DyslexicProfessional.com - Dyslexia at work

Meetings

I’ve tried to assemble a few thoughts about meetings… what is difficult, what works well etc. I have split this post into three sections: before, during and after the meeting.

Before the meeting…

Organising and attending meetings…

The first problem with meetings is that they need arranging. Multiple people’s schedules to synchronise, home and work diaries etc. I find that particularly hard, daunting even, to the extent that I actively shy away from it. I am lucky enough to be able to delegate this to my pa, many of my more junior colleagues are not.

It sounds silly to me even as I write this. However, the second problem is making sure that I actually attend what I have arranged. Being in the right place at the right time can often be an issue, particularly if the meeting has been rescheduled or the location changed. Frequently, my short term memory plays tricks on me regarding what my diary says.

However, I have covered both of these issues separately under diary management, for those who are interested.

Preparation

Where I am meeting a new client or addressing a new issue, I simply do some background research – I’m pretty us that’s not a dyslexic thing, just common sense!

However, for some meetings preparation is particularly important. If the meeting follows on from earlier activity with the same people or on the same topic, I may need a catalyst to cause my memory to “re-load” all the facts about the given subject. I typically have multiple clients and projects running at the same time, so I often have to change context and tend to need some sort of “trigger” to access the right memory – perhaps a pictures; reviewing some notes (even if they are illegible, the memory of writing them will take me back to the thoughts I was having at the time); or by thinking through or taking thought the subject. If I do this, I usually have better recall than others but it does take planning – possibly the scheduling of time in an appropriately quiet location, before the main meeting etc. If I don’t do this in advance it could be some way in to the meeting before all the facts turn to me – not ideal!

Getting Past Hello

Names! Can’t remember them, so I never leave them to chance. I tend to stop outside a client’s office and re-check their name so that when I reach reception I can still remember it. I also make sure that it is programmed in to my iPhone somewhere so that I can easily access it If I forget, without creating a socially embarrassing situation. Until my diagnosis I was aware that I didn’t use people’s names often. Obviously, I now know why!

Using Slides

I need to prepare if I am presenting and using slides, as I can’t read the words on a slide fast enough to simply look up at the screen whilst talking to remind myself of the next point. so in my own presentations I use pictures instead of words. Unfortunately, my short term memory and reading speed mean that I cant readily read and memorise the content either… so simply recalling it verbatim is not an option. So, I have to actually understand the content and speak from real knowledge, against a backdrop of visuals rather than words. This is a very effective as when I understand something, I’m likely to deliver it in a way that others will understand too. That means I have a high success rate in terms of conveying my point and taking an audience with me… However, getting to this level of understanding is hard and time consuming. In some ways, possibly not compatible with my role.

In the meeting

This is a mixture of “ups” and “downs”. For example:

Note taking

Don’t be silly, I can’t do that! In my early career I noted that everyone else in the room had a little book in which they made copious notes of everything… after 10 years of trying and failing, I finally realised that when I write my brain switches off. So I don’t bother any more. I draw pictures, builds mind maps talk and listen… but no notes. If I need notes, I take someone with me or write them afterwards.

Another impact of this is more visible to others – I don’t like to take the pen at a flip-chart, unless I’m drawing. I’m lucky to be senior enough that it is easy for me to sidestep the occasional “could someone scribe” request but for those at an early stage in many professions, this is an standard part of day to day life and does pose some challenges.

It’s not all bad you know!

One of the upsides of dyslexia is that I often understand the dynamics of the room better than others, frequently being the first person to spot a potential conflict or misunderstanding. That happens because when others speak a mental picture of their meaning, intent, motivation etc builds up… and it is then very clear if that is “at-odds” with the picture that another person is painting, or whether it is consistent. Oddly, this often presents itself as a feeling that something “doesn’t fit” and needs exploring further or clarifying, rather than clarity of what the issue is. However, experience shows that this sense is rarely wrong and should be followed.

This underpins my ability to avoid conflict, negotiate, build consensus, gain trust etc. I know many of my dyslexic colleagues have a similar experience.

Handling ambiguity

This is a strength for many dyslexics. We are often think in pictures so find it relatively easy to assemble small pieces of information into an overall picture, changing our understanding of the situation as new information is added to the picture. Conflicting information is readily highlighted by this approach – as it simply doesn’t fit right… Even if we are not yet sure why… so more questions will need to be asked to work out what is going on. This style of thinking means we often “feel” our way through the problem with relative ease, without necessarily knowing which way we are going.

Managing objections

Thinking on my feet is a strength. The ability to empathise with others positions and to assemble titbits of information to paint a picture lets me both anticipate and manage the objections of others as well as handling challenges well and without conflict.

After the meeting

Time to write up

Short term memory being what it is, I try to leave half an hour spare after meetings – to write any notes that I need to, capture my actions and things I have agreed. Others would often write these things down in the meeting but as noted above, this is not an option for me.

I’m sure I will improve this post over time. Please do leave comments about your own experience or with any ideas or things that work for you.

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5 Comments

  1. Brian Rogers Brian Rogers
    19 December 2012    

    Everything you have said here is almost exactly what I do every day . I view it as a strength. Most people have no idea until I tell disclose to them about myself. I find it amazing that most folks don”t believe me when I tell them .Have you found that to be the case ? I’m terrified by a scribe board and markers .

    • John Levell John Levell
      19 December 2012    

      Absolutely! Because its not a “visible” disability, and since the upsides are usually well regarded, I think people find it difficult to understand that there is really any issue…

    • 20 February 2013    

      There are lots of things you can do! Don’t feel bad if you do not know about them, it seems to be comomn.First, make sure that your teachers know your issue. This can be facilitated through the help of a parent or guardian or tell a teacher you trust and have them talk to your other teachers.Let’s assume you already have IEP and it is doing nothing for you!This is sometimes the case because of loopholes in the education system.However, there are so many good sites online that can help you.is a really great resource.There is also a site called dyslexia.org.As far as my own suggestions? Try reading with differently colored paper. This seems silly but it really does help the letters to stop shifting as much to you on paper. You can also try doing sensory work such as making letters out of clay and sand and moving them around to create words. It adds a kinesthetic level to your visual needs and should help you.But, above all, you should really go talk to the ESE specialist at the school (your regular teachers can help you find him or her) or to your teachers. There are many things that can be done to help and you are not alone!

  2. Ruth Ruth
    7 January 2013    

    I let people think I’m just really organized. The truth is, if I don’t keep scribbles(notes) on everything, I don’t remember anything within 5 to 10 minutes of hearing it. It’s like my mind goes absolutely blank. I hate being in lectures. Sometimes if I try to keep words as notes I don’t remember why I wrote certain things.
    For a girl, I’m great at figuring out 2 dimentional layouts and matching them with 3D. However, I’m in a communications role. It stretches me every day!

  3. 15 February 2013    

    Many thanks for this blog. I’m a private tutor, who works with students diagnosed as dyslexic. From a tutors point of view both the articles and the comments are intriguing and an inspiration. Any message for me – from your perspective, that a tutor should or should not do?

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