Anna Granta: Supporting Neurodiversity in Your Team

Some people’s brains work differently. In this talk, you will learn how to harness differences within your team so that everyone can do their best work. Up to 40% of the population is neurodiverse and studies indicate this % is significantly higher in tech companies.

Anna shares her experiences as someone with dyslexia and ADHD to help you understand what neurodiversity is and the strengths and difficulties of neurodiverse people. She will show you how you can best work with, manage and recruit your neurodiverse colleagues.

You will learn: 

  • What dyslexia, ADHD and autism are and how they can be advantages in tech
  • What support you should offer to enable everyone to do their best
  • Which types of tasks will allow different people to shine
  • What this means for recruitment and returning to the office 

Slides

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Transcript

Thank you for that introduction. And I know that Mark is not the only one here who has a personal interest in the topic of neuro diversity in the workplace. Neurodivergent people are extremely over represented in tech and in entrepreneurship. So here in Business of Software, you know, I will probably be surprised if it wasn’t actually a majority of people in the room who were personally affected. But if you’re not personally affected, you will be working with people who are and you want to know how to support them. Because neurodivergent people are pretty fantastic. You know, they achieve at the highest levels when they have the right support. So people like Simone Biles, Jamie Oliver, Emma Watson, Richard Branson, all neurodivergent. On the other hand, neurodivergent people are disproportionately unemployed or underemployed. So you can see there’s a huge kind of spread.


And what is the difference between someone like Emma Watson at the absolute peak of performance of her career, and somebody who is not managing to work or is not working at capacity? It’s a bit of good luck, and it’s a bit of good support. Okay. You know, it really is the small things that can make a huge difference, which is great news, because it means that you are all in a position where you are able to make a huge difference to somebody’s life. And isn’t that kind of exciting. I think that’s kind of exciting. So obviously, here, this is a tech conference, just to show neurodivergent people achieve in tech, you know, some of those people on that screen have skills that you want in your organisation, you do not want to be missing out on people who think like that.

What is Neurodiversity?


So what is neurodiversity? Neuro diversity refers to a group of people with different neuro types. And neuro divergence refers to people whose neuro type differs from the norm. So things like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, those all fall under the category of being neurodivergent. And a group of people who have maybe some neurotypical people and maybe some ADHD people, maybe some Dyslexics, you know, who have a spread of variety, are a neuro diverse group of people.

Neurodiversity is your Secret Weapon.


Why is neuro diversity important in tech? This can be your secret weapon, this can be your ace in your sleeve, right? People with dyslexia, for example, are really good at seeing the flow of events and telling stories. So that can be really important in marketing, it can be really important in testing, because, how are these things? How could this go wrong? That’s a question that somebody with Dyslexia has a natural advantage in answering. And that’s a pretty useful question, to be able to answer if you’re working in testing. These are very kind of simplistic descriptions, just to give you a flavour of the power of diversity, the power of having a team made up of people who think differently, who don’t all think the same, right?


So people with ADHD tend to be very connective thinkers, they can be good at finding unusual solutions to problems, things that other people wouldn’t think of. And also connecting people, connecting different parts of your organisation, helping different departments to speak to each other. That’s something that people with ADHD can be really good at. Wouldn’t it be handy to have a few people like that in your organisation?


Autism, so this fractal image represents scale independence. So autistic people are often not put off by a gigantic challenge. It’s the same whether it’s a gigantic challenge or a tiny challenge. I’m gonna break it apart, and I’m gonna solve it one step at a time, in a really methodical way. And I’m not giving up and isn’t that kind of useful to have a few people who can think like that in your organisation, who have a real attention to detail, who really care about fairness and justice, really powerful people to have in your organisation.


And so the point of neurodiversity is not to have loads of people who think the same, it’s not to have loads of any one of those people. It’s to have a team that has different strengths because the strength of the team is the sum of the strengths of the people in the team. So, if you’ve got a team of six people who are all great at one thing, you’ve got a team, that’s great at one thing. If you’ve got a team who’s got six people who are all great at different things, now you’ve got a really powerful team that has a shot at solving problems that haven’t already been solved, because they’re hard, right? And isn’t that what you want.


So in order to get that, it makes sense to build a supportive environment, which is supportive of the different types of people that you need and the different strengths that you want to attract, and grow and develop within your team. And so I’m going to tell you how to do that a little bit, because we haven’t got loads of time. And this is a big topic, but I’m gonna give you a little bit of an idea.

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Open Dialogue is the Foundation.


