Recognizing and working with colleagues’ different cognitive styles helps get the most out of everyone
.. It wasn’t until he received his first formal diagnosis—initially for ADHD, rather than autism—that I realized his brain was just wired differently from mine. I was able to recognize how often I was asking him to do something he couldn’t do, rather than something he wouldn’t do. Even more important, I started to see the connection between his wiring and his talents, like his mathematical ability and his extraordinary vocabulary.
.. Once I recognized those distinctions as a mom, I started seeing them in my professional relationships, too.
.. After my son’s diagnosis, I started to pay attention to how different members of the team did or didn’t participate in our regular sit-downs.
For instance, my own wiring pushes me to jump in, get as many of my ideas on the table as possible, and then push toward a decision. But one smart young man, who was absolutely brimming with ideas, wasn’t apt to speak during meetings. He once explained to me, “I need time to reflect before I’m ready to share my ideas.”
.. After that, I started breaking our meetings into two parts: part one to lay out our goals and any relevant background, plus invite ideas from people whose wiring was set up to present ideas the way I did. In part two, I’d invite input from those who needed time. Our meetings became much tighter and more effective, and we started to tap into the wisdom of our whole team.
.. Then there were those people—kinetic learners—who I realized aren’t built to sit still. To think or learn to their full ability, they need to move around, such as pacing or jiggling their knee or leaving the office at lunch to do a thousand-calorie workout.
.. But with my new mind-set, I started to schedule walking meetings whenever I was huddling one-on-one and didn’t need to take a lot of notes; I used voice dictation on my phone to capture key takeaways as we walked.
.. Getting outside and moving around not only helped my kinetic colleagues think more clearly and creatively, but also helped me discover that moving around gets me thinking differently, too.
.. It never dawned on me that many people’s wiring isn’t set up to read throat clearing or glances at a phone as signs that it’s time to wrap up a chat, so they need more direct signals. But now if I find someone isn’t picking up on my cues, I say explicitly, for instance, “I need to end our conversation now so that I can get back to work.”
.. I have always been someone who remembers ideas and theories more than facts and anecdotes, but I had never thought about how that affects my professional relationships. I just noticed that I often had to repeat an idea three or four times before my colleagues finally understood or retained it. “Why can’t they understand the idea of aggregating and tagging social-media content?” I might fret.
.. Once I started peppering my conversations with specific, concrete examples for each of my abstract ideas, I found my colleagues were much faster to embrace my ideas on everything from software projects to marketing campaigns.
Soon, it took fewer repetitions for me to get my ideas across—but I also became more patient with the repetition, because I realized that I wasn’t speaking their language.
.. I have long realized that I have challenges with what psychologists call “executive function”—namely, the ability to break a project apart into component tasks and organize those tasks so that they can be completed on time. I’m the kind of person who has a messy desk and can easily miss deadlines, so I’ve gradually built up a set of digital tools and habits that mostly compensate for my state of mental disorganization.
.. When I start working with someone new, I let them know that I am not great at keeping track of tasks and details, so I invite them to remind me if anything slips.