Telling my Boss about my Difficulties

Telling my Boss about my Difficulties

A few weeks ago I wrote the blog ‘A job that play to your strengths‘ where I spoke about starting a new job and the highs and lows as a result of my difficulties I had discovered in my first 5 weeks there. One of the main issues to come out of that blog was the fact I had not told my boss about my dyslexia or dyspraxia and I was unsure how to go about this.

It appears that you, the readers of my blog post found this to be a very interesting topic and I received numerous emails from people regarding telling my boss. I was saying I wanted to wait about 6 months or more before I told him because I wanted to prove my capabilities in my new position first rather than telling him and he judging me on what I find difficult rather than seeing all I am very capable of doing.

Some contacted me to tell me that unless my difficulties were affecting me in my position they thought it was nothing to do with my boss and they wouldn’t be telling him, then I had other people telling me that he should know and I have a responsibility to tell him in case I make any mistakes due to my difficulties.

My biggest fear about telling my boss that I have dyslexia and dyspraxia was the fact that so many people have misperceptions about dyslexia, including the idea that it means you’re stupid which isn’t true and others have never heard of dyspraxia so they may fear the unknown and he could jump to the conclusion that he employed the wrong person and before I know it he would think I’m incapable of doing my job.

Are you dyspraxic?

Well while I was debating with myself as to what I should do the situation played itself out without me even realising. While sitting in my office one day my boss knocked on the door and came in, we were discussing an upcoming promotion I was putting together when the phone rang.

I answered it and as I spoke to the person on the other end of the line I scribbled some notes in my notebook. After I hung up the phone my boss asked what that was about, I began to tell him it was regarding a meeting with someone and he asked when it was.

I had one of my moments when I had not completely comprehended the message I was given on the phone and I couldn’t remember what date he said we would meet even though we just discussed it and as I looked at my notebook I couldn’t read my own hand writing as per usual.

I froze…

Next thing I know my boss comes straight out with the question “are you dyspraxic?” I froze on the spot for what seemed like an eternity and found myself speechless.

I had been trying to figure out how to approach the subject of my difficulties with him and when I should tell him and suddenly he was asking me. I thought to myself, if I say yes will he judge me? But if I say no I can never tell him as he will know I lied.

The suddenness of it all made me come to the conclusion, I wouldn’t want to work for someone that judged me for my difficulties rather than seeing my many capabilities as I had enough of that during my years in school, so I will just admit it and if it doesn’t go how I would like I will just walk away from the situation and find myself another job.

So after what seemed like a lifetime of silence I ended it by saying yes. What he said next surprised me even more than his question; he said “I knew it”.

How can I help you?

I asked how he knew and he began listing things he had noticed such as my bad hand writing, my slow reading, the fact I sometimes don’t fully comprehend messages whether it be a phone call or an actual face to face conversation and a few other things, he had also spotted some of my coping techniques such as my baby blue paper I use to print on to make it easier to read things, or the fact I always end a conversation by saying, will you send me an email with all that so (I do this so I won’t forget anything as it will be in writing in front of me).

He even gave me examples of when he spotted these things. I readied myself for judgement as he appeared to have spotted all of my weakness and difficulties and I wondered if he had seen any of my strengths and then he asked the nicest question ever, he said “how can I help you?”

My boss had a suggestion

I was shocked, I asked him what he meant and he asked how he could make life easier for me in my position. I asked him if he was serious and he replied, I wouldn’t have employed you if I didn’t think you were the right person for the job, you’re the marketing manager of my hotel and I have no intention of losing you. Is there anything I can do to help you be better at your job?

This was a better reaction then I could have ever imagined. We discussed a few things and I told him I had coping mechanisms in place already and that after 22 years of living with dyslexia and dyspraxia I am very capable of tackling my difficulties and working around them.

He did make one suggestion I had not previously thought of and that was that he would buy me a Dictaphone. He said I could use it any time I was on the phone and at the end of every phone conversation I should say “just to clarify everything” and list out the main points of the conversation.

Such as the time and date of meetings or if I am covering reception and someone phones to make a booking I would list the details of the booking, date, room type, number of night etc. and I could record it on the Dictaphone so when I hang up I don’t have to worry about forgetting something or worry about trying to read my handwriting, I can just listen back to what I recorded.

What will you do?

This was fantastic, however I did realise I was extremely lucky to have a boss who is so understanding and supportive, I could just as easily have a boss who judged me based on my difficulties so I decided I would do a bit of research and give you some advice here.

Firstly I want to advise that there is no “one size fits all” answer when it comes to telling an employer about your difficulties, each situation is unique and it’s completely your choice as to what you should do.

Many people spend their lives hiding there difficulties from others, it can be fierce difficult to admit to being dyslexic and/or dyspraxic especially if you haven’t completely accepted it yourself.

We live in the 21st century but there are still many stigmas that belong in the dark ages, we haven’t learnt to speak about mental health/depression very well yet, we are only just beginning to debate same sex marriage, and despite all our education there is still a stigma related to having a learning difficulty.

Admitting it to others

Due to this stigma one of the biggest challenges faced by someone with a learning difficulty is admitting it to others, our decision to admit to others is influenced by a number of things from previous experiences to our own understanding of our difficulties, this is no different when telling an employer.

