Picture this scenario: Two individuals go out for lunch. As they peruse the menu, one confidently orders mayo with their French fries, while the other, instinctively reaches for the ketchup. A quizzical glance is exchanged. The American, perplexed by the seemingly odd choice remarks “Why mayo with fries? That’s so peculiar.” The other replies, “I’m Canadian, that’s how we do it.” Suddenly, the initial weirdness dissipates and everything falls into place: foreign culture, foreign customs.
Drawing a parallel, we can apply a similar perspective to understanding neurodivergence, such as ADHD. It is essentially a unique mental culture- a distinct operating system, if you will. It doesn’t mean it’s weird or wrong, it is just different than the customs generally adopted by neurotypical people today.
In coaching tech managers and CEOs with ADHD, I’ve witnessed the transformative power of effective communication in bridging understanding and fostering collaboration between these neurodivergent leaders and their teams. In this discussion, I delve into three key aspects of successful communication that prove instrumental in navigating the dynamics of the tech industry.
1) Start with the basics of your brain chemistry
Today the main challenge today lies in the fact that our society lacks widespread education on ADHD or neurodivergence. As a result, it is imperative to convey to neurotypical individuals the uniqueness or “foreign culture” of your neurodiverse brain. It is important to highlight that neither “cultural operating system” is inherently superior or inferior to the other- they’re simply different.
Initiate the conversation by offering your colleagues, team members, and investors a foundational understanding of ADHD. Clarify the distinctive aspects of your brain chemistry, marked by low executive function, dopamine, and serotonin. For those unfamiliar with the specifics, explain the implications of these factors, emphasizing how they contribute to your cognitive processes and behaviors.
2) Deep dive into specific aspects of your behavior
In the conversation, it is key to discuss examples of specific behaviors that could be considered problematic by your team members.
A great example is a case that I discussed with one of my clients. He is a VP R&D of an early-stage startup, a brilliant tech leader with strong success on the tech side of the business, but his ADHD has been creating some difficulties in collaborating with the firm’s VP Marketing.
I wanted to discuss with you how we can optimize our weekly collaboration sessions. For instance, I wanted to discuss my tendency to interrupt, which I acknowledge and am actively working to minimize. Despite my efforts, there might be instances where it still occurs. It’s essential for you to understand that, as much as I wish I could flip a switch to cease this behavior entirely, I have ADHD and my brain is wired differently.
Imagine we’re in a discussion about a captivating topic, and my enthusiasm gets the best of me. In those moments, my brain processes information rapidly, leading to the impulse to share thoughts before they slip away. It’s not a deliberate choice to interrupt; rather, it’s a manifestation of the excitement I feel about the conversation.
I want you to know that your feedback is invaluable in this process. If you observe me interrupting, a simple, “Hey, you’re interrupting,” serves as a helpful reminder. Your patience and open communication are key as we navigate these nuances together.
3) Make sure to highlight your superpowers
According to research by Dr. Michael Freeman, startups founders are six times more likely to suffer from ADHD than the general population. This is due to the fact that certain traits associated with ADHD may align with the demands and characteristics of startup environments. These “Super powers” include creativity and out of the box thinking, as well as a higher risk tolerance and rapid adaptability.
When speaking to your team members of investors about your ADHD, make sure to highlight how your neurodivergence leads to your unique competitive edge, one which will drive your startup forward.
About the Author:
Brett Greene is the award-winning Founder of the New Tech Northwest community of 60,000+ technologists. He is also an Executive Coach who has ADHD, a master’s degree in counseling psychology, and almost 20 years of experience coaching hundreds of startup and enterprise leaders to create fulfilling high-impact lives, companies, exits, and careers.