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: “I need to work on my ‘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.