So the foundation is always open dialogue, right? I can tell you about my experience, I’ve worked with hundreds of other neurodivergent people. And I can tell you what I’ve learned from their experiences. But ultimately, every individual is different. And the best way to find out what an individual needs in terms of support is to have an open dialogue with them, and to create an environment where they feel safe to tell you what they need. So that is the foundation, as well as that physical environment is really important, explicit communication and recovery time. So I’m going to take you through all of those really quickly, because we’ve got so much to get through. And I want you to have time for questions at the end.


So open dialogue, what does that look like in practice, I said, Every one is different. Don’t just listen to my voice. Don’t just listen to my voice. Listen to a whole bunch of people. And most importantly, listen to the people on your team that you are trying to support. Be really careful about assumptions, there is so much outdated information on the topic of neurodiversity. A lot of the original research was done on like young white boys, and that just doesn’t generalise to, you know, adults and teams and the people that you’re working with every day. So be kind of careful about googling. Check your assumptions. Ideally, if you’re reading information, read information by neurodivergent people, not just about neurodivergent people, and check it with the person that you’re you’re trying to help.


So Good communication is little and often, it isn’t a big bureaucratic process: you go through it, we know all of your needs, we meet your needs, we tick a box, and then we move on. No, it is: what is your biggest problem right now? How can we help address that? Let’s check in in a few weeks and see how that’s gone. It’s experimenting, it’s iterating in terms of finding a solution that is going to work for your team.

Physical Environment.


Physical environment. Minimise disrupt distractions. Loads of people don’t like distractions. But if you find that even little distractions really, really irritate you and make you like absolutely lose your cool, you probably want to go and get assessed for ADHD, right. And for the people on your team who have ADHD, distractions are more than an irritation. So minimise, you know, noise cancelling headphones, working from home some of the time, quiet offices, find what works for you, but work on minimising distractions. Noise and lighting is another part of the built environment that causes a lot of sensory issues for neurodivergent people. So these kinds of glaring lights in my face, not super great. If you’ve got a humming background noise, you know, maybe the refrigerator next door in your office, some people might be really bothered by that. So just try and think about what you can do to minimise the sort of sensory intensity of noise and lighting and listen to people if they say: it’s kind of annoying that noise, isn’t it? Don’t be like: No, it’s fine, I can’t even hear it. Be like: Hey, you’re irritated by that noise, that’s so interesting, I wonder what we can do about it. You know, that open dialogue where you’re listening, and you’re problem solving together. Flexible and hybrid working right? We live in this time where we have tried or working remotely and we’ve tried working together. And we’ve had a chance to see that there are advantages and disadvantages to both. The right answer will depend on the individuals in your team. But flexible and hybrid working can provide real benefits.

Explicit Communication.


So that was kind of the environment, now: explicit communication. What does that look like? I think you had a talk already on having hard conversations. So I won’t go into loads of detail about this. But say what you mean, don’t make people guess, right because we’re not all good at guessing. Some of us if we have to guess, we’re gonna guess wrong, we’re gonna feel really uncomfortable and stressed about the fact that we’re guessing. And we’ve guessed wrong before. And now we have to guess again. Just say what you mean. And particularly if you’re giving difficult feedback to someone, don’t use euphemisms and hope that they know what you mean, like, say what you mean. But even things like emoji that we all have to use, it’s not always explicit what those mean. So maybe you can have a team dictionary where you make it explicit. Allow time for questions.


So particularly around change, a lot of some neurodivergent people can find change really difficult. And one of the ways that we cope with change is to understand its reasoning, to understand the reason for the change. And so that means that if somebody is saying to you, but why do I have to go and move and sit over there? They’re not doing it to be difficult, they’re not doing it to question your authority, they’re probably doing it because they need to know in order to be able to accept the change. So assume that people are saying what they mean, if they say: can you tell me why? They’re asking you why, they’re not questioning your authority. So tell them why. And allow time for that process.

Frameworks.


And frameworks, again, like these are all super big topics. And I’m just, I’m just running through them, because I want you to have time to ask the questions that matter to you at the end. So frameworks can be a really good way of making implicit kind of cultural understanding explicit, you know, who can delegate what to whom, when, maybe put it in a framework, so people know. So that can be really helpful. On the other hand, too much bureaucracy can be really frustrating. And particularly if people feel like there are frameworks in place that are not providing sufficient value to justify the kind of frustration that they generate, that’s gonna cause problems. So being really careful with that balance, but remembering: say what you mean, right, make as much of that implicit cultural understanding within your organisation explicit, because it isn’t clear to everybody, as long as it’s implicit.

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Recovery Time.


And then, finally, recovery time, is super important. We know, it’s important for all of us, we are living through an incredibly stressful period. And if we don’t have time to, to recover, to burn off steam, to kind of finish the stress cycles in our bodies, that stuff just accumulates and accumulates, and it gets worse. And it gets worse until suddenly, someone who used to be a really good employee is taking loads of time off sick for their mental health. And you don’t know how this happened. And it’s a real nuisance, because they’re the only person who knows how to make the widget, do the thingamajig. Building recovery time, so it doesn’t get like that normalised taking time off.


I think you’ve had some, some great talks about culture, over the past couple of days, culture starts from the top right, you lead by experience. And one of the really important things that you do as senior leaders founders, is you take your annual leave, right, because if you’re not taking your annual leave, then guess what, nobody else is going to feel comfortable taking it either. And that’s gonna cause problems. So take your annual leave, but go one step further: if you’re sick, don’t work! Radical. If you need time off for your mental health, say so and lead by example. And that is probably one of the bravest, most powerful things that you can do, to really create a positive culture, a culture of openness and trust. Nobody’s gonna think worse for you, right? As people we love, openness, honesty, vulnerability, we all need more of that in our lives. And as a senior leader, you are in a position where you can be brave, because actually there’s not that much at stake, right? Nobody’s gonna come up to you and be like: you took time off, You’re so lazy. Because they can’t because you’re their boss. So make the most of that and use it to really create a culture where nobody says that to anybody, because we’re just nice to each other.


Schedule meetings thoughtfully. So meetings are another area where different people have different needs, right? So the right answer is going to depend on the situation on your team and on the needs of the people in your team. Some people love to stick all their meetings on a day or two so that they can have time free of interruptions to really get into that work, and that’s what works best for them. Other people get exhausted if they have more than a couple of meetings in a day. So they need to spread them out with recovery time in between. Just be mindful of what people need, and be really understanding that when somebody says something like: I’m really Struggling with three meetings every Monday, like I don’t, it really exhausts me. Listen and take them seriously and think about what you can do. Because they are not exaggerating, they will be minimising their struggle, they will be struggling more than they are telling you. And so if they’re brave enough to tell you that that’s a struggle, listen.


Places to rest. So if you do have a physical location, an office building, places to rest. Even if you’ve got just a kind of tiny outside space, you can put in some pot plants and a little bench and make it an inviting place to rest. Those of you with bigger premises, you know, a cooldown room, a chill out room, a place where there are no phones, nobody’s talking. It’s very, you know, dim lighting, kind of sensory calm environment, because sometimes people just need 10 minutes, away from the bright lights, or the people interrupting them or everything that’s going on. And those 10 minutes can be enough to recharge and then go to the next meeting and deal with the next set of demands. But if people don’t get those, those few minutes that they need, the stress builds up and it builds up and it builds up.


And that is when you get people leaving jobs that they love, because they can’t handle the stress anymore, or reducing their hours down as a way of compensating. And it’s kind of a shame for the individual. And it’s such a waste for your organisation. And a few simple changes, we can avoid that. So this is kind of the the simple, you can do it now. It’s going to help everybody: physical environment, explicit communication, recovery time and all of it underpinned by that absolutely crucial, open dialogue.

Building Neurodiversity.


How do you build a more diverse team? Inclusive recruitment is going to be a really big piece of piece of that, isn’t it?

Job Adverts.


Job adverts should say what they mean, they should be clear. You may have heard the research that says that women are less likely to apply for a job if they don’t meet all of the criteria, whereas men will just apply anyway. Actually, neurodivergent men are probably not gonna apply anyway. So there’s also an element of that that applies to neurodiversity. So if you don’t need all of the things, make it clear that you don’t need all of the things. And avoid sort of subtly hinting at the culture of your company within job adverts. That’s actually really hard not to do. And it’s really beneficial often to get an outside pair of eyes to read it over and say: You do know that the way that this job is written, it sounds like you want someone who’s 25 and going to work 90 hours a week. And you can be like: No, I did not know that. But it’s hard for you to see within your company. So outside eyes on job adverts can be really helpful.

Interview Accommodations.


Interview accommodations. Again, this is a huge and difficult topic. If you want to build a truly diverse organisation, it makes sense to have interview accommodations. People get really upset when I talk about interview accommodations. And the thing that they say is: but that’s not fair. If I give that to one candidate and not to another, it’s not a level playing field. Alright, fair does not mean equal. Okay, I need you to understand that fair and equal are different concepts. Equal means treating everybody the same. And that is usually not fair. Right? Fair means treating everybody according to their needss. Thank you. So I don’t ever want to hear anybody say that isn’t fair when they mean that isn’t equal.