My advice would be to sit back from the situation and think about it clearly and logically. First think about your difficulties and how they affect you then think about your job and what it requires you to do.

Next think about your coping mechanism if you have any. Have you learnt techniques to help you combat your difficulties or do you just struggle with them. After assessing all of this it should be easier for you to see how exactly your difficulties will affect you in your position.

At this stage you can decide whether or not you should tell your boss. Referring back to the advice I received after my blog a few weeks ago I would agree that if you stood back and thought about everything as I suggested and came to the conclusion that your difficulties won’t affect you in your position then I see no reason for you to go through the stress or worry about telling an employer.

However if you came to the conclusion that your difficulties may affect you in your position then I would advise you approach your boss as soon as possible.

Your employer wants you to succeed

The reason I suggest you tell your boss as soon as possible is because the sooner he/she knows the sooner it can be dealt with. Also, after doing my research I can now see from an employer’s point of view.

Most employers would like to know about a difficulty at the earliest possible stage as they want to be aware of any limitations an employee may have and be able to make any necessary preparations to avoid misunderstandings between the employee and the employer.

The employer will not want to assign an employee to a task they are going to find too difficult to do without some form of support and they may decide that they would be best situated at tasks which play to their strengths.

Remember your employer wants to succeed at what they are doing so it’s in their best interest to help you succeed. No employer ever started a business with the intentions of failing. In order for them to succeed their work force needs to succeed and that includes you.

Dyslexics are protected (Ireland)

If you have assessed your situation and came to the conclusion that your difficulties will affect you but even after seeing things from your employers point of view as I outlined above, your still feeling sceptical that they will discriminate against you if you tell them you have a learning difficulty, then I have another piece of good news for you that I was not aware of previously.

You are protected by law against discrimination (Ireland) by an employer for having a learning difficulty or a disability of any kind, and not just one law protects you but two. The two pieces of legislation relating to equality in Irish law are the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act.

Both of these pieces of legislation prohibit discrimination on the grounds of any form of disability. You may read this and think to yourself that I am always arguing that dyslexia and dyspraxia should not be called disabilities but instead learning differences, and your right.

I do think this is the case but in the outline of these two pieces of legislation a disability is broadly defined to include people with physical, intellectual, learning, cognitive or emotional disabilities and a range of medical conditions. So dyslexia and dyspraxia are protected against discrimination by these two laws.

The right time and place

Now that you know your difficulties may affect you in your position and that you’re protected by law against discrimination you may have decided you want to tell your boss. So how do you go about telling him/her?

Firstly I would advise you choose your timing carefully. Don’t just blurt it out over lunch or catch your boss when they have only 5 minutes to spare between meetings. Try schedule a meeting with them so you know you have their attention for at least half an hour.

Once the meeting is arranged I would then advise that you don’t just admit to having dyslexia or dyspraxia, again going back to the many misperceptions I would advise telling them of the difficulties you have which will affect you in your position.

Focus on the difficulties that affect you in your work

By just giving yourself a label your boss won’t know how this affects you in your work. You also don’t need to overload them with information about your difficulties, for example if like me your hand-eye coordination is affected by your dyspraxia causing you to be unable to tie shoe laces, then although this is a difficulty of yours it’s not one that will affect your work and therefore it’s not something your boss needs to know about.

Tell them about the difficulties you have pinpointed that will affect you in your work only. I would also have examples of your achievements to date so as you’re not just telling them the negatives, but like your difficulties only list achievements that are relevant to your position such as a degree or course you completed, they don’t need to know about irrelevant achievements as you don’t want to sound like your overcompensating either.

Once you have pointed out the difficulties that will affect you and your relevant achievements I would then recommend you make a suggestion as to how you could overcome these difficulties such as a support like a Dictaphone, or I would outline the tasks you will have no difficulty with doing and offer your strengths toward others tasks you feel you could do and say that by working in these areas they will get a lot more out of you.

This however is just my recommendation, when, where, how, and what you say is completely your choice.

Would you spend time with someone who makes you feel sad and discriminates?

Finally I want to give one last personal opinion on this topic which goes back to the realisation I made when sitting in my office and my boss came straight out and asked me the question “are you dyspraxic?”

Another reason I would advise you tell your boss about your relevant difficulties is so you can see where you stand with them and not spend your days at work worrying. If after all your thinking you finally tell them and they decide to treat you differently as a result I recommend that your better of knowing this and looking for work elsewhere.

In previous blogs I have spoken about the fact I was bullied in school because of my difficulties, do you think I chose to hang around with and make friends with those who mocked me? Of course not.

Why would you spend time with someone who makes you feel sad and discriminates against you for your difficulties, likewise why would you want to work for someone who discriminates against you for your difficulties as this will only bring you down.

I think you’re better off knowing where you stand and then going from there. If you’re lucky enough to have an amazing boss like mine who is willing to help me with my difficulties in order to get the best out of me then you will be happy at work, if you are unfortunate enough to have an employer who discriminates against you or treats you differently because of your difficulties then you’re never going to be happy working there and I’d advise moving on.

I know jobs are hard to come by at the moment and we should never look a gift horse in the mouth but remember we will spend more of our lives working then doing anything else and therefore I think it’s crucial we work in an environment that we are happy in and one that supports us in order to get the most out of us.

I hope you found this blog helpful and insightful

Thanks once again for taking the time to read this,


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