Q. I am the only deaf person in a large organization. Because I speak and lip-read fairly well, I initially went out of my way to communicate with my hearing colleagues. Unfortunately, this proved to be quite difficult.
Whenever I saw a group chatting, I would try to join in and participate. However, I had trouble following the discussion when people turned their heads or spoke very fast. This became so frustrating that I even stopped attending our team’s birthday lunches.
We work in an open office, so people often converse without leaving their desks. Since I must be in front of someone to speak with them, I am also excluded from these interactions. Because my co-workers are too lazy to get up and include me, I miss out on many conversations.
To feel less lonely and isolated, I have become more involved with the deaf community. Having normal interactions in sign language has made me a much happier person, but I am still annoyed with my co-workers. Why do they refuse to meet me halfway?
A. People who have difficulty hearing, seeing or speaking can have a tough time in social groups. When conversations bounce around with no particular pattern, normal participation becomes very challenging. Since this won’t be an issue in the deaf community, I’m glad you have developed friendships there.
At the same time, however, I hope you won’t abandon all efforts to connect with your hearing co-workers. During one-on-one conversations, they should definitely “meet you halfway.” But in a group, they may simply become distracted and forget to consider your particular needs.
Similarly, in an open office, people naturally chat with nearby colleagues. To speak with you directly, they should come to your desk, but they can’t be expected to have all conversations there. Although these talkative folks might be somewhat thoughtless, they aren’t deliberately excluding you.
To reduce your frustration, try relating to co-workers individually. Having a focused discussion with one person will be much more enjoyable than getting lost in a crowd. And please don’t isolate yourself by skipping office celebrations, since your presence conveys that you are part of the team.
Finally, consider asking your boss or human resources manager to offer sign language classes at work. Even if only a few people sign up, this will automatically provide you with your own little “in-group.”
Q. I was recently promoted to a senior position where I will be working with an experienced executive assistant. I have never had an assistant before, so how do I get my relationship with her off to a good start?
A. Since your assistant is familiar with her role, begin by learning how she has been handling her responsibilities. If you are comfortable with her current way of working, then it’s just a matter of settling in. But if your habits or preferences differ from those of your predecessor, you will need to clarify those expectations.
After that, schedule a few follow-up sessions to discuss how things are going and make any necessary changes. This will not only allow you to clear up areas of confusion but will also establish a valuable precedent for ongoing communication.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”