Be Aware of How Your Behavior Affects Your Co-Workers

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, February 2018

“If I didn’t think something was a problem, I assumed that others didn’t either,” Ken said. Although his supervisor had commented several times about his messy work space, Ken was not concerned. He performed his tasks correctly and finished them on time. To Ken, that meant that he was doing a good job. He didn’t believe that the condition of his work space impacted his performance. So he ignored the empty soda cans and candy wrappers that littered his desk. When he ran out of room to stack paper files on top of his filing cabinet, he started to pile them on the floor.

He was completely surprised that his cubicle was the focus at his 6-month performance review. He was shocked when his supervisor expressed concern about his lack of professionalism. “I’ve discussed this with you several times,” the supervisor said, “yet nothing changes.”

Since his supervisor did not say that Ken had to clean his space, he assumed that nothing was amiss. Ken was informed that he would not be promoted to senior specialist. He then realized that the condition of his work space influenced how others evaluated his work. “Until you can present a professional image, I can’t give you more responsibility,” his boss said.

Mark didn’t understand the importance of controlling his emotional reactions at work. If a task didn’t go as he had planned, he became very agitated. Believing that it was important for his supervisor see his distress, Mark would head straight for her office. If she was not there, he would repeatedly text her, explaining that there was an urgent matter.

It took a written warning for Mark to take his supervisor’s admonishments to “calm down” seriously. He learned during our coaching sessions that strong emotional displays are distracting, and make co-workers uncomfortable. Others interpreted his distress to be unprofessional and immature.

Being aware of how your behavior impacts others is a critical workplace skill. It is imperative to resist the urge to impulsively act on a thought or feeling. Instead, find a place where you can relax and consider the context of the situation or the people involved.

I encouraged Ken and Mark to observe how their co-workers act. Do they yell when the photocopier jams? Interrupt their colleagues? Accumulate garbage in their work space?

Pay careful attention to any negative feedback you receive from a supervisor or co-workers. Remember that requests for change are often implied, not explicitly stated. Ken did not understand that when his colleagues entered his cubicle and said, “Nice space,” they were being sarcastic and meant just the opposite.

If you are unclear about what needs to be corrected, ask. Or, if you do not understand what it means to act in a professional manner, seek out the help of a coach, therapist or trusted co-worker.

Copyright 2018, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching