I recently received in an e-mail from a person whose messages always make me sigh with exhaustion. “Well, here we go again, down the rabbit hole,” I said to myself. The simplest communications with this person turn into long e-mail strings. She tells me things I don’t need to know and doesn’t tell me things that would be good for me to know. Sometimes I get messages from this person that I don’t understand at all, so I have no idea how to respond, or if I should respond at all.
When I experienced these kinds of communication difficulties in the past, I quickly attributed it to the other person’s poor communication skills. I still think that can be part of the problem, but the larger challenge may be that two people with very different-functioning brains are attempting to communicate. The messages she sends me may seem clear and rational from her perspective. From my perspective, it’s more like, “Yeah, so? What do you need from me? Why are you telling me this?”
A More Subtle Neurodiversity Challenge
Neurodiversity is getting a lot of attention these days, with a greater push to better accept people with conditions such as autism is the workplace. Sometimes two people with no diagnosable name for the way their brains function can have a terrible time communicating and working productively together. This is a more subtle neurodiversity challenge that hasn’t gotten has much attention.
I found this study online about inter-brain synchrony in teams. That seems to be my issue with the person I have trouble communicating with—we lack inter-brain synchrony: “Crucially, inter-brain synchrony, but not self-reported group identification, predicted collective performance among teams. These results suggest that inter-brain synchrony can be informative in understanding collective performance among teams where self-report measures may fail to capture behavior,” the study found
When recruiting new members for a work team, I wonder whether there could be an assessment that would reveal how well the candidate’s brain likely will work with the rest of the team. Personality assessments reveal people’s varying tendencies and ways of interacting with the world, but do these assessments also give adequate information on how the person communicates and works through challenges with others?
E-mail Communication Assessment
What if part of the hiring process included e-mail exchanges with everyone the candidate would work with if they were hired? The person I have trouble communicating with by e-mail usually doesn’t pose a problem for me over the phone or in-person. With so much communication happening today via e-mail and text, it’s good to know if a new hire’s written communication tendencies are not a good fit with the rest of the team’s. For the greatest effectiveness, the e-mail communication “test” should not be labelled as such. With guidance from Human Resources to ensure no laws are violated, each team member could be instructed by the hiring manager to send an e-mail to the candidate about a different aspect of the job the candidate is applying for.
Here’s an example: “Hi Judy, it was nice meeting you last week! It sounds like you have many great skills. I’m the person you would work on Website development with. Please take a look at the attached proposal for a new site and let me know what you think. Let me know if you have any ideas for how we could do it better, or if you see potential problems we are missing.”
If the job applicant e-mails back a blank message with a Word document with feedback, that will tell you something. If they send back a message asking for more detailed instructions, that also will tell you something. If they send you feedback that comes across as argumentative, that will tell you something. The employee who sends back the blank e-mail with the Word attachment may not realize they could be coming across as unfriendly or aloof. The person who asks for more detailed instructions may not realize they could be coming across as overly demanding and not perceptive enough to understand what is being asked of them (or they could be coming across to some as admirably conscientious). The person with the tone that could be construed as argumentative may think their tone is collegial.
Meeting of the Minds
You need the face-to-face, in-person interactions during the hiring process, but you also can benefit from e-mail communications with a job applicant. The written word requires more forethought than the spoken word, so it gives you a greater chance to see how the applicant’s brain works—and if you and the majority of your team can happily handle communications with that brain.
Do you have a way of assessing how a job applicant’s brain works in communicating with others?