Don’t Treat Co-Workers Like Strangers

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, June 2018

Kyle was having difficulty managing relationships with his supervisor and colleagues. It seemed to him that there was rampant “duplicity” within the organization, because people were not treated in the same way. For instance, a group of co-workers went out for lunch together, but did not invite Kyle. A colleague received a promotion, even though Kyle had been with the company longer, and possessed an advanced college degree. A co-worker who Kyle thought of as “mean and nasty” for criticizing one of his presentations was referred to by others as, “a nice guy.”

“I operate with a ‘movie theater’ philosophy,” he explained. “I treat everyone at work the same way that I treat strangers in line to buy tickets at the movie theater.” This meant that Kyle was polite to his co-workers, but made no attempt to learn anything about them. His response to situations was based strictly on logic and analysis. He did not consider the perspectives or feelings of other people.

Kyle was surprised when I explained that his colleagues should be treated differently than strangers. This is especially true for people who work in the same department, or who interact frequently. A certain amount of socializing is expected, and sends a message that an employee considers himself part of the group. It is the basis for forming relationships that are crucial to success in most jobs.

Additionally, people treat others based on how those people make them feel. Kyle’s “movie theater” strategy caused co-workers to conclude that he did not care about them, so he was not invited to lunch. It was also a factor in his losing the promotion. As his supervisor explained, “I chose Suzanne because people like working with her.”

Determined to build better working relationships, Kyle changed the way that he thought about his colleagues. It helped him to realize that being friendly to his co-workers did not mean that they were friends … nor did he have to personally like an individual in order to establish a good working relationship.

He began, slowly, to participate in small talk during breaks, such as asking people about their weekends and vacation plans. He discovered shared interests with two department members, and they began eating lunch together on a regular basis. They made sure that Kyle was invited to the department lunches (which Kyle attended, to show that he was part of the team).

At my suggestion, he purchased Good Excuses Are Not Good Enough, A Guidebook for Anyone Who Feels Socially Out of Step with Others, by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pam Crooke (this book was previously published as Social Thinking at Work, Why Should I Care?). We planned how Kyle could apply some of the strategies to situations at work. He continued to improve his confidence and comfort level interacting with others.

Copyright 2018, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching