Almost ten years ago, a supervisor at a manufacturing plant contacted us about doing a 360 Feedback process for one of his direct reports whom I’ll refer to as “Linda” in this article. Linda was a 49 y.o. female chemical engineer. Her boss described her as having “communication issues.” At the time he referred Linda to us, neither knew that the primary reason for her communication issues was that she had a hidden disorder.
This Nice, Intelligent Woman Can’t Communicate!
Linda’s supervisor was at his wit’s end about how to help her. He had given direct assistance with editing her written reports and oral presentations. Yet, Linda’s reports and presentations were still poorly organized and difficult to understand.
Linda’s supervisor didn’t have time to give hands-on assistance to an almost-30-year employee. He thought she should have developed good communication skills early in her engineering career. Linda’s boss admitted to us that he had lost patience with her.
Money was tight at the manufacturing plant, and the company had to reduce costs by letting a few people go. Because of the “communication” issues related to her work performance, Linda was at the top of the list of potential employee layoffs. Yet, her supervisor wanted Linda to get a 360 Report so she could hear from other senior managers and her peers that he wasn’t the only one who noticed her communication issues.
A Hidden Disorder Can Be Stressful
Linda readily agreed to meet with me to start the 360 Feedback process. Actually, she was grateful because she was anxious to get help from someone other than her boss.
Linda had been a career employee in her Fortune 500 company since college graduation – for over 25 years. She worked longer hours than others in similar positions. I could tell by the information that she shared with me that she was an expert in her area of specialization – environmental safety rules and regulations. Linda definitely knew more about that topic than others at her workplace. Yet, she had lost promotions to employees who were less knowledgeable than her, worked far fewer hours, and actually dumped some of their work on her! Linda knew that her poor quality written reports and oral presentations were holding her back.
Linda was the primary financial provider for three children, and she could not afford to lose her job. She felt that her employment was in jeopardy, yet her boss had not told her that when he first referred her to us.
When I started interviewing Linda, I sensed her stress and frustration right away. She told me that it took her twice as long as others to do some of her assigned tasks. Yet, she was highly conscientious and somehow managed to get the work done, even though she was exhausted most of the time. She came in early and stayed late – usually working 12-hour days. Her co-workers liked her, but she didn’t have time to have lunch with them or just hang out a few minutes in the coffee room. She struggled just to meet daily deadlines – and often missed them.
Digging Deep for a Hidden Disorder
At the end of our first interview, I said to Linda:
You know, I’m not going to do a 360 Feedback process on you. I think you already know what others would say about your performance. And I think that something other than “poor communication” is going on. I’m not sure what it is. But I would like to recommend to your boss that you have a neuropsychological evaluation (NPE). I think that will help us find out what’s holding you back. Then we can develop a plan to help you tackle your challenges! How do you feel about getting a neuropsychological evaluation if your boss approves?
I could tell that Linda was getting a little choked up. But she quickly composed herself and replied, “I’ve been feeling that something is wrong, too. How come I’ve been at (this workplace) all these years and no one has ever told me?”
I explained to Linda that managers, human resources staff, and co-workers often don’t recognize “disability” symptoms or traits because they aren’t trained to recognize them. It’s especially common when there’s a hidden disorder – like high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that we discussed in a previous article. People who have difficulty with communications, processing speed, working memory, and other areas of cognitive functioning often have hidden disorders.
Coaching Support Services Offer Relief
When I spoke with Linda’s boss, he was surprised that I thought she might actually have an undiagnosed condition that adversely affected her communication skills. He agreed for the company to pay for a neuropsychological assessment and to defer any decision about terminating her employment until after Linda received her report.
In the meantime, I coached Linda to help her better manage her stress and workload. The more I worked with Linda, the more convinced I was that she had processing issues that affected her communications.
In fact, Linda explained to me that she had difficulty her whole life organizing her thoughts to speak and write clearly. She also had difficulty retaining a large amount of information when others spoke to her. Our coaching sessions were often emotional. They provided an opportunity for Linda to explain to someone, for the first time ever, how she had struggled since early childhood with expressing herself.
Family members and others had commented repeatedly through the years that Linda was “smart” and that her math skills were superior. So, naturally, she did not realize that she might have a “treatable” disorder. She just thought she needed to put forth more effort than others. Linda and I talked about different conditions that might possibly be affecting her written and oral communications. With coaching support, she was actually able to relax a little bit and quit beating herself up for not meeting her boss’ expectations.
Inconclusive Test Results
Within a few weeks, Linda had neuropsychological testing. Surprisingly, her report did not reveal that Linda met the full criteria for a specific “disability” other than “Adjustment Disorder, with Depressed Mood.” She met that criteria primarily because she felt that her job was in jeopardy.
There was, however, significant scatter on some of Linda’s test scores. Her intellectual abilities tested within the high average to average range, but she had cognitive-linguistic difficulty in these areas:
- Story recall (deficient)
- Executive functioning (mild)
- Understanding directions (low average)
- Ability to name objects (mild deficit)
- The ability to list ideas/words that meet various semantic criteria (mild deficit)
Linda’s neuropsychologist recommended that she might benefit from working with a speech therapist to help her improve her communications.
Digging Deeper for A Hidden Disorder
But what else could be done? Would speech therapy save Linda’s job? Did she have some hidden disorder that we had not yet identified? Linda was determined to find out more . . . and so was I!
In our next article, I’ll tell you the rest of Linda’s story. Yes, she really did have (and still has) a diagnosable hidden disorder! I’ll tell you what it is and what Linda did about it to improve her work performance and actually get a job that was a better fit for her!!
Hidden disorders can adversely affect so many areas of your life – employment, marriage, friends, finances, etc. At LaMountain & Associates, we believe in digging deep to find out what’s going on!
We also believe that everyone, no matter what their “disorder,” can live a full, productive, and meaningful life. That’s one of the reasons we coach people with ADHD and co-existing disorders – either “hidden” or “diagnosed.”
Coaching can help people with disabilities tackle their challenges and meet their goals. Please contact us for a free consultation if you are interested in coaching for yourself or someone else. And, as a reminder – in addition to coaching people with ADHD and co-existing conditions, we also offer leadership, conflict, and career coaching.