Navigating Double Speak…

Feb 23, 2022
Neurodivergent thinkers are often direct in their communication style and the idea that others may not communicate what they mean feels frankly deceptive and/or exhausting. It might trigger our nervous system as we are alerted to potentially compromised safety or, it can exhaust us such that we switch off. For me, the latter is true. My brain hates detail so if I must read between the lines for a request in an email, I will often miss it and fail to respond as my attention is elsewhere. When it comes to writing an email, I am perfectly aware of etiquette and register but my mind does not enjoy the slower modem of writing and wants to get to the big picture of why I am writing. This means that I get straight to the point and often must go back to the beginning and put in the socially acceptable opener paragraph to warm the reader up. For some of us, the socially acceptable opener paragraph is a mystery as we genuinely don’t see what purpose it serves. For some of us, knowing that we are supposed to write in this way is exactly why we won’t do it. The demand triggers a refusal to put that paragraph in. This is all you get. Deal with it. I have been going to choir for a while and not once did it occur to me to go to the pub with the often 20 strong group after singing. I find the break tricky in the middle of choir. I used to think it was a lack of confidence in meeting new people (I was fresh from burning out of my career a few years ago and my confidence was shot). I now realise that small talk exhausts me. I can just about manage it in short bursts especially with people I have a spark with. If humour is involved, I am ALL in. I met a friend at choir (also a coach) and we started to go to the pub with everyone else but eventually sat tucked away in a corner talking about coaching. Recently I was honest and said that the only reason I go to the pub is to talk to him and I have no wish to talk about nothing with 20 odd acquaintances. It is such a relief to be honest, lead with your preferences confidently, and not feel ‘less than’ for being different! In verbal communication, sometimes neurodivergent thinkers can take things at face value and not see underlying intentions and drivers in others because we tend to say what we mean. In my experience of coaching, we are less likely to spot hidden intentions when there is a power dynamic between us and another person. I remember thinking a person I spent a lot of time with when I was 18 was super confident. As such, I had her on a pedestal and my mother tried to help me see that what I took to be confident and outgoing behaviour was a façade and a mask for deep insecurities. I could not see this as I had accredited them with so much power in relation to me. I think once we start to become aware of how we mask ourselves, we are quick to pick up on other’s masks. My clients often talk about seeing themselves more clearly and then being able to see others better. This can be both positive and negative and can lead to a reappraisal of relationships. One thing I have always been able to see through is what other people judge as ‘arrogance’ or ‘aloofness’ in others. I have always found it fascinating that what are to me obvious fronts, coping mechanisms or even glimpses of self-belief or sparkle, upset people so much. I have always thought this says more about the people judging than who they are judging. Whilst we might get slightly numbed out to people in a power dynamic with us, we are often extremely sensitive to the underlying dynamics in a group or team. If there are any ‘games’ going on, we can get so distracted or overwhelmed that we can’t concentrate or participate on the main thing. There are often more ‘Teflon like’ conversations in large groups where there is little to hook onto and feel pointless and draining. I prefer one to one friendships or small groups. Unless of course I curate a group or a team. That’s different. The group and its dynamic become a thing of creative beauty and I am energised by its success! Some neurodivergent clients have talked about their enjoyment of groups when they are the leaders and have a clear role to play. Often in a bid to navigate emotions we can lead with our heads and try to rationalise people’s actions. Neurodivergent thinkers might differ as to why this is. For some of us, we feel things so intensely, that cutting off from our emotions is a mechanism to keep us safe. For others, it may be that we struggle to label our feelings or we don’t get time to label anything before our brain is flooded. We can lose confidence in our own intuition and decisions through constantly deferring to others. This can make us vulnerable to those particularly unworthy of a pedestal or overthinkers as we try to figure out what the right thing is rationally because fear of rejection, othering and mood swings mean we don’t trust our gut…Diagnosis and great coaching can really help us to be who we are, on purpose. Katie Friedman is the Director of Gold Mind Neurodiversity Training and a Leadership and ADHD coach. She is also an Associate Coach for Genius Within, providing job coaching for ND clients in work. She is neurodivergent and is a parent to three neurodivergent children. [email protected]