If you are lucky enough to know and care about someone with dyslexia, the following may be of help in understanding them and helping them to understand themselves.
They may not be great at remembering things
This isn’t because they don’t care but because that magical dyslexic brain tends to hold everything in mind all at the same time. Imagine a head full of bubbles, with each bubble containing lots of exciting, creative thoughts. This means that it is difficult for them to prioritise things, and some things get forgotten.
A simple way of keeping track of life and events is to make sure things get written down – post-its, diary, journal. The very act of writing or drawing something helps to imprint on the memory that something needs to be done – even if they can’t quite remember what it is – but then they know where to look to find out.
They can get easily overwhelmed
It takes about five times more energy to be a dyslexic person living in a predominantly linear world (search for Dean Bragonier). Dyslexic people tend to compare themselves to what they think of as ‘normal’, but being dyslexic means that you are processing the world in a fundamentally different way. Different, not wrong, and most neuro-typical people can’t begin to do the things that dyslexic people find easy. Usually being photo-realistic thinkers, it means that they are processing trillions of bits of visual data to make sense of what they are seeing and sensing. This also allows them to make connections that a linear thinker would be oblivious of.
They might find it hard to find the right words
That visual brain can sometimes have difficulty in tracking a specific word because they are seeing the story running like a film in their head. So, they may describe the colour, shape, or landmark of something they are trying to remember rather than being able to locate the actual word. Remembering road names is a perfect example of this. They may not remember the name, but they will be able to describe everything else in minute detail.
They may be sensitive to light, sound, temperature, and texture
The senses of a dyslexic person are highly tuned. Everything tends to come in at the same velocity (sight, sound, temperature, texture) and there is likely to to be little filter on incoming stimuli. Don’t be surprised if your dyslexic darling finds it hard to concentrate on what you are saying when the television is on, or there is lots of cross conversation.
Everything they hear gets unconsciously linked to what they already know about the subject matter. This is their way of making sense of the world, but it takes a fair bit of processing to get there because of the mass of data they are processing. They have to concentrate really hard, and while this is going on other things get missed. It’s not that they are not listening to you, just that they are trying really hard not to listen to absolutely everything and anything. A difficult work scenario for a dyslexic person would be an open plan office where you have to hotdesk, with loads of interruptions, lots of noise, and an AC at the wrong temperature. Noise-reducing earphones will help, but if the person themselves doesn’t realise they are super sensitive, they may feel like they are heading for a meltdown, as it will put their nervous system on ‘high alert’. When they ask you to not interrupt them, they are actually looking after themselves.
They find change difficult
Dyslexic people are, on the whole, very bright with an average or above-average IQ (An Spld – specific learning difference – is not intelligence-related). That bright brain has enabled them to develop lots of higher-level thinking strategies for situations that they have found difficult to understand. Unfortunately, when change happens, those strategies no longer work, and they have to think up new ones; that takes time and energy.
So, if at all possible, they will resist change, and this can feel quite controlling to the person trying to get them to change. It can take a few goes at something for them to know what they are doing or where they are going, but once they do – they fly. Let them ask about something as many times as they need. This highly-tuned, intuitive creature can pick up on body language and micro-expressions very easily. The first sniff of being laughed at or someone getting irritated with the length of time it is taking to understand something will have them shutting down and withdrawing – probably in a state of anxiety.
They can be disorganised, a bit over-organised, or a bit of both
It seems strange doesn’t it, but they can be both all at the same time. They will have a pretty good idea where something is in their own space, but not have a clue where to look for something if they don’t know or didn’t decide on its home. Equally, one of the best strategies for dyslexic people to keep calm and centered is to make sure they put their things back in the same place. It takes self-discipline but saves a lot of friction when something goes missing. A word of warning – do not remove their things without their permission. They have created a safe structure so that they don’t get over anxious and not finding something where they ‘know’ they put it can send their nervous system into overdrive.
A nervous system on overdrive
Sadly, many dyslexic people have had a pretty hard time throughout their educational years, and their nervous system may be primed towards anxiety-related responses (fight or flight). A nervous system in flight or fight response is not one that can engage with learning or feel safe from threat. The best way to help is to allow them to develop a window of tolerance – a place where they get to know what it feels like to be safe and calm, not on alert and wary. Many of us take this place of calm for granted, but someone who has spent a lifetime with a focus on deficit is someone who may find it very hard to feel relaxed and centered.
A note on environment
Because of their general sensitivity, dyslexic people need to be very careful about the environment they live and work in. As said before, the worst scenario is somewhere open-plan where they can get really distracted by what’s going on around them. Being constantly interrupted will mean they lose their train of thought and have to start a task again and again from the beginning – or never finish. Noise can make them super sensitive and jumpy, and if it’s too hot or too cold – beware. They will do their very best to make it just right. You may find them sneaking off for a bit of peace and quiet if they feel they are getting a bit overwhelmed, which is exactly what they should do and be allowed to do.
Just a few of their strengths…
These wonderful, creative, idiosyncratic, truly individual and unique creatures come with amazing strengths that they are often unaware of or dismiss because they don’t feel they meet society’s perceived values. You may not be able to get a degree for these attributes, but it makes for being a great human being.
- critical, lateral, and big-picture thinker
- strong reasoning skills
- brilliant at oral comprehension
The person you have in your life may have had a rocky road, especially through education, and may come with some unresolved issues that have impacted on their confidence and self-belief. However, those same experiences have often helped to craft them into the loyal, intuitive and sensitive person you have in your life. Focus on their strengths. Let them know what they do right. Listen to them to understand not to reply.
So often they have already experienced a lifetime of focus on their deficits. We would take care to put a plant in the right spot in the garden so that it could flourish and get all its needs met – let’s do that with our beloved dyslexic people. Simply love them for who they are – they definitely don’t need fixing, and a little understanding can go a long, long way.
by David Deacon, author of “The Self Determined Manager: A Manifesto for Exceptional People Managers“
We all know managers do crucial work. They shape culture, improve employee performance, drive creativity and innovation. And yet, fewer training dollars are typically earmarked for managers than for people at other levels. You’re right: This makes little sense.
But don’t despair. There’s a LOT you, the individual manager, can do to improve your impact on those you lead and on the company as a whole.
I’m not saying you don’t need training in the technical skills of management. Of course you do. But what makes a great manager has far more to do with your attitude than anything else.
While you may not get to choose the training your company invests in, you can choose your attitude. You can choose your intention. In this way, you invest in yourself.
Attitude and intention. Deacon says they are the cornerstones of becoming what he calls a self-determined manager — one who constantly and intentionally creates environments of over-achievement, where people thrive and produce great work.
Bad managers are so focused on their own needs, or their own fears, or their own performance that they lose sight of the negative, unproductive, demotivating, or destructive environment they are creating. It’s like they think it happens accidentally. On the other hand, the best managers intentionally choose the environment they hope to create.
Making this deliberate and intentional choice is the most powerful thing you can do to become an exceptional manager. Everything else you do will flow from this decision, and, without question, you’ll be a better manager regardless of any skills training your company may or may not offer.
That said, here are a few pieces of advice.
1. Get hyper-focused on the power of amplification.
By virtue of being a manager, your words and actions are amplified. (You cannot stop this, because it is inherent in the way organizations are shaped.) Every pronouncement you make may be repeated many times by your direct reports, every action you take may be emulated many times, and every expectation you set will be reflected in the work of your team. Amplification can be good or bad, so make sure that you remain aware of how anything you are “putting out there” is being received and interpreted.
2. Set your own standards (and make them high!).
Self-determined managers never look outside themselves for the standards of their work. So, set your own very high standards and strive to live up to them as far as possible. You are the one who defines professionalism and sets benchmarks — and when you do this, you will be recognized as a role model for others. Remember, however, that recognition is a by-product, not a goal. Your intention should be to do a great job because that is the point.
3. If you need training in a certain area, ask for it.
There are certain things all managers need to be able to do: give feedback, coach employees, hold tough conversations, communicate clearly, manage time and tasks, and so forth. If you’re lacking in a critical area — and, yes, you’re most likely aware of this — ask for training. If your company can’t or won’t provide it, you must seek it out yourself. Be proactive about developing the skills that will help you create the best environment possible for your team.
4. Start treating employees like adults.
Work is not school. Adults do their best work when they are treated as adults. Therefore, great managers don’t bully, shout, patronize, belittle, name-call, behave aggressively, or condescend. To generate trust and respect, you must create an environment where adults can do great things.
5. Stop playing favorites.
Some managers give certain people time and attention, but offer little contact or guidance to others, based on personal preferences rather than business or project reasons. Those in favor can do no wrong regardless of how much (or little) they do or the quality of their work. Those out of favor learn to moderate their efforts and simply do enough to stay out of trouble. The result? People direct their efforts toward staying in favor; there is no focus on performing well. Resist any urge to have favorites among your team.
6. Be more restless. Each week ask yourself and your team: What can we do better?
The best managers have impatience (if something is worth doing, why wait?), an instinct for continuous improvement (good enough is never good enough), and a lingering sense of constructive dissatisfaction (how can we do this better next time?). They set themselves and others very high standards of performance and conduct.
This demanding impatience for ever-greater impact and ever-higher standards can make self-determined managers very difficult to work for. Just be sure to always balance the high expectations with encouragement and a positive approach.
7. Have a plan in mind for your people.
The best managers have a good sense of where they believe each of their people should be headed. For each employee, look forward and ponder three thoughts:
Where might they be in a few years’ time: perhaps a bigger job, a different role, or a larger team?
Do you have a clear view of what they need to learn now and what they need to learn next that will support their future growth?
Do you have a sense of responsibility and accountability for helping them make that progress?
With great managers, the plan is mainly in their heads, and they can tell you instantly what it is. Not in the language of career frameworks and competency models, but in words that show what they see and appreciate and hope for and worry about for each of their people.
8. Manage your own energy.
Self-determined managers know that maintaining their energy and enthusiasm is their own responsibility. Pay attention to your energy levels and develop habits that help you sustain them. Focus on fitness, nutrition, and stress management and be alert to signs of burnout, to taking on too much (or too little), and to giving yourself breaks.
Remember, one of the most powerful outcomes of maintaining your energy is how it enables you to be positive. If you feel good, you will show it and transmit it!
9. Learn something new. Take a class, master a new skill, even take up a new hobby outside work.
The best managers are interested, curious, open, and alert. They are forever seeking knowledge. This extends far beyond their professional work and reflects their interests, passions, pastimes, and preoccupations.
First, thinking ‘widely’ opens possibilities by helping you foster connections, recognize new opportunities, and find better ways to do things. Secondly, broad knowledge and curiosity make you adaptable; a key part of career success is about applying what you have learned in new situations.
10. Learn to like the people you work with (yes, even the unlikeable ones).
If you deal with someone who is unlikeable, find something to appreciate about them. First, it changes the nature of all interactions and maximizes the chance that you’ll be successful. You get a less cooperative, less inventive, and less engaged relationship with someone you do not like. Secondly, it furthers the chance that your team members will overlook your unlikeable qualities and focus on your best traits as well. Finally, everyone responds well to being treated well.
11. Figure out why the work of the team matters and articulate this to them.
Without this sense of purpose, it’s hard for people to make a greater effort, direct their energies, and self-correct. Further, they will struggle to relate their actions to their employer’s performance, substituting instead other purposes, such as pleasing their boss or doing only work that interests them.
12. Don’t expect perfection, but do keep working toward it.
It’s virtually impossible to be self-determined 24/7, especially when you lose your focus because other things get in the way. Maybe your boss makes an unreasonable request or creates a firestorm you must pay attention to, or the CEO is creating a negative environment, or you have a problem in your personal life. These kinds of things happen to everyone — even self-determined managers. During these times, it’s important to stay conscious and determined, catch people doing things right, articulate clearly, and find meaning and purpose to transmit to your people.
Until you believe that you are worth investing in, you can’t be a self-determined manager. Decide right now that you not only deserve to become the best manager you can possibly be, but that you are capable of reaching this achievement on your own. Once you do this, you’ll be unstoppable.