So in order to fairly interview people with different needs, you might need to modify your interview process. The best way to do that, is that open dialogue, right? It’s to ask candidates, what interview accommodations they need. However, I caveat this, do not ask people if you’re not going to listen. Because if you ask people and they tell you, they are being vulnerable, if you then ignore them, they are going to be really pissed off with you. And they’re gonna go on Glassdoor or wherever and they’re gonna write shit about your company, deservedly so. So, only ask people what interview accommodations they need, if you are prepared to listen, if you are prepared to listen, and this is a really powerful way to increase the diversity of your organisation.


So people might ask for things like seeing the interview questions ahead of time. And this is because some people struggle under fire to respond to questions, especially verbal questions, right? And so seeing the questions written down, allows them to process them and think of the answer. It is not because they want to get your questions so that they can go and ask their mate so they can prepare answers so that they can impress you because you’re not stupid, you will know if they’ve done that and you will not be impressed. So ask people what accomodations they need, but only if you’re brave enough as an organisation to listen.

Onboarding.


So you’ve interviewed someone, it’s gone great. Hooray. Everybody’s excited. Next step: onboarding process. So we talked a little bit about making the culture explicit, this is really going to help with your onboarding process, right? It’s going to help with onboarding anybody, frankly. But it’s really going to help onboarding neurodivergent people who aren’t going to understand the implicit culture. So whatever those implicit rules are about, when you can have your lunch, or, you know, what meetings are optional, and what meetings you have to go to whatever it is, put it down on paper and tell people, and that will be a really interesting exercise for you to go through as an organisation to see: oh, what is our culture, actually, and are we living our values. Having kind of dictionaries of domain specific words and acronyms, also is going to really help you onboard dyslexic people, you know, having an up to date company directory, so that if you’re not great at learning names, you have a place that you can go and you can see an up to date photo and go: Oh, that’s who they wanted me to talk to, you know, with contact details, and seats, if you have seats. This is really going to help people get on board.

Should you Return to the Office?


So some of you at this point in time, are thinking about returning to the office tradition? I don’t know. It’s a big hard question. Some of the things to think about are: returning to the office means you have to commute, which is actually really helpful for a lot of neurodivergent people because it gives that transition time, that separation between I’m at work, I’m not at work. And not having that was really difficult for a lot of people post being in the office, strict routine, you know what’s happening when. And that can be really helpful for some neurodivergent people. Pros: it allows those connective thinkers who want to join different parts of your organisation together to do that more effectively when they’re in the same physical space. On the other hand, cons: commuting, it’s a real pain, it can be a sensory nightmare for some neurodivergent people. You see, you need open communication because there’s no one answer. Things that some people love others hate. I know people whose mental health was really seriously impacted by losing the routine when lockdown happened. I also know people who absolutely rebel against any imposed external routine. And were delighted by the extra freedom, freedom of working from home, it isn’t easy.


You’ve got to make trade offs and the trade offs will be different depending on your team. But as long as you’ve got that foundation of open dialogue in place, you can’t go too far wrong. Because if people feel safe to say: this isn’t working for me, can we try something different? You know, that’s a really powerful safety net, isn’t it? Open dialogue, talking to people, but then listening to what they say. And acknowledging that they’re being brave if they tell you what they need, and honouring that, you know, even if you can’t do what they’re saying that they think they need, you can honour it by listening by going: okay, why do you think that you need that? How can we meet the need under the why even if we can’t do the thing that you’re asking for?

Office Socialising.


Wow, I whizzed through that. Bonus Tip: office socialising. So it has been some years since I went to an office social, maybe things have changed. But do an audit. Right. What are your office socials? And do they work for everybody on the team because that picture of people jumping out of an aeroplane that could be an absolutely brilliant office social, right? If everybody on that team feels safe and excited to jump out of an aeroplane then that’s going to be a brilliant bonding experience. But you can probably recognise that if there’s somebody on that team who is scared of heights, that’s not appropriate. It’s not okay to say: well, you just won’t go. When jumping out of a plane is the only way you socialise. And it’s always that one person who’s afraid heights who doesn’t come? That’s not really right is it? You know, and it’s the same if all of your office socials involve tonnes of people talking in a noisy environment in the presence of alcohol, and that doesn’t work for certain members of your team, you know, if that works for everybody on your team, and you never want to grow your team to include people that doesn’t work for, that’s your choice. But if there are people on your team, who don’t love that environment, who always find reasons not to get out, it might just be that doesn’t work for them. And you need to think of a different idea.


Great, I’m really glad I’ve raced through that, because it’s this is a small, intimate gathering. And I actually want to answer your questions and talk about the stuff that matters to you.

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Mark Littlewood
Where are we gonna start? With Bob, I think you’ve met before.

Question from Audience
Yeah, I think we might have done. Hi, Anna, how you doing? I suppose one of the questions I want to ask, and I can illustrate this with an example if needs be, for example, around mental health. My company, as with many, makes a bit of a song and dance around mental health week. But I don’t get the sense that people talk about it. And this includes me a great deal year round, but it’s not like mental health issues are limited to Mental Health Week. The reason I don’t talk about my own issues is because I did that once before. And it was extremely costly for me. And so it’s not that I don’t trust my colleagues or me on the board or other people in the organisation or in our parent company. But I don’t know them all. And so I don’t talk about mental health issues, because the cost of doing so if there’s just one person in a position of power, who’s not very enlightened, let’s say is really, really high. How do we foster an environment where people can trust each other with what is intensely personal information that could be used against them?

Anna Granta
Thank you. And I think it’s important to say: you don’t have to talk about it, it is legitimate to decide not to.

Question from Audience
But it’s very hard to make allowances for something that, again, you were talking about being explicit, it’s quite hard to make allowances to be fair, when you don’t have all the information about a situation, you don’t really, you’re seeing something happening, but you don’t understand why or the underlying causes.

Anna Granta
It can be. So I talk to people quite a lot about whether or not to disclose that they’re neurodivergent. And it’s always a personal decision. But one thing that you can do is you can disclose the need without disclosing a label. Because often labels come with a lot of stigma attached. And often there is a big risk. And it’s you know, it’s your choice, and everybody’s choice, whether or not they choose to take that risk. I was trying to encourage the people with most power to take that risk on behalf of those with less power. But maybe, you know, there’s no amount of power where you feel safe disclosing certain things. Yeah, so you can say, I need to not come into work tomorrow. And if you’re in a good organisation, that should be enough, right? And you’re still leading because you’re still saying: I expect that I work in an organisation where it’s okay to say I need to not come into work tomorrow, and you will trust me on that. That’s still powerful cultural leadership without having to say: because, you know, a thing happened and it triggered me and now I’m having an episode and bla bla bla bla bla. Does that show a kind of possible path or?

Question from Audience
I think that’s reasonable. I think I’m always wary about giving no reason whatsoever if I you know, if I suddenly need to disappear, doesn’t happen very often, but it has happened. I’m always wary of giving no reason whatsoever.

Anna Granta
It might be interesting for you to dig into that. You know, because we all have our own internalised ableism right? It’s our own internalised view of what’s okay and what’s not. And if you are in a position of power, then your internalised view of what’s okay and what’s not does flow downwards. So if you’re saying I always have to give a reason, that sends a message to everybody else that they also always have to give a reason. And you know, it is your decision, it’s your right to make that decision. I’m not going to, you know, think badly of you for making that decision. But what would it feel like to make a different decision?

Question from Audience
Yeah, right. What’s the message you’re sending? That’s interesting. Thank you, Anna.

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Mark Littlewood
Maybe. So I’d really like to get Tessa’s view on this. Because you were very explicit. When you were talking in the last session about how you’re very, you’re very explicitly looking for different types of diverse people. Is that born out of some kind of experience in the corporate world, where you were saying things that you really wanted to change? And said: that’s not right. Or where did that kind of come from? And have you have you been able to foster that within?

Tessa Clarke
I’ll be very honest with you. I stumbled across it, because we decided to build the business remote first. And then it was through interviewing candidates. And we have a very open dialogue type approach to the conversations we have with people before they join Olio. And I was just amazed how people were opening up about just how unhappy they were having to conform in a work environment. And it was just, I just had so many kind of aha moments. And I realised that there was just incredible talent out there that was being forced to conform. And often were then having to opt out of the workplace because there wasn’t an alternative.

Tessa Clarke
But given I’ve got the microphone, I’m gonna be really cheeky and ask a question. So we have a massively neurodivergent team, and one of the things we’re trying to sort of wrap our heads around, is, in particular, we have a number of team members who suffer from really quite severe anxiety. And we’re trying to organise kind of physical get togethers but trying to do that in a really inclusive way. And I was wondering if you’ve got any recommendations or tips or approaches about how to do that? Yeah, like do we need to sort of ask certain people to be representative of that sort of view into activity input into how those events are created? Or are there some general watch outs that we should always apply to, when we’re organising events, you have just wandering around that kind of anxiety piece in particular?

Anna Granta
Yeah. So I think with anxiety, feeling in control is really powerful. So I would probably consider making everything optional. And you might get a higher turnout that way if people know that they can opt out, but also that they can leave at any time. So there’s no sense of: we’re here and we’re committed for the weekend. It’s like: this is the number for the taxi, if you need to go, you go. And that’s cool. You know, and people might need it, but just knowing it’s there might be really helpful. I would in terms of, do you have representatives? I would say, it might be helpful to have sort of a representative on your group who comes up with a plan, but then come up with a draft plan, present it to people and ask honestly for their feedback, being really clear that this matters to you, and you want to get it right, and you are prepared to iterate until it feels right. That open and honest dialogue. Does that answer your question?

Question from Audience
Yeah, thank you.

Question from Audience
Something I tried to figure out the balance of is: how proactive you should be with people, because I’m constantly trying to accept people as they are, but not in any way label them. And that also goes for ethnicity, gender, preference, sexuality, and so forth. And one specific question I have is I feel this assumption in this that all the people you’re dealing with, know that they have a condition and that it’s been diagnosed. I wonder how you might handle, if you as Mark’s boss suspected that Mark might have ADHD, how you would approach that problem? Sorry, problem’s a negative word, how you would handle that scenario.

Anna Granta
I feel I’ve been handed a false dichotomy. This is absolutely not for people who are diagnosed or people who identify. This is thinking about changes that is going to make your organisation work better for everybody because most neurodivergent people are currently not diagnosed right? Diagnoses have increased hugely over the last few years. But no, there will absolutely be people who, who either kind of know but they haven’t been diagnosed or they don’t even know but they’re still listening to people who say the lights are really bothering me. Can we do something about that? You know, listen to them, whether they’ve got a diagnosis or not. But I would never kind of label or suggest a label to anybody else. That’s a personal journey for them to go through, you know, you’re not qualified. But also, you know, people are ready at different times to know different things about themselves. So neither, I guess, I would listen to people saying: I get really distracted, can I work in the corner, where people don’t walk past as much? You know, whether or not they had a diagnosis, but I wouldn’t say: Have you considered getting a diagnosis? If I didn’t have that kind of relationship.

Question from Audience
So how would you handle the scenario? Would you just not say anything to Mark, but treat him as if that might be a potential? Are you just trying to build a self workspace where if somebody has an undiagnosed condition, it’s perfectly set up for them?

Anna Granta
I would listen to Mark when he tells me how he works best, and what things are interfering with him doing his best work, and I wouldn’t try and put a label on it.

Question from Audience
So in terms of Mark’s development, you would never go near suggesting that.

Mark Littlewood
If I said to you: I’ve got this fucking thing that’s buzzing and it’s really annoying. You would just address that directly? And say: is there somewhere else you can go and you’d rather work. You wouldn’t say: Are there any other things that bother you? I mean, without diagnosing me is that a way to open a conversation and leave that door open to support somebody?

Anna Granta
I think it depends on the relationship that you have with that person. But I would be really cautious. I’m a coach for neurodivergent people. So people come to me, and they usually have at least one label, but they usually have at least one other thing that they don’t have a label for yet. And sometimes I do say: That’s really interesting, I’ve heard that a lot from my clients who are autistic, I wonder if that’s something you’d be interested in reading more about. But that’s a very kind of safe one-to-one relationship that we’ve built up. It’s not something I would do, I think as somebody’s boss. Unless, we had a really good relationship where I knew how they would take that

Question from Audience
Something we’ve done a OLIO that others might find helpful, if they haven’t done it is everyone has a user manual that kind of sits against their name on the company intranet. And it’s now very, very commonplace for people to be able to very open about what type of environments they thrive in, what sorts of things can drain them of energy. And that’s just a very powerful tool because it just normalises the ability to have that conversation and to call out what brings out the best in you and what doesn’t work for you?

Anna Granta
Yeah, those. I think you have to be very careful with those kinds of needs passports or whatever you’re calling them, because it’s not an ongoing conversation, or I’ve often seen it.

Question from Audience
It’s not a passport it’s much more. It’s much more about: this is who I am. This is how to communicate with me. I mean, to be honest, I’ve never thought about if I’m being really honest, I’ve never thought about it with a neurodiversity lens on, I had just thought about it. The reason why we’ve done it is about enabling people to be really open about what kind of environment they thrive in. But I’m now realising as I think through all the user manuals that I’ve read of our team members, so many people have been using that as a channel to communicate really openly with everyone else about what brings out the best in them, and what to avoid.

Anna Granta
Yeah, but that’s great. If it’s working in your organisation, I’ve seen similar tools, sometimes the power thing can be a bit weird. So if your boss loves to do everything over the phone, and you’re somebody who actually really prefers written communication, do you feel safe to say that? Hopefully, your team do but I have seen organisations where that isn’t the case. And so that just gives me this sort of slightly uncomfortable feeling. But I think if it’s done well, then that could be.

Question from Audience
But that’s a problem that runs deeper in your organization’s culture, then clearly, if that manifests itself in that way, I would argue.

Anna Granta
I mean, power dynamics run deep within all human culture. That is, they need to be actively found in things rather than assumed to not exist. But yeah.

Question from Audience
So great talk, by the way, I’m running a remote team. And we’re starting an experiment where I found finally a psychologist who will do remote sessions with every team member. So they have a session each week, and they can choose whether to attend it or not. Do you expect that to blow back into our face?

Anna Granta
I don’t know, it seems a little bit weird if you have one psychologist for the whole team, because that might create conflicts of interest, where they hear information from one person that would really help them to solve a problem somebody else is having but that was privileged information in another conversation. Are they going to relay that and play Chinese whispers or not? So in my mind, it might be clearer to use different people for different team members. But you know, having that kind of support available, could be a good thing. I can see that’s generated questions.

Question from Audience
I’m asking a question that every talk, because I’m a massive extrovert, and I really like talking and listening. So thank you for your patience. I think it’s very challenging to ask any British person to say what they really mean. We’re just brought up never to do that. Obviously, it’s a massive risk to say what you actually mean. And so I’ve noticed culturally, inside any company, inside our company, we have lots of nationalities. I mean, obviously, particularly from my perspective, but I’m sure this is across the world, are afraid of being rude. So if you actually just say what you mean, then you risk being really rude. So then you’re at talks, when people are saying: This is how you can couch what you’re doing with lots of empathy, and lots of communication and lots of support and mentoring. So in some ways, you’re not really saying what you really mean, you’re actually just trying to make people feel better about the news, or whatever it is. And so in some ways, I want to reverse the challenge that you’ve got, which I completely take on board, which is how can you explain to, let’s say, neurodivergent, people who might just very happily and instinctively say what they mean? And not realise or understand how rude it is that they come across to other people? Like why have you just basically, you know, roasted me. And then there’s essentially an empathy gap between two people who definitely want to communicate and collaborate. But you actually have a gap on both sides, don’t you?

Anna Granta
Yeah, so what you have is two different communication styles, right. And often, in my role, I find myself being the interface between those two different communication styles. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that the autistic communication style has been kind of looked down on by the majority. The minority autistic people have effectively had a type of therapy that is very related to conversion therapy, applied at them as a community. And that has caused a huge amount of harm to the community. So it’s not kind of an equal power dynamic going in. And that is why I feel happy to stand here on a stage and advocate for more compassion towards what I’m going to call the autistic communication style, versus the neurotypical because we’re a long way from addressing those historic balances. I mean, that said, in my work, I do work individually with neurodivergent people to help them to communicate in a way that matches their intent more effectively. But yeah, we have to just be really careful because of that kind of historic training, to acknowledge that it’s two different communication styles with a gap rather than like one that’s right, and one that’s wrong, which I know is not what you’re saying. I’m just, I’m just always mindful of that. So you know, teaching neurotypical people what autistic communication looks like, is something that hasn’t historically been done. Whereas teaching autistic people how to mask and be neurotypical and burnout in the process, historically, we’ve done a lot of that so there’s an imbalance.

Question from Audience
Just follow up on that. So I think if you work towards an organisation with good psychological safety, and you express a mantra of assumed positive intent, these kinds of gaps between two different communication styles are more easily diffused or resolved.

Anna Granta
Yeah, and, you know, they’re real. And they can lead to real miscommunications and then those miscommunications need to be addressed. But yeah, if you’re assuming positive intent, it is easier to address those miscommunications.

