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It Starts With Conversation: On psychological safety, vulnerability, and authenticity

Posted in:  Highspot News

Conversations move us forward. As we honor Neurodiversity Awareness Month, we asked three Highspot employees to share stories of the conversations that shaped them –– and the words that will inspire the next generation of changemakers.

This month’s interviewees have asked to remain anonymous.

“Give people the space to talk, without judgment.”

When I think about supporting neurodiverse employees, I think about psychological safety. For example I have ADHD, which makes executive function a challenge. One of the ways that manifest is difficulty regulating emotions; normally, I’m a “glass half-full” person but stress and other factors can definitely make it very hard to maintain that outlook.

This came into play at a team offsite. I was running on empty after a few nights of poor sleep. We had back-to-back four-hour meetings and the day before, we’d had full days of meetings, too. Every part of me needed to recharge but instead, I was headed into team conversations where we tackled hard topics. My attitude was noticeably off –– and afterward, my boss pulled me aside and asked me if everything was okay. Up until that point, I didn’t even realize I was acting that way. I was so focused on the stuff that was making me feel frustrated that I wasn’t noticing the impact of my words. It may have still been my authentic self at that moment, but it wasn’t productive.

My boss gave me the space and psychological safety to have an open dialog about everything without judgment –– just acceptance of my perspective. We had a conversation about what I needed to be successful, and then she made a commitment to work behind the scenes with other teams to help remove some of the blockers that were frustrating me.

We can create more inclusive spaces for people with ADHD by giving them the space to talk, as my boss did, without judgment. And to be honest, that doesn’t just help neurodiverse people; a considerate compassionate workplace helps everyone.

“Vulnerability in leaders is a strength.”

Highspot’s commitment to DEI&B has helped me grow enormously. I’m a completely different leader than when I started. But I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still learning.

Two weeks ago, I had a functional meeting with about two hundred people on the call. I had asked my direct reports to select a person on each team who I could interview for feedback on a new training during the meeting. I got the list, joined the meeting, asked my questions, and kept us moving. But after the meeting, I got a piece of feedback from a teammate. That person said, “I don’t think you realized you only asked five white men for feedback. No other groups were included.”

I’m grateful for the feedback and during our next functional meeting, I apologized to that audience. Although it may have seemed trivial, it’s not: Different backgrounds and experiences bring unique perspectives to the table. If I only ask one group for input, I could be missing an important piece of feedback on our training. That matters to our business.

I’m fortunate that we have a culture that encourages us to continually deepen our DEI&B journey –– and that empowers employees of all tenures to speak up and speak openly. For other leaders, surround yourself with people who push you to become better. Vulnerability in leaders is a strength, and an open mind is essential to staying at the top of your game.

“Be true to yourself, even if it’s hard.”

Growing up, I moved around a lot and as a result, felt like I was constantly changing myself to try and fit in. When I started college I made a commitment to be genuinely authentic, and it was great. When I received my first job offer, I made a promise to myself to continue this way.

I received my ADHD diagnosis while I was in college. Growing up and learning how to be an adult while also being neurodivergent was hard. Starting a new career while not understanding my diagnosis and how it affects me was even harder. Being true to myself has helped me create a great life and a good start to my career. But I would be lying if I said everything has been great. Some of the decisions I have made for me, have not been great decisions in the eyes of those around me. I have faced nonacceptance from my peers, mentors, and even family members.

This rejection was hard for me. Harder than I thought it should be. I thought being genuinely authentic would make my life a little easier. I started to question why I was so distraught. That led me to discover my diagnosis of rejection sensitivity dysphoria, which is where you experience intense emotional pain from failure or rejection and is common with neurotypical individuals. Although this situation is still difficult to deal with, having a name for the experience is helpful. It also reaffirms my commitment to genuine authenticity. The only person I’m hurting when I’m not true to myself is me. Yes the nonacceptance hurts, but the pain is short term.

Now, my purpose in life is to be who I am and surround myself with people who love me for being me. I hope everyone reading this can continue being true to yourself, even if it’s hard.

It Starts With Conversation

Conversations aren’t just ways for us to communicate with others. They fundamentally have the power to change our lives and even the world. Through meaningful conversations, we’re able to use the advice and experience of others to see new perspectives and opportunities that alter the course of our story.

What conversations have impacted your life? Share your story with us on social media using the hashtag #ItStartsWithConversation — and be sure to check back for more stories from our Highspot team.