and I’ve had other clients there too, there’s just a huge limitation on opportunities for growth in the area of confidence.

Now that doesn’t mean we can’t do any work at all. I’m sure you did great work with your client while she was at this terrible job. That set a nice foundation to lead to where she is now, But I would venture to say that it’s impossible to have confidence if you are in a contentious workplace that is actively working against you in some way. Be it because of your ADHD behaviors or something else entirely. I had a boss that despised me for no reason, Cam. It wasn’t ADHD. I performed really well at that job in terms of doing what I was supposed to be doing. So it was a personal beef, no idea where it came from, and it was stifling because it felt like the rules changed every day. And I never knew when she was gonna fly off the rails at me or why, and it was like she would invent reasons to get upset at me oftentimes by changing the rules or what I thought were the rules of my job.

That type of environment, it doesn’t matter how much inner work you do, it doesn’t matter. How much you lick your ADHD. I’m not gonna be confident in that environment. It’s just not possible. Now, if you kind of contrast that with your teaching years, it was almost the opposite scenario where so much of what was in the way was ADHD and was not seeing your strength and value.

Cam: I really appreciate that example and sort of again, when you get these strong personalities and ego, right, what is ego? This sort of self significance? We really struggle with ego. And so I started to ask my client about, like what was happening, you know, different about this new, environment. And there was very little ego, and she said there were signals of reassurance. I was like, what signals of reassurance? So tell me about those signals of reassurance. It’s like, well, there was a clear mission that we’re focused on this objective and a way of engaging here. That it’s all about learning and we can make mistakes, but communicate that.

So some permissions here and guidance. And you know, last week or last couple weeks, we’ve been talking about the value of feedback, getting accurate feedback. And this is a place where she has a faster loop of accurate feedback to keep the misunderstanding down. That in every situation there is going to be misunderstanding, especially when we don’t communicate or check in.

And so there are already kind of systems in place to keep the communication and to keep the misunderstanding down so they could focus on the job at hand. And not focusing on like products so much, or, you know, pressure to deliver. The first guy always talked about throughput, throughput, throughput, and she was like, I have no idea what throughput means. And it was just these words that he was throwing out. He wasn’t like, do you understand this? How do we work together? And it just was, again, was this muddled space that was not clear.

Ash: Cam, it’s so interesting. I find time and time again with my clients, and I know this is certainly true for me as well, we as ADHD people just do not do well with office politics. And it makes sense if you think about it because we wanna know the context. We want to know why. And we wanna know the rules. And if those things are rooted in logic or company philosophy or something that we can understand and connect to, that’s our interest-based detention system, right? Connecting the why to the actions we’re being asked to do.

And politics and ego can really get in and mess with that because politics and ego aren’t connected to a bigger why, aren’t connected to relevant context. And they often mean that the rules change unexpectedly and without warning. We just do not and cannot thrive in highly political office situations. Now with that being said, I have had clients who have identified a person within an organization who brings those challenges to the table that they can learn to work around. 

Cam: Yes, the politics, the drama, the unwritten rules, the silly games that can be played.

As we finish up here, Ash, I’m thinking of another client who yesterday was in this place of self-advocacy. And this is someone who has not been in a position of self-advocacy for some time. And as I reflect on it, and it is just again, thinking about, you know, what we do in coaching is when we notice our clients doing something different, we want to go in there and look at that with them, right? So this is exploration, curiosity, and reflecting, right. To reflect back on an experience, to pull the learning forward and apply it going forward. This is what we do in coaching.

And so here’s a client coming in a position of, again, advocating for oneself that hadn’t been there before and had wanted to, but was a great struggle. Now, what was present? What was present was confidence. This sense of being in the picture that what I’m trying to do matters, and it became less personal and more mission oriented. What is my mission? What are we trying to do? This sense of what’s the bigger thing that we are trying to do? People, right?

And so that’s the similar thing that’s between these two clients is Hey, it’s not about personalities. It’s not about you or me. It’s about this bigger thing that we’re trying to do, and that’s an environment where we can, again, to advocate for ourselves. It’s very helpful to have a sense of the bigger context.

So you talked about, again, like politics or, games that people play. I want to bring emotionality into it. So what was different for this person was one of her workers, one of her assistants. She has two medical assistants who support her in really high level, technical, work. Just leave it at that, okay.

