Professor Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions., Campaigner for Neurodiversity, Medic, Knowledge Translator, researcher

Originally published as part of The Neurodiversity 101 LinkedIn Newsletter.

Neurodiversity 101: Are you over compliant?

The etymology of the term compliance can be traced to the Latin verb “complere” (having all parts or elements; lacking nothing).

Complere is also the source of the English word “complete”.

Compliance consists of being amenable, being obedient to the other party, and fully meeting demands.

When researching the meaning I found this very interesting thinking about how we need to be compliant in work settings to ensure we meet legal requirements but at the same time it made me think how often many neurodivergent folk can spend our lives seeking perfection, and being obedient or over compliant to ensure we fulfil others demands.

Compliance may involve changing your behaviour in public but it does not mean that you necessarily agree with it.

It can result feelings of ‘dis-ease’. It can mean you may silence your viewpoint and contort yourself to meet others’ expectations so as not to disappoint or displease. It may become an ingrained action to comply and your modus operandi.

Someone told me the other day that they had always tried to be a ‘good child‘ in school and they thought this meant not being heard too much or putting their ‘head above the parapet’. We fear standing out because we want so much to fit in with others.

This can leads us to being compliant and not learning to be assertive and considering how to ask for what we need from others. But this can mean that we can unwittingly neglect our own desires and needs.

Fitting in can become too important and change how we behave!

In psychology, compliance refers to changing one’s behavior at the request or direction of another person. It is different from obedience, in which the individual making the request for change is in a position of authority, compliance does not rely on a power differential.

However, being over-compliant over time can mean we have less practice expressing our own feelings in a range of situations. We may have less or no voice especially if someone else treats us unfairly. As a result of this we can end up turning our feelings inward and feel anger, shame, frustration, and upset with ourselves. We can also blame ourselves if things don’t go right as we assume it must be our fault.

We can be wounded very easily by criticism and take it so hard.See my previous newsletter regarding ‘rejection sensitivity dysphoria

The important thing is that the feelings we repress don’t just go away but become like a cling wrap, wrapping us up too tightly and restricting our ability to breathe and thrive.

“You can run away from yourself so often, and so much, just because the broken pieces of you cut your feet too deeply if you stay around for too long. But then what if someone were to come along and pick up those pieces for you? Then you wouldn’t have to run away from yourself anymore. You could stop running. If someone sees you as something worth staying with— maybe you’ll stay with yourself, too.”― C. JoyBell C.

In a work setting we can comply to the group norms even though we not agree with the actions and sentiments.

Psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate how people conform in groups.Participants were shown three lines of different lengths, and then asked to select which line matched a fourth “standard” line.

When others in the group (who were planted) selected the wrong line, many participants would conform to group pressure and choose the wrong line length.

Milgram undertook controversial obedience experiments and showed how that someone in authority could get other people to obey. In the experiments, participants were directed (by the experimenter) to deliver electrical shocks to another person.Milgram found that 65% of people would deliver the maximum, possibly fatal, electrical shocks on the orders of an authority figure.Even though the shocks were not real, the participants genuinely believed that they shocked the other person.

There is also the Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) that needed to be halted….

What does this mean for work settings and in the context of neuroinclusion?

To thrive in a work setting, it’s crucial to understand and effectively manage the dynamics of affinity, group influence, group size, and group affiliation.

1. Building affinity:Foster positive relationships with colleagues and superiors. Find shared interests, values, or goals.

2. Handling group influence: Recognise the power of the group in decision-making processes. Be mindful of group dynamics during meetings and discussions.This means ensuring everyone in the group has the means to voice their views in the way that works for them not only the dominant voices again and again!

3. Group size matters: Be aware that group size can influence decision outcomes. In smaller meetings or teams, individual voices may carry more weight. In larger groups, build consensus and alignment by highlighting shared goals and benefits of your proposals.

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Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. - Mahatma Gandhi

What can we start to do differently as individuals?

  • We need to start having a language that you can use to tell other people how you are feeling. This never makes you ‘less than’ and it won’t mean the other person won’t like you. It will mean you can be understood far better.
  • Learn what is the way you best communicate your views so you have a voice.“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”— Mahatma Gandhi
  • Don’t compare yourself to others – become comfortable with who you are. Value yourself and others will value you too.



Blog Author

I am Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions a tech-for-good company that delivers thought provoking consultancy and neuroinclusive guidance and training. We have developed cutting edge web-based screening tools that have helped 10s of 1000s of people. We strive to deliver person-centered solutions relating to neurodiversity and wellbeing.

I am a mixed bag of experiences and skills, an odd ball… and have 25+ years of working in the field of neurodiversity.

I am a medical doctor, Professor, and have a Ph.D. in the field of neurodiversity; parent and grandparent to neurodivergent wonderful kids and am neurodivergent myself.

Theo Smith and I wrote the UK award-winning book Neurodiversity at Work Drive Innovation, Performance, and Productivity with a Neurodiverse Workforce. My 10th book came out called Neurodiversity and Education in March this year. Excitingly, Theo and I have another book coming out next year!

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