Loud Messages, Silently Sent

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, August 2020

When Donna’s supervisor asked her to come into his office, she thought that they would discuss a complex analysis she completed. Instead, she was shocked to receive a written notice to improve performance.

“I’m sorry,” said Dave, “but you were late again this morning. We’ve discussed this several times, yet the situation doesn’t change. If it happens again, we will have to let you go.”

“But I put in a lot of extra hours on the analysis,” Donna said. “Doesn’t that count?”

“Donna, I expect everyone to be at work on time. It’s the policy,” Dave replied.

At our coaching session, Donna was angry. She did not understand why 15 minutes mattered, especially when she had worked extra hours. She gave me a quizzical look when I told her that she was silently sending a loud message to Dave.

“Being on time is the company policy,” I explained. “Dave has spoken to you about tardiness on several occasions. When your actions don’t change, you are communicating that you don’t really care about your job. It doesn’t matter that you don’t think it is important. What matters is that Dave does.”

I helped Donna to consider the situation from Dave’s perspective. He was responsible for making sure that employees in his department followed the rules. If they didn’t it reflected poorly on him as a manager. Additionally, the other department members would be resentful if they were expected to follow the policy and Donna was not.

It has not occurred to Donna to think about how Dave interpreted her actions. She agreed to make on time arrival a priority.

We listed each step of her morning routine, and how long each one took. Next we estimated her commuting time, and added 15 minutes in case there was very heavy traffic. We set her arrival time at 8:45 instead of 9:00am. We determined that Donna needed to wake up 45 minutes earlier each morning.

At the end of the first week, Dave commended Donna for being on time each day. She understood that it was expected that she would continue to be on time, unless there was a situation beyond her control, such as a major traffic jam.

Sometimes I work with clients who have lost several jobs because they were often late, did not follow the company dress code, or left work early (without permission). They admit that the problem was brought to their attention several times, however they did not change their behavior. Understanding the loud messages they silently sent is the first step to correcting the problem so that they can be successful.

Copyright 2020, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching