People Will Never Forget How You Make Them Feel

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, February 2019

Nancy had difficulty at several jobs due to her communication with colleagues. Recently, she had accused her co-worker, Cheryl, of being lazy by not emailing her a certain report. Nancy later found out that a technical problem resulted in the information not being transmitted. Cheryl complained to the department manager about Nancy’s accusation. This was not the first time such conflicts had occurred. The manager told Nancy that she needed to stop being rude to her colleagues. She also asked Nancy to apologize to Cheryl.

Nancy did apologize and was completely surprised when Cheryl thanked her and offered to assist Nancy if she had questions about projects.

“She’s obviously a liar,” Nancy said. “Why would she suddenly offer to help me?”

Nancy’s response brought to mind a quote by the late poet, author and activist Maya Angelou: “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.” It summarizes a key difference in the way Aspergian Nancy approached communication versus her neurotypical colleagues.

Nancy focused on what she considered to be facts, and admittedly could be impulsive in her reactions. She did not stop to consider that calling Cheryl lazy is hurtful and unprofessional (nor did she consider that there could be another reason that she did not receive the report).

Cheryl was willing to forgive because Nancy had acknowledged the emotional impact of her judgment, and explained that she had not intended to hurt or offend Cheryl. The apology changed Cheryl’s feelings about interacting with Nancy. She was willing to reestablish a cordial relationship.

I explained to Nancy that Cheryl would not be forgiving should there be a similar situation. Additionally, the department manager had given Nancy a written warning to improve her communication with all of her colleagues. Thinking about the impact of her words and actions on the feelings of others at first seemed to Nancy “a waste of time.” However, she was diligent about changing her style, and soon began noticing less tension and better collaboration with her co-workers.

Intelligence and skill do not matter if an employee behaves in ways that makes others feel insulted, angry, frightened or devalued. If you have experienced problems interacting with co-workers, make it a priority to improve your communication skills. In addition to the resources from Social Thinking (R) (www.socialthinking.com) I recommend Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron.

Copyright 2019, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching