Dear Boss,

Dear Boss,

We’ve been working together for five months. I just passed another anniversary. What do you know about me so far?

I’ve learned a lot since I started at the agency. Not about accounting; that aspect of the job is more of the same; I’ve been doing this for decades. Not about my coworkers, we don’t talk like that. But I’ve learned about Human Services. Working with domestic violence and sexual assault victims. Helping broken, traumatized women regain their lives.

Can you learn by watching? It’s not like I actually talk with any of the victims. To be honest, I’m terrified of the eventuality that I will. A hotline caller will, one day, get my extension by mistake. While staffing an information booth, someone will walk up and disclose their trauma. In these situations, I need to say the right thing.

Disclose, I learned this term from you. Human Services jargon. My understanding: it’s when one person tells another something private. Our clients do this all the time, I think. Since everything is confidential, no one would tell me if they did. But our clients are supposed to disclose. That’s the point of our organization, right?

I learned in job-training to watch my boundaries, to keep things professional. Disclosure is inappropriate in this industry. So still, you know nothing about me at all.

Do you wonder aloud, while talking with your friends, “Why does he do that?” We don’t disclose, but do we gossip? Do you guys sit in your office, your white-noise machine masking your conversation, and wonder why I squeeze my eyes shut? Why my jaw is always moving? Why I make that car-starting noise?

Do you even notice?

On Monday, you made a comment: “You need to work on your ‘soft skills.’” You probably don’t remember. We were interviewing a candidate. My questions were curt. My transitions, abrupt. At one point, you laughed out loud. Would it be helpful to know why I communicate like this?

There’s an assumption that I’m good at certain things. “Jeff, you’re a reader, you’re a writer, you love words. I want you to read this client-testimonial to our donors. Jeff, there’s a party on Saturday night, I need you to represent the company.” These would be good times for disclosure. Reading out-loud terrifies me—it’s choppy, shaky, I frequently lose my place. Mingling is worse—awkward conversations, uncomfortable silences. I’m not sure I represent well.

Disclosure is a shortcut. It’s how people get to know each other.  You can learn in a fifteen-minute conversation what might take months or years to realize. You might never know why I make that sound, but it annoys you all the same. Context sets expectations. It reduces surprises. It fosters empathy.

So forgive me when I’m ready to talk to you about Tourette Syndrome. About OCD. About social anxiety. I’ll be crossing boundaries—big time—but I’ll also be setting the stage. My disclosure, hopefully, will provide you with sense of understanding, and maybe acceptance.

Sincerely, Jeff

16 thoughts on “Dear Boss,

  1. Hope it goes well when the time is right. I am sure it will. Sounds like an environment geared to support others, including you, albeit for different reasons.

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  2. It’s dicey when people have to disclose they have a disability. Sometimes I have to explain that I have a congenital flaw in my vocal chords, which makes my voice hard to hear. Mostly I don’t disclose, because people don’t really know how to receive that information.

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  3. I usually like it when people tell me personal things, especially people I see regularly like coworkers. When someone tells me something personal, I feel like they trust and like me and it makes me more likely to confide in them too. Also I usually feel like more communication is better than less, but then I end up disclosing something I wish I hadn’t. Oh well — I think I’d rather be an open book than a mystery. It’s easier for everyone. Good luck with this!

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  4. Oh wow–love this line: Context sets expectations. It reduces surprises. It fosters empathy. This is the kind of thing I read and nod my head. Yes. Absolutely right.
    How can we know people without these disclosures? I’ve found the withholding of information can be an odd power dynamic. In a vacuum of knowledge, fictions thrive.
    I hope this changes–I know from reading your words you have the courage to disclose, when the time is right.

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      • I think we all do this–our brains hate missing pieces. But when it comes to the things that make us “us” I think self-knowledge and an environment where sharing our authentic selves builds trust and empathy–exactly as you so eloquently pointed out.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Good article Jeff..it hit on a lot of good points about our “humaness “..we all have our vulnerable spots; things we’re alittle nervous to disclose. You’ll know when the time is right..when you can start to trust, alittle at a time. It must be frustrating to feel some of them are watching you or commenting. I’m sure you’ll feel better when they find out more about you

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  6. Great points. I personally fear disability disclosure but I’m ok with other disclosures. Ironically I prefer disclosure of others. I think disability disclosure is the hardest in my opinion. I lead an employee resource group for employees with disabilities at a company with over 20k employees but have never disclosed my own disability to my bosses in the 9 years I’ve been there. I sometimes think I’m being smart and then sometimes think I’m a huge coward. So There’s that.

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