Steps to a Thriving Neurodiverse Culture: Set an Example of Acceptance
"He's odd. I can't put my finger on it, he's just odd."
"There's something wrong with her. I don't know what, but there is."
"She's... interesting. Not sure how long she's going to last."
These are all comments that I've heard from managers about their employees. While they didn't say it TO their employees, the employees could tell that their manager didn't like them. Bad news: we are more transparent than we'd like to think. We often show our feelings in how we treat people and speak about them, even when we are doing our best not to. A manager may speak impatiently with an employee that he doesn't understand, or assume the worst of an employee so they can make a shortcut to termination. (As much as I'd like to say that doesn't happen, it does. And it happens often.)
I have a firm policy that whatever I say, no matter the circumstances, it is respectful of the employee I am speaking about. In one of my past jobs, the building where I worked had very thin walls. There was pretty much no privacy. It was essential that whatever came out of my mouth had to be respectful, because no matter what measures I took, someone was going to overhear my conversations. By doing this, it disciplined my mind to behave the same way no matter where I was - whether it was a manager meeting, a disciplinary meeting, or a presentation to the executive team.
Imagine if an employee overheard you making fun of the person on your team who was quirky and annoying to the team? It would have the same effect as giving your employees permission to gossip and to make fun of the quirky team member themselves. This happened once in a company where I worked. The managers were constantly joking about employees' attendance, performance, etc., and when employees overheard them, it perpetuated a culture filled with gossip and vitriol.
Now imagine if an employee overheard you speaking respectfully of the same employee, and how you were going to provide support to them. What would happen then? Your employees may notice that you have their backs, that you are always respectful, even behind closed doors. They may know that you are who you say you are, all the time and that you don't tolerate disrespect.
"I was just venting!" I've heard managers say. Let me be clear: as a leader, your need to vent does not supersede your employees' need for respect. Venting at work to other managers or to other employees is not appropriate most of the time. Often times venting is counter-productive, provides very few solutions and encourages a vitriolic culture where every interaction adds fuel to the fire of gossip and complaining. Vent at home. Vent into a voice recorder and then delete it. But don't vent at work.
We are all different. We have different strengths and weaknesses. We have different quirks that may or may not be visible. We have different thinking processes. Instead of calling out what differences are uncomfortable for you, practice acceptance and appreciation for the differences in your staff.
As leaders we have the privilege of seeing how different brains can work together on a team. That's some amazing insight we can get from those around us. Demonstrate that insight by appreciating differences and accepting individuals for the amazing people that they are.