Are Your Thoughts Alienating Others?

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, February, 2016

Shortly after being promoted to manager at a retail store, Mark discovered that he would have to deal with complaints from sales associates over their scheduled hours. Some felt that the scheduling was unfair. To Mark, the criticism was “completely childish” and he had no intention of “indulging these petty concerns.” His plan was to assign unfavorable hours to everyone, so that the associates would realize how much better the original hours were.

We discussed how unhappy workers would probably find other jobs, creating more problems for Mark. As a manager, Mark needed to think about what was best for the company. “Even though you think the associates are childish,” I explained, “you need to treat them as competent adults.”

Analyst Lisa spent the majority of her work day irritated at colleagues she described as stupid and lazy. Nearly every interaction left her incredulous at the “nonsense” she had to endure. Despite the fact that she had lost jobs due to her inability to work effectively with others, Lisa didn’t think that she had a problem. “When people are wrong, I am honest and tell them so,” she said matter-of-factly.

In a similar way, Tara became upset when her colleagues did not follow the exact procedure for entering orders. She accused those who deviated of “violating the quality standard of the company.” One day, tired of Tara’s angry looks and accusations, her co-workers went as a group to complain to the department supervisor. The supervisor said that it was not Tara’s role to monitor the work of others, and gave her a written warning.

Finally, David had an extremely hard time reconciling the fact that co-workers who were not as smart or talented were put in charge of projects or awarded promotions. David’s anger and frustration at the perceived unfairness was obvious in both his voice and facial expression. When his co-workers asked David what was the matter, he would reply, “nothing” in a tone of voice that made it clear that something was bothering him. This caused the relationships to further deteriorate.

Learning how not to alienate co-workers is a crucial workplace skill. Some of my clients misinterpret the actions and motives of other people, and read negative intentions into innocent actions. Others find it difficult to accept that an ideal such as fairness is subjective, and can change based on personal values and situational context. David didn’t realize that intelligence, talent and strong interpersonal skills were needed to lead projects and manage others.

Employers place a very high value on interpersonal communication and teamwork. This means that you might have to pretend to like certain people, and act respectfully toward individuals you don’t think deserve it. This is not unethical. It is necessary behavior when you are a member of a group working toward a common goal (in other words, when you have a job).

Poet and author Maya Angelou said in a famous quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” At a fundamental level, teamwork and “fitting in” are about interacting in ways that make others feel comfortable in your presence … even if you disagree about topics or have different points of view.

One way to get along better with others is to change your thinking about them. Lisa treated her colleagues based on her negative assessment of their abilities. They sensed her irritation and contempt, and did not want to work with her. However, when she began thinking of her colleagues as confused rather than stupid, she became more patient. Her colleagues responded positively and the atmosphere became less tense.

The subject of interpersonal communication is complex and involves many different skills. A resource I often recommend to my clients is  Social Thinking At Work, Why Should I Care by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke.

Copyright 2016, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching