The workplace is very stressful. I never realized how stressful my job had been until recently. There is always the fear of not performing as well as others expect. When you become aware that you might not continue to perform well, it is very stressful. It is also stressful when a friend or coworker is not performing as well as you had come to expect. This can be a very delicate topic whether the disability monster is yours or somebody else’s.
Office politics is always a difficult subject. You have friends. You have coworkers, and you have people who seem hostile. They all have demands upon them. These demands may be formal, as are those of your supervisor. Or they may be informal such as trying to meet the expectations of someone else. When you discover a disability monster lurking, Whom do you turn to? Who do you trust??
Close friends and confidants may have no experience with a disability. Many people are uneasy around people with obvious disabilities. I have several friends who use guide dogs to replace their eyesight. People often try to pet the dogs. If the dogs weren’t working this would be appropriate. However, it distracts the dog while it is working. It makes it difficult for the dog user to know what is going on. They prefer you ask before trying to pet their dog. If you are uncertain how a friend or other coworker would respond in similar situations, what would you do?
A disability intervention: with your disability monster
Most of us with a disability find that both the boss and coworkers are less supportive than we would like. When we finally choose to seek assistance we will need to approach somebody. One way to do this would be as follows:
First, connect with the person in a comfortable place. This might be over some coffee or lunch, where you are not likely to be distracted for a while. Then you’d be sure that person is not upset with something else by making some sort of small talk. Then with both of you being comfortable you can bring up the general issue of what you are struggling with. If you’re having trouble reading presentations that are projected on a screen, you might ask your friend, “is that difficult to see? “ If you’re having trouble hearing, you might ask, “Did you understand what was said? “
In other situations it might be reading reports, concentrating or being easily distracted. In these situations the assistance you would be seeking is more complicated. In my office I was the boss so I could be open with my staff and encouraged them to correct me when I misread something. I had also asked them to write with felt tip pens. These were adaptations that help me perform the job we all depended upon. Many people are not that fortunate. They work with people who don’t care or maybe are openly hostile.
When you’re working in a small organization it often become sort of a family. However many people work in large and impersonal organizations. Large corporations will have people in the human resources department whose job it is to help you perform your own job. I will talk more about how to work with the disability system in future blogs.
A disability intervention in someone else’s disability monster
If a friend or coworker seems to be having trouble this is also a problem. You might approach it much like I suggested when the disability monster was yours. Find a time and place where you are both comfortable. Let both of you settle in, and then bring up the general topic, before talking about a specific incident. You may want to make it clear that this was not the only time you saw the person struggling, and that you want to help. You want to keep that attitude of helpfulness front and center. Most people will try to deny a single incident. They may not be ready to admit it to themselves. There is the potential that they will leave angry. This will hurt. Remember denial and anger are the first steps in the process of dealing with any loss.
As your friend struggles to admit having a problem, you may become the focus of their anger. By reminding yourself that this person is struggling, and trying to care for that person while not taking it personally you can weather the storm. The storm can last for days or longer. You need to be comfortable and feel safe while it blows over. Having chosen to bring up such a difficult subject took courage; continue to have the courage to care. You are being a real friend.
Please, have the courage to comment and share with those who might benefit from this.
As Always, Seek Joy,
Coach Dr. Dave,
Author of the forthcoming book, “recipes for lemonade (thriving through disability): Dr. Dave’s personal recipe”