Your Actions Really Do Speak Louder than Words

March, 2013 Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter

Quick quiz: Over the course of a typical workday, are you aware of how your behavior impacts your co-workers?

Carl is easily frustrated.  At work, he reacts to project delays, unexpected changes, and perceived slights with angry outbursts. He raises his voice, slams his hand on his desk, sometimes walks out of meetings, and occasionally yells. Recently, he found out that his reputation as “explosive” would cost him a promotion.

Todd compulsively asks his supervisor the same questions, again and again, to reassure himself of the answer. His boss told him that if he could not learn the job, he would be fired.

Every Wednesday, when Cheryl begins updating the weekly sales reports, she sends multiple emails to the sales staff, asking when they will send her their data. She was shocked when the sales people, as a group, complained to her boss.

I have noticed that individuals who have difficulty interacting with their co-workers often have little awareness of how their behavior affects others. They tend to act on thoughts or feelings without considering the situation, or the people involved. Carl, for example, assumed that his colleagues would forget about his angry outbursts. “They know that I am reacting to a situation, not to them,” he explained.

Carl was genuinely surprised to discover that his co-workers not only remembered, but were quite upset by his actions. They did not want to work with him. Todd acted impulsively on his anxious thoughts, without thinking of how distracting his repeated questioning was to his supervisor. Cheryl presumed that the sales people shared her sense of urgency about updating the sales reports. The sales people thought that Cheryl was inconsiderate.

Perceptions Can Be Managed

You can manage the way that people perceive you. The first step is to recognize that people will form opinions based on how you act. If you act in ways that others perceive as inconsiderate, for example, they will conclude that you are inconsiderate, and treat you accordingly. The same principal applies to positive behaviors.

Managing perceptions also involves controlling strong emotional reactions of anger, anxiety, sadness, frustration, and even happiness.  With few exceptions, loud, intense emotional expression is unwelcome in the workplace. It is disruptive, and makes other people uncomfortable. Individuals who cannot control their emotions are considered unprofessional, immature, and possibly mentally unstable.

Pay careful attention to any negative feedback you receive from a supervisor or co-workers. Individuals who wind up with warnings or disciplinary actions often have received multiple complaints about their behavior. They may not realize that the complaints are requests for change, if this is not explicitly stated. Todd didn’t realize that his supervisor expected him to stop asking the same questions when she said, “We’ve discussed that already,” and, “You should know where to find that information.”

Observe how your co-workers act most of the time. Do they yell when the photocopier jams? Interrupt their colleagues? Bring up issues that have already been discussed? Everyone over-reacts to an event, makes an insensitive remark, or experiences a bad mood — on occasion. At work, a professional demeanor is expected most of the time.

If you have offended a co-worker, it is important to take corrective action. Ignoring the situation will only make it worse. Next month, I’ll share some techniques for repairing relationships and reputations.


© 2013, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching.