Missed Connections

Written by B.J Woodstein, PhD

Have you ever seen someone across the room or on a bus and wanted to speak to them? You didn’t know them, but there was something that pulled you to them, and you felt a connection of some kind. Then the person leaves the room or disembarks from the bus and the moment ends and you never get to know them. Or perhaps you heard someone you didn’t know say something really interesting and you wanted to join the conversation, but you were too shy and you didn’t have the courage. Then the conversation moved on and you didn’t ever take part in it.

Similarly, at work, have you ever felt like you wanted to get to know a colleague and maybe work on a project together or even become friends but you didn’t know how to start the conversation? Or have you thought about how you had a skill that you knew would contribute to a task, but you were afraid of bragging about yourself? Or have you been in a meeting and wanted to speak up about an important issue, but couldn’t quite formulate the right words at the time? Later, you might mentally kick yourself and think you should have been brave enough to talk, to suggest, to question. But the moment is gone.

Or is it? Is that moment of possible connection truly past?

Well, we’d argue that it isn’t. In the world beyond the workplace, the concept of missed connections has long been a popular one. Sometimes people have felt a spark between themselves and someone else, whether romantically or otherwise, and didn’t act on it at the time, but later realised that they didn’t want to let it go. So they put an advert in a newspaper or online or they asked for help from friends, and they managed to connect with the person after all. Sure, in some cases, nothing came of it; maybe the other person didn’t feel what the person placing the ad felt, or perhaps there was no real spark after all. But sometimes it did lead on to something more: a creative partnership, a beautiful friendship, a short-term relationship, even marriage and kids.

If we’re willing to accept the idea of rectifying missed connections outside the workplace, then why not within a place of employment too? Maybe we can call this the “keep calm and speak up” approach; in other words, don’t assume you wasted the opportunity and that your chance is now over forever. Take some time, think about what you want to accomplish, and make it happen. How you do that, however, will depend in part on what the scenario is. We’ll cover a few common “missed workplace connections” in what follows.

 

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Doubling Down: Why is it so hard for Leaders to say I’m sorry?

Written by Dr Ope Lori

One of the major talking points in last month’s news, was the controversy, surrounding MP Lee Anderson, the Conservative whip from Ashfield who was suspended from his post, following racist, anti-muslim and Islamophobic comments made towards Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. Whilst what he said in our opinion was racist, anti-muslim and Islamophobic, what this article puts into the spotlight, is the inability for leaders, now privy to such comments failing to recognise them as such and to offer an apology.

Why give an apology you might ask? Why was it so hard for leaders to call out his comments for what they were? Further, why was it so difficult for them to say sorry? Until now, despite multiple questions to top Conservative MPs, including the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, no apology has been issued, either by Anderson, or by Rishi, the head of the party and indeed our nation.

Whilst this case emerges from the political arena, it is not dissimilar to navigating workplace contexts, where senior figures or CEO’s speaking on behalf of their organisation, fail to recognise wrongdoing and offer apologies. As we will see from the BBC interview between Laura Kuenssberg and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, aired on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, the interaction gives us a blueprint for the dos and don’ts of how leaders should handle these situations, especially in order for them to build back trust and avoid further alienating their teams. It will look at good leadership behaviours and set the context for strategies that can be used when issuing an apology, for managers or anyone with leadership responsibilities. Even if you’re not in either of these categories, there is still the benefit of knowing how such messages would be received, especially by those on the other side of hearing the apology, for that is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

To start, let us go over what happened in the interview. Going straight for the jugular, Kuenssberg asks Dowden whether he agreed the comments made by Lee Anderson were racist, anti-muslim and Islamophobic? These were the terms referenced by Dr Halima Begum, the chief executive of ActionAid UK, when giving her opinion over the incident. Dowden, refraining from answering the question with a yes or no, goes on to say that it was right for the prime minister to have taken action, following Anderson refusing to offer an apology.

Dowden is then shown a clip of the comments made by Anderson. Without going into detail with what was said, the reasons why I agree that the comments are racist, anti-muslim and Islamophobic, are because, firstly, it lumps Sadiq Khan in with terrorists, simply because he is Muslim. The comment reinforces racist tropes on Muslim identities. Secondly, the comments reinforce who is classed as British and others who are not, even though Khan himself was born and raised in South London. His comments echo the words of the former US President Donald Trump, when at a press conference in 2020, at the height of Covid-19, made an offensive anti-Asian comment to an Asian-American White House correspondent. 

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Supporting and appreciating staff with ADHD

Written by B.J. Woodstein, PhD

Is ADHD a problem for the workplace? Or is it in fact an advantage, particularly if the employee with ADHD is properly supported? We’re going to strongly argue for the latter, even while acknowledging that it is true that this form of neurodivergence can of course be a struggle to handle at times.

A recent article in the BBC told the story of a person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who has faced a number of challenging situations because of her neurodevelopmental difference. For example, she didn’t properly read the terms and conditions of a new credit card and ended up with lots of extra, unnecessary fees. And she also missed a flight due to not seeing the correct departure time on her boarding card. Other examples in the article were about people losing glasses, losing house keys, impulsively buying unneeded products and then not returning them even though they didn’t really want them, or struggling with budgeting. All of these situations can affect the workplace as well as impacting people on a personal and emotional level. For instance, that flight missed was for a work role, and someone losing keys or other supplies, or making unexpected purchases can cost a workplace significant sums of money along with increasing stress levels. And those who experience problems like this may beat themselves up or worry about how they are perceived by their colleagues.

For this reason, managers need to understand how to best support colleagues with ADHD. But it is also important for them to not view ADHD as a burden or an annoyance; instead, they need to remember how amazing the particular traits and skills that ADHD brings with it. Often, when people think of ADHD, they immediately use terms such as impulsive, inattentive, distractible, hyper, unfocused, and other negative phrases. And sometimes people with ADHD do struggle with some of those behaviours. But if you look at the other side of the coin, as it were, we could instead use phrases such as creative, hyper-focussed, energetic, enthusiast, multitasking, and problem-solving. It’s the same person, with the same type of neurodivergence, but rather than criticise them for being easily distracted, we could consider how much energy they have and how interested they are in the world. The world is such an exciting place, no wonder they want to shift gears regularly and to swiftly move from one topic to another.

It has even been posited that humans evolved as we did thanks in large part to ADHD. The thinking goes that it was those restless, impulsive people who we would now call ADHDers who moved out of Africa and went on to discover and adapt to other parts of the world. That is to say, that they weren’t satisfied with the status quo and so they pressed for change and exploration. In fact, there is some suggestion that genes related to ADHD are more common in regions of the world that were settled later, such as South America, which would imply that it was ADHDers who kept pushing to move and to discover new places and new ways of living.

 

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Gender and the benefits of a grateful workplace

Written by B.J. Woodstein, PhD

 

“Thanks so much for your efforts! We really appreciate it!” or “You did a fantastic job on that project!”
Wouldn’t you love it if your colleagues or managers spoke to you like that? Wouldn’t you feel good about going to work and giving it your all if you knew that you would be thanked, appreciated and respected?

Well, new research shows that in workplaces where women are in the majority, this is much more common a scenario. Intriguingly, the implication is that women are more likely to show gratitude – at least in the workplace, but perhaps beyond it as well – than men. The underlying idea here is that women are socialised into being more empathic and caring, and this extends to seeing how hard someone is working and how much they’ve tried, and then feeling grateful for that and wanting to show appreciation. Men, on the other hand, tend to be socialised into being more self-focused, which means they’re more likely to recognise and brag about their own efforts, instead of looking outwards at other people. Someone self-centred might be scared of acknowledging other people, because they might worry that doing so somehow downplays their own contributions. Logically, we probably realise that promoting others makes both them and us feel good, and also makes us look like we’re thoughtful and generous people, but emotionally, some people worry that being grateful to others somehow makes us look bad in comparison.

You might wonder why this matters. After all, you should be doing your best at work anyway, so why do you actually need to be thanked for it? Don’t you do your work in exchange for pay? Isn’t your salary thanks enough? No, frankly, it’s not. As humans, we all need to be seen for who we are. We want our own skills and characteristics to be valued, because that means we’re seen as individuals, rather than as easily replaced automatons. In fact, being specific about what we appreciate about another person actually boosts their self-esteem and builds their confidence. And if they’re happier, that rubs off on us and everyone else around them. What a great cycle!

That increase to people’s self-belief and overall moods should be reason enough to do it, but if you want to look at it from a more cynical perspective, you could say that happier people who feel good about themselves will work more efficiently and more effectively. That makes it good for the workplace too. However, there’s a depressing downside to the idea that women are more grateful. The fact is that even in this modern era, women are still paid less than men. You’d think gender pay gaps would be something from the past, but research shows they are still disturbingly common. Two people doing the same sort of work should obviously be paid the same, regardless of their gender, or any other aspect of their lives, such as their ethnicity or marital status or class. Women may not speak up about the pay gap because they have the feeling that they should be pleased to have any job.

Women more likely than men to suffer from imposter syndrome.

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Representation Matters

Written by B.J. Woodstein, PhD

 

I don’t think anyone would argue against the idea that representation matters. We know how important it can be to, for example, see people who look like you or who you share other traits with and to know they are being treated how you would like to be treated, or that they are achieving things that one day you’d like to achieve. If you don’t see people like you in jobs you want to have, or in positions of authority, or on TV, or in books, it can be hard to believe that one day you could do those things too. When there’s representation, there’s inspiration. And furthermore, when there’s representation, you feel included and acknowledged.

But another important aspect of representation is that it can actually save someone’s life.

I was heartened by a recent short news piece about medical students who have developed a website that depicts skin conditions on a variety of skin tones. Since textbooks and other materials frequently resort to white skin as the “norm”, medical students and healthcare professionals don’t get the chance to see the way that skin conditions or other illnesses might look on black or brown skin. And if they don’t learn that, then it is very possible they might not understand what they’re seeing when they are examining a non-white patient, and they could misdiagnose the issue or tell someone they are well, when in actual fact they are not. In the worst possible circumstances, that could result in death. So depicting different ethnic groups and skin tones is vital from a medical perspective, but it also is vital when it comes to countering the inequalities experienced by many minority groups. Seeing people like you depicted in a textbook shows you that you matter and that people care about you and your well-being. You’re not an afterthought and you’re not seen as a challenge to the norm; instead, you change what people perceive to be the norm.

I personally learned this lesson some years back when I was training to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC). Nearly all our books and websites showed breastfeeding positions solely on white skin. Similarly, they only talked about breast conditions as they applied to white skin; an example would be focusing on whether an area of tissue has turned swollen and red in order to help diagnose mastitis, but unfortunately mastitis could be missed if a practitioner focuses on the redness, as it does not present in the same way on darker skin. Thankfully, an IBCLC recognised this gap in knowledge and developed the Melanated Mammary Atlas, which is a huge help to healthcare professionals because it depicts breasts and breastfeeding in brown and black skin. Now we just have to hope that our lactation textbooks are updated to likewise include a range of ethnic groups in their images of breastfeeding and that they explain the differences in words as well.

 

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