If she’s doing this technical work, you need to have people who are supportive and helpful and not bringing negative energy, being emotional, complaining. But one of these people, they were let go because they just were in a negative place. And when that person brought that negativity in the room, it just sucked the life force out of my client. And with this person gone and the new person there, she was in there talking with them and they started to move off in a direction. And she’s like, ladies – that’s her words – hey, let’s come back around to what we’re trying to do here. Right? So advocating for her need to, let’s keep moving forward in what we’re trying to do here right now. And this would’ve been just unimaginable a couple months ago, but there’s other things in play, right?

Last week we’re talking about lived experience and how ADHD is one thing that’s happening. Other things in play in the sense of this professional that I work with is often extended, often over-extended and working in too many offices. Too many days depleted, not addressing self-care. And that was the other thing that was present, Ash, was working within her limits, not being over-extended in her week, having days outside in the garden, time to be away from the office to sort of think about those needs.

That’s the other thing we’ll do is that we are sort of like, I want to advocate for myself right now in this moment, and we’re just advocating for this moment right now. Versus to think about what do you want to advocate for? What’s gonna make your situation better and to do that. Outside of work to reflect and not just like, ah, I hate my job and it’s terrible. Versus, okay, what are the things that I can do? What are the needs that I have that are not getting met? Is it an agreement that I can develop with somebody to meet an expectation can we negotiate that expectation? Is there a boundary that I feel like I’m getting pulled over and into some other area that. It’s not my area of strength, but that I’m tolerating. So all kinds of ideas here, listeners, to be thinking about with respect to advocating at work.

Ash: Cam, it’s so interesting because we’ve effectively talked about two types of clients or two types of scenarios with clients in the workplace. One in which the environment of the workplace itself is detrimental to our client’s success, whatever work they might do with us, and another where the client is being successful and performing well as observed by others, but is killing themselves to do so.

We talked about a metaphor a while back of one of my clients. It’s like I’m building facades. I don’t build houses. I build facades, facade after facade, after facade, after facade. And the thing is, is every one of our clients, it’s really honestly a mix of both. What’s going on in the work environment itself? What’s going on with the client and them meeting their own needs and them taking care of themselves? And it’s the combination of those two things that sort of dictate how the situation might play out as our client is learning more.

So where you need to start is getting to what’s real in your situation. Distinguishing these things out, because I’ll tell you, if I were to take a guess, starting with a new client based off of their first, second, third articulation to me about their workplace, about how it was gonna play out, I would rarely be correct. I’ve had clients who come and seem like they’re in work situations that just are completely untenable for them, and we’re able to figure out that it is workable. And not only is it workable, they can be successful here, and here’s what we need to do to get the support they need.

Build some confidence. Let go of one down in the facade building, let go of some stories that are getting in their way and all of a sudden, same work environment, very different experience. And I’ve had the opposite experience where a client comes with a lot of hope that if they can just manage their ADHD stuff that this will be a good environment, a good job, a good role for them. And when we start to break down what’s really going on and what’s at cause for their struggles at work, we discover that while ADHD is part of the mix, it’s really not at cause.

So that’s really what we’re talking about, Cam, aren’t we, is causation. We talk about that a lot as relates to ADHD, but in this context, when looking at what’s not working at work, rather than assuming or starting with ADHD, take a bit of a step back and get curious. What are the other causes? What else is at play in these situations or scenarios that aren’t working for you?

Cam: I love that, Ash, and what you’re talking about, like getting to what is real. And you’re also shedding light on this process in coaching where it takes time. And so, listeners, as we finish up here, just remember that it takes us a bit of time to get to what is real. That it’s hard to see all the different factors that are coming into play.

Assume that there are factors coming into play and bring some curiosity. Bring that keen observer to pause and disrupt there. As Ash just said, this discovery process takes time. And just to take some time and give time to this effort before you start advocating to really get more clarity on the picture and what else is in play other than your ADHD.

Think that might be a good place to finish up, Ash.

Ash: I agree, Cam. So listeners, if you like what we’re doing here on the show, one big way you can help us out is to leave a review wherever you listen. So until next week, I’m Ash,

Cam: And I’m Cam.

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

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