Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, August 2018
Matthew could recite a long list of results that he achieved for his employer. Three months after receiving a promotion, he was stunned to be placed on a performance improvement plan. Multiple colleagues complained that he was “abrasive.” He would habitually tell colleagues, “you weren’t paying attention when you …” or “if you had thought this through… .” Matthew’s supervisor explained that he needed to be more supportive of his colleagues.
“No one can deny that I am getting the job done,” he said during a coaching session, “why should I have to change?”
Rebecca had been on her first job after college for 2 weeks. During that time she was quite critical of her co-workers, often calling their ideas “ridiculous” or “simplistic.” When her supervisor told her to stop being disrespectful, she angrily replied, “My intellectual capacity is superior to them all. I am just being honest.” She was promptly fired.
Matthew and Rebecca believed that they were simply telling the truth. They questioned why stating the facts would be upsetting other people. However, their “factual” statements were really judgments, which offended, angered and embarrassed others.
For example, calling an idea “ridiculous” implies that the person presenting it is foolish. Telling a colleague that she is “not paying attention” is an opinion. Matthew’s co-worker may have been paying very close attention to an assignment, but in need of additional training or a different type of explanation. Interestingly, since neither Matthew nor Rebecca intended to upset others, they had difficulty understanding the negative reactions.
Respecting the contributions and ideas of other people is an important part of workplace success. Listen to others, even if you disagree, or already know that their logic is faulty. Interrupting to explain why people are wrong is rude, and will cause others to avoid working with you.
You don’t have to always agree with co-workers, however. If you spot an error or believe there is a better way to perform a task, the key is to address the issue instead of criticizing the individual. Rather than calling a process “stupid and inefficient,” which is judgmental, explain that you see extra steps and suggest a short cut. This is collaborative.
People want to work with others who are friendly and enthusiastic. Therefore you should avoid making negative comments about your current or previous supervisor, co-workers, or employers. This makes you appear to be negative and disruptive. Be especially careful not to remark on a co-worker’s weight, manner of dress, accent, or other personal attributes as this could be interpreted as harassment or discrimination.
Two of my favorite resources for improving interpersonal communication skills are: Good Intentions Are Not Good Enough, A Guidebook for Anyone Who Feels Socially Out of Step (formerly published as Social Thinking at Work, Why Should I Care?) by Michelle Garcia Winner; and Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron.
Copyright 2018, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching