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  • Writer's pictureThabo Baseki

Design Your Ideal Place

A Practical Guide to Creating a Robust Relationship Between Colleagues With or Without Disabilities

Two woman are enjoying a conversation over some coffee. One woman is blind. She is wearing a denim jacket, glasses and has a happy smile on her face. The scond woman is older, with white hair, and is wearing a sweater

Joining a new company can be a thrilling and nerve-wracking experience. The nervousness may increase if one has a disability of some kind. Sometimes, you may wonder if you fit in or if you are slowing others down. Other times, you may feel like people are too sympathetic or too patronizing. These feelings are understandable, but they are not the whole story.

This article is written for that specific purpose, to offer some advice on how you can help your co-workers without disabilities understand you better and make you feel welcome. These tips are based on my own experience and feedback from others, and they are not intended to be definitive or universal. Every person and every situation is different, so you may need to adjust them to your own context and preferences.

Tip #1: Be open and honest about your disability and your needs

One of the first steps to building a good relationship with your colleagues is to be open and honest about your disability and your needs. Don't be afraid to talk about your challenges, your strengths, your goals, and your preferences. Let them know what you can do, what you need help with, and how they can best support you. For example, if you have a hearing impairment, you can tell them how to communicate with you effectively, such as speaking clearly, facing you, using gestures, or writing things down. If you have a mobility impairment, you can tell them how to assist you with physical tasks, such as opening doors, carrying items, or reaching things. If you have a mental health condition, you can tell them how to cope with your mood swings, anxiety, or stress.

Being open and honest will help your colleagues understand you better and avoid making assumptions or mistakes that could hurt your feelings or harm your performance. It will also show them that you trust them and that you are willing to work as a team.

To apply this tip, you can start by having a conversation with your manager or supervisor about your disability and your needs. You can also create a document or a presentation that explains your disability and your needs in detail and share it with your colleagues. You can also ask for feedback from your colleagues on how they perceive you and how they think they can help you better.

Tip #2: Be respectful and appreciative of their efforts

Another important step to building a good relationship with your colleagues is to be respectful and appreciative of their efforts. Remember that they are trying to help you and make you feel comfortable, even if they sometimes say or do the wrong thing. Don't take their actions personally or get offended easily. Instead, try to see things from their perspective and appreciate their intentions. For example, if they offer to help you with something that you can do by yourself, don't snap at them or reject them harshly. Instead, thank them for their kindness and explain that you prefer to do it on your own. If they ask you a question that seems insensitive or intrusive, don't get angry or defensive. Instead, politely tell them that you don't feel comfortable answering it or that it's not relevant to the topic.

Being respectful and appreciative will help your colleagues feel valued and respected by you and encourage them to continue helping you and learning from you.

To apply this tip, you can practice gratitude by saying thank you more often or sending a thank-you note or email to your colleagues who help you. You can also give compliments or praise to your colleagues who do something well or who show improvement. You can also avoid negative comments or criticism that could hurt their feelings or damage their confidence.

Tip #3: Be proactive and positive in your interactions

The final step to building a good relationship with your colleagues is to be proactive and positive in your interactions. Don't wait for them to approach you or initiate conversations. Instead, take the initiative and reach out to them. Show interest in their lives, their work, their hobbies, and their opinions. Share your own stories, insights, jokes, and compliments. Invite them to join you for lunch, coffee, or after-work activities. Participate in team meetings, projects, events, and celebrations. Be friendly, cheerful, optimistic, and supportive.

Being proactive and positive will help your colleagues see you as a person first and a colleague second. It will also help you create a bond of friendship and trust that will make your work environment more enjoyable and productive.

To apply this tip, you can set a goal of talking to at least one colleague every day or every week. You can also join a club or a group that shares your interests or hobbies at work or outside work. You can also volunteer for tasks or roles that require collaboration or communication with others.

Here is a possible rewrite of the text:

Working with colleagues without disabilities can be a rewarding and enriching experience for you. You can learn from each other, support each other, and build trust and respect. These tips were meant to help you foster a positive and productive relationship with your colleagues without disabilities. Remember, you are an important and valuable member of the team. Don't be afraid to share your ideas, ask for feedback, and offer your assistance. By doing so, you will create a more inclusive and harmonious work environment for everyone.

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