Dr Austin Tay

MUSING OF AN ORGANIZATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST

What a January it has been! I have waited for at least the past five months to move from a hot climate to one filled with cold and rain. Finally, yes, I have arrived in the UK. Although this is not a surprise move, still it has not been an easy process. With emotions on tenterhooks (not knowing whether I will be able to fly and waiting earnestly for the results of the pre-departure Covid Test), I am only glad to have landed in Heathrow, London on the wee hours of 25 January.

In the winter, arriving in the UK can be daunting physically and mentally. While I was ready for both, human incompetence was one that I did not see coming. It was a long string of what can go wrong did go wrong. All best-laid plans somehow were just waylaid. One of the frequent phrases I hear is, “Welcome to the UK! Things do not happen fast. They take time.”

I reckon that what has been helpful is that I have now learned to not hold too high of an expectation here in the UK. After all, I am too used to things working slightly faster, but not necessarily always workable, in Asia. The frustrations I have experienced thus far will only make me feel worse than I am if I allow them to linger. So I am thankful that now I am getting into a routine, a pattern that I know I require to make this transition to the UK worthwhile.

I am still getting used to the time zone differences (Asia being 8 hours ahead of the UK and Central European Time is not the same as Greenwich Meridian Time!) However, I am grateful that I have swapped the smells and sounds of a busy Asian cosmopolitan city to a tranquil, slow-paced office space where I can see a beautiful break of the dawn and vast countryside. I am comfortable swapping my power suits for a bit of country flair – woollies and wellies.


It has been a long time since I have written something in this blog. For those who have followed me, apologies for this long silence.

So what have I been doing for the past two years?

It has been a very tough two years for many, and I have, like, many people have gone through lots of upheavals. But I am somewhat of an optimist. I know that while we are still going through lots of uncertainties in the world, one thing I know is that I have a choice. I can choose to dwell on the negatives or use the time I have to do something.

That was precisely what I did. 2020 to 2021 was filled with incredible work, which I am very grateful for. Thanks to technology (particularly ZOOM), I could still do my work using my laptop and a couple of fancy apps.

What I have learned in the past two years are:

  1. Unexpected things are going to happen
  2. Not to dismiss the real emotions that I experienced, I am only human
  3. Learn to step out of the realm of emotions and look at how to move forward (it is not easy, but a little step is a good start)
  4. Be thankful for help and opportunities
  5. Be tenacious and push on towards the goal I have set myself (I completed a professional coaching program within the stipulated time I set for myself)
  6. To let go of things and people who are not going to serve me as I continue to develop and grow
  7. Every day is a new opportunity to learn
  8. Self-care is as critical as my work

What I shared might resonate with some of you. To some, I might come across as a positive person. I instead considered myself pragmatic because I know that while it is ok to feel sad, frustrated, and the plethora of ’not so good emotions’, I see them as normal emotions that all of us need to go through. However, because these emotions are often related to a context or situation, the way to help ourselves is to move away from the context and towards the context and situation that will make you thrive. So it is ok to feel not so good. However, the way to prevent yourself from dwelling on the ’not so good is to move towards the feeling of good.

Since my last post, I have been wondering… Have I actually created a sense of privilege or entitlement in discussing my being neurodivergent?. Let me explain.

With the world very divided now with everyone wanting to have a say in what is right and wrong, I do not want to present my earlier piece highlighting me, being a dyslexic person, requiring special privilege. I merely wish to share my own experience and somehow make those like me who fall under the spectrum of neurodivergence feel that they are not alone.

I enjoy the discourse concerning neurodivergence. So if someone asks me about what it means for me as a dyslexic person, especially in the context of a workplace, I am happy to share my struggles and how I have used my own strategies to overcome my own learning difficulties. I do not require pity or people being overly precious about me. I just want to let others know that I AM JUST UNIQUE (QUIRKY). I will welcome it when an organizational changes its practices and accommodates people who might need support as they try to combine their uniqueness to a commonly accepted work environment.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I only recently chanced upon the term – Neurodivergence. I do not claim myself as an expert but rather as a person who happens to be categorised under this term. So to reiterate, my choosing to talk about this topic, I reckon, selfishly, is to feel it is alright to be dyslexic. Nothing more than that.

While I appreciate that labelling will be inevitable, I do not want to be pigeon-holed because of my learning difficulties. Of course, it is only through open discussion about neurodivergence that awareness can be created. So it is in fact, a conundrum.

What then? I believe for many who identify or those who have yet to discover being neurodivergent, the choice is yours. How you want to address and broach the subject is really up to you. For me, at least, talking about it is a form of acceptance.