Question from Audience
Can I just reinforce that as well? What I keep hearing is, you’re really reframing of the conversation from: there’s different people who’ve got problems, and there’s the rest of us. No, that’s not it. We’re just all different. And it’s, it’s always been like that before any of these labels existed. And we’ve always had the challenge of and the responsibility to figure out how to get on together anyway, how to come together as a team, or as a family or as a company or whatever, and get done what we need to get done. Acknowledging everybody’s differences, you know, some of those differences could be viewed as strengths and weaknesses, they could be viewed as pathology and health are they could be just viewed as well there. Steven, there’s Jain and they’re different from each other. And both of them are valued members of the team. And I need to speak to them differently, because they’re different from each other. It’s always been like that. We all work in software, lots of us do, right? I mean, software is full of weirdos, right? And including us, right? So who are we to judge anyway? We just have to figure out how to get get along. I think that’s all I wanted to say.

Anna Granta
Thank you. Yeah. And back to what you were saying about addressing those problems when they occur. I think if you say what you mean, while addressing those problems, that goes a long way. So it’s: Jane, did you know that when you said, the impact of that was, SO and SO interpreted this? And, you know, maybe Jane didn’t know that, let’s assume positive intent right now why she didn’t know that. But now she does. Because you’ve told her but not like: you must be different. Just in there. Like, here’s some information about the impact of your choices now that you have more information, you can decide if you want to make different choices. That kind of bring all of those super

Mark Littlewood
Final question. Yes. Sharon?

Question from Audience
Thank you, Anna, this is a really useful session for me, I realised I might have ADHD, I have too much passion, too much drive. Never give up, just can’t calm down. And sometimes when I stop to pitch my ideas to others, they’ll say: oh, Sharon, I can clearly see your passion. Now, let’s just ignore that you can ignore my emotion, you could know my passion is listen to my ideas. So how do I sort of handle the situation? Now I realise it’s probably a condition, right? It’s I just can’t give up. I just have to, like, drive too much drive too much, it can be too much. And it’s called ADHD saving, how do I deal with it, how I help myself.

Anna Granta
So I want to say lean into your passion as a strength, embrace your passion. Because it allows you to lead right? When you’re passionate about an idea. It helps other people get on board and feel passionate about it too. And having the best idea in the world, but being too shy to share it with the world and tell everybody how amazing you think it is. It isn’t going to get you very far. Having an okay idea. And feeling like you’re allowed to be passionate about it, that helps people join in with your idea and move your idea on.

Anna Granta
I mean, I can’t tell if you’re sort of using passion as a euphemism for overwork. So there’s a real link between ADHD and workaholism, which can be really harmful, obviously, for the individual. So, you know, you need balance in your life, you need things that you’re doing that aren’t work, but don’t try and hide the passion, you know, and lean into the passion. If that’s part of you. That’s a great thing to have. Yeah, what I tell a lot of people with ADHD is when you feel that: I’ve got so much energy I want to do more things. Don’t grab more work commitments for somebody else, because the crash is going to come. And when you’re feeling energised and you grab a whole bunch more commitments, you then end up overcommitted. When the crash comes, instead, you’re feeling energised, great, put that into your passion project, your hobby, your garden, something that you can turn on and off when you need to. Because the crash is gonna come, and then you can go: you know what I’m putting that to one side for now? And I’m just doing what I have to do. And then you know, the passion is going to come back and then you can pick it back up. Yeah, does that help to kind of find that balance a little bit? Thank you

Mark Littlewood
Thank you, I guess, maybe to sum up and kind of bring this all to a close, we’ve been on a journey over a couple of days. There’s been a lot of talks and conversations about trying to understand what your customers think and feel and want and how you communicate with them. How your team members, your boards, your investors, whatever. But fundamentally, this kind of stuff comes down to how people treat other people. And we love to think that we’re in this great world of software, which is bits and bytes, and digital, and everything is simple. But the thing that really messes software up is wetware. Brains. And this has been a fabulous journey for me, I’ve learned so much about all sorts of different things. I think maybe just thinking about how this kind of sums everything up, just we need to bear in mind that there is this power dynamic, and sometimes that’s within organisations and the people within organisations. It might be a power dynamic between your investors, your customers, whatever it is on a wider level, but it’s always worth bearing in mind that that thing is out there and the people with the most power, need to be aware if you want to get the best out of life in the world. Have the needs and thoughts of others. Great, thank you. So thank you. Really fabulous.


Anna Granta
Anna Granta

Anna Granta

Neurodiversity Coach

Anna is an ADHDer and dyslexic, which means that her formal training on neurodivergent conditions has a lifetime’s worth of experience to draw on. 

A Cambridge mathematician, she has worked in software development with companies including Redgate, Featurespace, Metaswitch and Cambridge Intelligence. Her gift is understanding people, what they want, what they are truly capable of, and where they are holding themselves back. She’s run her own coaching practice for the past three years to work with people to help them grow and realize their ambitions.

More from Anna.


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