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Submitted by mercuryblue on


Bottom Line Up Front: I have a direct who I gather has dyslexia. I don't have the least idea how to manage that and would welcome some input.

More: The direct's writing is very poor, and I know most things that he writes are edited by someone else before I see them. The things that I do see are absolutely dreadful, and often I have no idea what they mean. Fortunately the direct is not employed as a writer but as a project manager, but even project managers need to be understood in writing, and this problem will hold the project manager back.

(The direct is also not very clear about presenting his ideas verbally - I suspect many people nod and smile and are convinced by his extreme passion and enthusiasm and high-D drive and hope they catch up with the content at some time. I know I am guilty of that myself at times. I suspect that the only way the direct "gets away" with it is that he has small amounts of contact with many people, but works largely solo - the direct meets his targets and is managing the project very well. Just don't ask him to explain it).

The question of just how I coach this person to improve their writing - especially when they are clearly doing their level best to hide the true horror from me - is a difficult one which I have been struggling with. I have been thinking he needs intense, one on one teaching. Developing my direct is one thing; this is way another.

The relationship with this direct has been tricky, as I was brought in as his manager a little while ago. Having been reporting to someone higher up the organisation, the direct was really angry about it (not to my face) and building trust and confidence has been quite a challenge.

However the direct made a throwaway remark about dyslexia the other day - but I actually think it wasn't a throwaway, I think it was real and I think it was a step forward in the trust-building. I plan to raise it with him, something like - "You mentioned dyslexia the other day, which made me think - do you have dyslexia?". If the answer is yes, I can then say "Thanks for telling me, it's helpful to know". I would then ask how it affects him at work and if there is anything I can do to make it easier for him.

"Helpful to know" is half true. It is helpful to know the underlying cause of the problem. It certainly explains a few things. But I know nothing about how to help!

Has anyone been in this situation?

mmann's picture
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If you live in the US, some states have laws associated with dyslexia.  I recommend you have a preliminary discussion with HR.


mattpalmer's picture

The desired outcome of coaching is that the direct improves some aspect of their professional life.  If your direct needs to improve his writing in order to develop further, then (if your direct is willing) you should coach him on that.  Making the decision to coach on something shouldn't take into account the "how".  Just stick with the "what" and the "why".  If both you and your direct embrace the need for change, and agree to making the change, then you're off and running.

The root cause of a lack of performance, and how to address that, is what you need to cover during the resources brainstorming.  If your direct truly does have dyslexia, then some of the ideas you come up with in your resources brainstorming will involve programs to assist your direct to manage that -- but don't focus on *only* that.  The purpose of the coaching shouldn't be "overcome dyslexia" (because that has no professional value, in and of itself), it should be something like "write reports to an acceptable quality standard".

Also don't forget that many people self-diagnose a great many "popular" (or, more precisely, well-publicised) illnesses, so if your direct hasn't been *medically* diagnosed, one of the first things to put on the list will be "get a proper diagnosis" -- because until you both *know* what you're dealing with, it'll be unproductive to try and handle it.

Given that this is a (potential) disability issue, I'd definitely echo Michael's recommendation about talking to HR.  Explain the coaching model to them, and ask them for any advice they have on what might count as reasonable accommodations, what training or other programs the company might be willing to pay for or contribute to, and so on.

Of course, your direct might not be willing to engage in a coaching program to improve their performance in this area.  It may be a sensitive issue for him, and if he isn't keen, I wouldn't push the issue -- you can't effectively coach an unwilling direct.  Also, it sounds like you may not have been this person's manager for long enough to be able to usefully coach him, so perhaps you should work on building the relationship before diving deeper.  In the meantime, find out from HR what reasonable accommodations are for the situation, and then just deal with the behaviours as you would with anyone else.  Feedback, delivered in the model, should be very effective at showing the impact of the behaviour, and that's your best bet for implementing positive change.  "When you deliver a report that contains mistakes like <X> and <Y>, it distracts from the message you're trying to deliver.  Could you work on that for me?" should do the trick nicely.

GlennR's picture

Once again I find myself agreeing with Matt.

Let me add this to the discussion. You can be successful and have dyslexia. Here's a web site listing many, including Richard Branson, William Hewlett, and Ted Turner from the business world. Just last week I read an article about how Branson used dyslexia to make himself more successful.

Another example not listed is Tex Schram, General Manager of The Dallas Cowboys in the 60's and 70's who not only built the Cowboys into a world class team, but who was a major confidant of Pete Rozelle, the NFL Commissioner. I actually think Tex had ADD or one of its cousins.

You can have these types of disorders and become successful; it certainly helps to have a manager willing to go the extra distance to assist.

I'm neither an HR nor medical specialist, but I would point out that dyslexia or ADD is not a behavior that can be eliminated via coaching. From what I have heard, it can be controlled when the person is willing to try.



letmelearn's picture

 Hi there, your Direct may find some mind mapping tools useful to organise his thoughts and voice to text software these can be used by anyone and you don't have to bring up the subject of dyslexia to introduce them.  Mind mapping apps are readily available and are really useful for dyslexics ( I tutor children with dyslexic and am mildly dyslexic myslef)   You Directs mind may be working in over drive , going so fast he and you cant keep up with his ideas, that is why he meets his targets yet noone can understand. This is like the mind of a creative dyslexic , fabulous!