I have always known that I am different when I was growing up. I was and still am broody. I often rationalise things in my head and sometimes conclude that perhaps I am just a bit quirky and different.

I see things differently from most people. I see and feel a profound interpretation of perhaps an avant-garde piece of art compared to most who might consider that art piece nonsensical. I tend to put myself in the artist’s shoes and look intently at the art piece to see and pick up obscure things like colours or something insignificant (to others), but it could be something else.

I have never really been able to pinpoint why I am like that. I attribute that being arrogance and I believe in what I see. This is not a form of grandeur or me displaying a Dunning-Kruger phenomenon. I am convinced that these are my own interpretations and I am fine with that. However, I can see that it does not thrill others when I am somewhat quirky. I do speak my mind and I often say that I do not really care about what people think.

I have been told that sometimes in my response I can be curt and lack pleasantness. Well you can say that I am careless and it is human to slip. The more I think about this and looked back at some of the things I have written, I do see why people think I am obnoxious in my response, even when I know tthat was never my intention to portray myself this way.

I have recently come across the term – ‘Neurodivergent’. No idea what it was and started reading up on that. I am presently reading the book – Neurodiversity at work by Theo Smith and Amanda Kirby. I am slowly beginning to understand some of my behaviours. In case you are wondering whether I am jumping on the bandwagon on latest fad, I want to say that I was diagnosed as dyslexic. So I have a reason to dwell on the subject of neurodivergence since dyslexia is within the umbrella of this classification.

Reading more about neurodivergence provides me with an understanding of my behaviour. That is all. I will not be advocating or starting a campaign about the inclusion of neurodivergent individuals. However, as an organizational psychologist, I can see the reasons for organizations to consider a fair way to assess neurodivergent folks in the spirit of inclusion.

I have found a way to navigate my learning difficulties as a dyslexic person. I look back at my journey and my successes, which were not easy. I want to share, though, that if you are someone who is neurodivergent, there are many more like you. While your journey will be challenging, you will find ways to navigate that because we are just that special for being who we are.

It has been nearly two months since I left Asia’s heat in exchange for the cold of the United Kingdom. Do not get me wrong. I quite enjoy the tranquillity and do not miss the concrete jungle.

As we are now in March, I see how the snowdrops are slowly fading away while the daffodils are blooming. The signs of spring seem to be slowly creeping in and indicating that soon there will be a sense of a new beginning.

With the anticipation of a change of season, I feel it is time to plan more of what one needs to achieve. There is a sense of the need to come out from hibernation from the winter and start to restart one’s engine to begin some new projects. I am excited to create a new series of topics on my upcoming podcast sessions, do stay tuned!

What ideas have you been brewing and will be implementing as spring beckons?

I recently attended a webinar that advertised that the speaker is an expert in workplace toxicity. I was so looking forward to the webinar to listen to the speaker’s perspectives and research. I was all ears and ready to take notes. The webinar started with an introduction from the host and then the speaker. An anecdotal example was used by the speaker to elaborate on the circumstances of how workplace toxicity can take place. The story’s focus was how communication could create opportunities for toxicity in the workplace to happen.

Next, the speaker shared a qualitative study conducted with her clients about their toxicity experience in the workplace. There was also a slide on how the various parts of the brain will light up when someone has experienced toxicity in the workplace. If you are still reading and feeling a bit confused, well, this was how I felt on the webinar. I frantically wrote some questions and sent them to the host. I waited patiently for the speaker to answer. One of my questions was asked but not answered. I must confess that some of my questions might not be questions per se; instead, they were observations about what the speaker had said. I needed the speaker to clarify what was said and shared. I reckoned that some of my questions were unanswered because there was not enough time?

I went back to look at the webinar description for the session and the speaker’s profile and thought to myself that I might have registered for the wrong webinar. The speaker was supposed to have done years of research in this area, but I heard anecdotal evidence. There were questions I wanted answers to, such as, “How can communication cause workplace toxicity?”, “What is the relationship between workplace toxicity and brain activity?”

Sadly, the webinar, to me, did not satisfy my expectations. Perhaps I need to lower my expectations when I sign up for any other webinar. However, one question remains – “Is it right to call yourself an expert when what you shared did not demonstrate any expertise at all?”

 

 

 

3 As of Psychological Flexibility

 

It is very human of us to feel worried and be fearful because often we are caught up with ruminating the past and catastrophizing the future. When we are in such a state, we tend to lose ourselves in the present. Being caught up with our thoughts and emotions can result in us losing all sense of self-awareness. 

 

Creating Awareness

 

When we do not recognise how our behaviours are impacting us, we will be stuck in a rut, mulling over things over and over again. Such impact can result in us becoming depressed and frustrated. What should we do then? Take a step back, breathe and create a psychological distance from the thoughts or emotions, that is to do perspective-taking. In doing so, we allow ourselves to see the reasons why we think and feel a certain way, thus providing CLARITY. Next, we will need to notice how these thoughts or emotions can affect us. In doing so, we can decide as to whether we want to carry on allowing these thoughts and feelings control how we behave.

 

Learning To Accept 

 

It is awful to feel defeated or not being able to take control of our lives. The society imposes a standard, and we adhere religiously to it, believing that FAILURE is not an option. So we will create automatic defence mechanisms such as being positive, trying hard to find out what went wrong or simply not facing the failure. These defence mechanisms have their shortcomings. For example, when we are always positive when dealing with failures, we can become too cavalier and ignore the real causes of our failures. On the other hand, when we spend too much time fretting over details about how and why we fail, we only stop ourselves from moving forward. Similarly, when we run away and not face what is before us, it will catch up with us. What can we do then? Accept that failure is normal; all of us fail at one point in our lives. What matters is how we move forward from our failures.

 

Action

 

Now that we are aware how our thoughts and emotions can get in the way we function and accept that sometimes we do not have any control about the situation we are in, we need to put into action what to do next. We need to think about what are the important things in our lives. We need to have an action plan to help us move towards those important things and be mindful of potential hurdles that can waylay the plan. Remember, this is a process and not a straight point A to point B journey. We need to be agile and adaptable should change to the action plan is required.

 

Practice 

Just as it takes determination and tenacity to keep ourselves physically fit, it is not that dissimilar when it comes to our psychological health. The more we practice, the better we will become; similarly, when we become lax, we become unfit psychologically.

Being grateful

 

 

Reading news and articles about what is happening in the world, basing on the number of deaths and infection from COVID-19, there is no doubt that all countries are doing their best to slow down the spreading of the virus.

 

Most of us are very lucky to have a roof over our heads that we can isolate ourselves. Yes, we have to change our lifestyle to accommodate what we are all experiencing. Some lament about this new norm and flagrantly flout restriction measures in the name of freedom. We see how some celebrities are having meltdowns or behaving foolishly, trapped in their comfortable mansions while others are using their platform to encourage people to think about the needy.

 

I am grateful that the country that I live in has relatively low numbers of infections as compared to some other countries. While it is very easy to be caught up with news about which country is doing well and which country ought to have done better, the press often leaves out certain countries that are suffering worst than most but get little mention in the media. An essay written by Arundhati Roy in the Financial Times depicts how COVID-19 has impacted and is continuing to impact India.

 

Most of us have a choice, some don’t. Those who are immunosuppressed, vulnerable and sick at this present moment, do not have a choice. Should we not be grateful that we are still able to have the option to stay at home? Should we not be grateful to have a choice to be connected to the internet and be able to choose how we can be entertained, to learn, communicate and gain access to information. Perhaps next time when we feel that this whole isolation is getting too much for us, pause and think, what can we be grateful for?

 

Copy of Untitled

 

The world today is very different from what it was last year. It is inevitable to be bombarded by news about the impact of COVID-19 outbreak. Most of us are taking this opportunity to get used to this new way of working. They are some who are using this unprecedented situation to sell their services; some are offering free webinars and then we have politicians still squabbling about who should take the blame.

 

From news avenue, we can see most people will abide by whatever measures their countries have imposed to curb the spreading of the COVID-19 virus but similarly we are also seeing others who are blatantly flouting the imposed measures. Why do people do that? People want to feel social and be part of a group even in this time where the spreading of the COVID-19 virus is so rampant. To some, preventing them to socialize is infringing their freedom.

 

We all have a part to play during this unprecedented time. Many people are struggling through this new environment. Many have also lost their lives as they succumbed to this disease. We might all be experiencing this whole outbreak differently, but one similar thing is we are all fearful. Our fears stem from not knowing enough about this disease, especially when there is still so much the experts are trying to figure out about the disease, and a vaccine is still not in sight.  While most of us cannot do much about this disease, we can work collectively to reduce the spike in the spreading of the disease. Be responsible and think about how our actions can impact others.

 

What can we do?  We need to look at changing our habits. Adapt to the changes. Start to use different ways to communicate. Why not use this time to reconnect with friends, spend more time with your loved ones (keeping social distancing wherever required) and also take time to reflect and recharge. Keeping yourself psychologically and physically fit will be essential. Choose whatever works for you.

 

If you are looking for additional tips or advice, please do send your message to austintay@omnipsi.com