3 strategies for developing the confidence to talk about your disability with an employer

If you want to talk to an employer about your disability(s), you may feel worried about actually doing this even if you have an idea of what to say – after all, you’re being very well honest and open about something personal with someone you don’t really know well.

Below are 3 different coaching methods that you can adapting principles from to help you feel more confident.

1) Cognitive Behaviour Coaching

This is focused on changing negative emotions through changing unhelpful thought patterns and behaviour; first, identify the specific situation that causes a negative emotion, then identify both what the beliefs (thoughts) are that go along with this and associated consequences (e.g. feeling anxious).

The next step is to dispute the thought (e.g. looking at evidence), and think of a more effective thought to help move forward.

This is sometimes known as the ABCDE model, for example –

A: Activating event – talking to an employer about your disability(s)

B: Beliefs – ‘I’m worried they’ll think I can’t do the job

C: Consequences – ‘ I feel scared, palms at sweaty thinking about it, and at the last job I applied to I didn’t bring it up’

D: Disputing beliefs – ‘Other people have been able to talk about the same disability(s) I have, and with some adjustments I could do the job perfectly well.’

E: Effective new approach – ‘I’m going to practise talking about my disability(s) so that I know what to say and am confident doing this. I’m also going to be very specific about what adjustments I would need to make it easier for the employer, and prepare examples that show how I can do the job well’.

2) Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)

While CBC focused on changing negative thoughts, ACT focuses on changing their impact –

1) Accept that unhelpful thoughts exist – and let go of the need to control or get rid of them – instead accepting that they are part of life.

e.g. ‘I’m worried about speaking to an employer because I don’t know what to say, I’ll embarrass myself, and they’ll think I can’t do the job. I’ve accepted this is how I feel at the moment.’

2) ‘Cognitive defusion’ – separating yourself from your thoughts, i.e. understanding that thoughts are passing things that happen and not necessarily factual truth. This includes being able to ‘step back’ to notice and observe your emotions and thoughts.

e.g. ‘I notice that I feel anxious, sweaty and restless when I think about doing this, but after talking about it these responses feel less intense

3) Being in the present moment – anxiety is often caused by worrying about the future and depressive thoughts caused by the past. Doing an activity to help you be present in the current moment (mindfulness), can help you break away from unhelpful thoughts. Mindful activities such as focusing on your breathing can help with this.

4) Identify values – identify the underlying motivations that are driving your career focus (rather than a specific end goal).

Doing this can help you be clearer about why you want to do something and help you be more willing to take steps to achieve it.

e.g. ‘helping people is important to me, so I want a career where I can use my talents to make a difference to others.’

5) Commit to take action – hopefully you’ll feel more motivated by this stage, and so use this new found energy to make some goals and start working towards them.

e.g. ‘I want a rewarding career, and so will make an action plan to help me know what to say to an employer even though I feel nervous doing it.’

3) Solution focused coaching (SFC)

This approach is focused on discussing your preferred future and looking at things that have gone well rather than focusing on things that have gone wrong. This involves focusing on your preferred scenario and identifying what is needed to get there.

e.g. ‘To do well in this job, I will need some adjustments and support. To get these, I will need to be able to explain my disability and support needs clearly to an employer’.

The next step is to identify skills and attributes that have been previously used to achieve something similar, such as speaking to someone new or a time you did something ‘outside your comfort zone’. How can you use these to help you with moving forward?

Final thoughts –

Trying something new for the first time like this can be intimidating, but you’re not on your own – remember that you can always speak to a careers professional at your university (including if you’re a recent graduate) to get help with this as well.

If you’ve had a negative experience talking to an employer about a disability, then I’d also really recommend that you speak to your university careers service about it to help with moving forward.


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