One challenge is recognizing the other person you are speaking with. Are they representing themselves or another organization? Do they protect themselves by hiding under the identity of the organization they are with? Do you know more about the subject of the conversation than them? Do they want to listen to you? Are you open to listening to them? What about body language, facial expressions of you or the other person?
The typical autistic person just did not have the learning during early childhood of multiple-signal and thought processing when interacting with people. All I can do is the best I can, but I know that interacting with certain people who are fast and can absorb a lot of information is challenging for me. Matching the other person’s expressions is a good idea, but it may not be fair for someone who is autistic – match what you can.
One crucial skill is conversation - defined by me for this case as the ability to process what another says, and come up with a follow-up question to keep it going. A focus is just to keep the conversation going, think of the question instead of the answer. This can be counter intuitive, but some people have a style of conversation where you have to convince them not by your answers but by your questions.
Preparation is important to anticipate the situation to avoid surprises. This point also includes not waiting for the last minute to do work, take your time. Seek to avoid “stupid” mistakes (errors you have prior experience that can be avoided) although it is a surprising challenge to always know when a mistake is about to happen. I have had situations where I wish I could have intellectualized where I can ask others for help rather than doing the task alone.
Avoiding the Conversation Meltdown
Self-discipline is important to control what can be called a conversation meltdown. I have to watch myself to prevent tuning out, just not listening anymore; monotone speech; rambling on, give a speech, end a conversation; body tires - lose eye contact, squint, look of frustration in participating; don't smile or react as other party expects; emotional breakdown, raise voice, make a statement you regret. Can a conversation or social interaction be simplified, or dissected, in a way of making it work for both parties involved?
Good diet and sleep help in preparation, but in reality, I believe the person who is at a neurological disadvantage in a conversation will stress out and may struggle if a conversation becomes confrontational or you are asked difficult follow-up questions. At times, I can just get angry which is not good in a professional environment. Practice helps but using emotion and controlling emotion is sometimes contradictory.
A tendency for me is to try to find a solution and mention it, especially when I believe it is obvious, honest, and it appears that no one had thought of it. However, criticism and negative statements can be inappropriate, and not said, even though being efficient. What are all the options is a way of avoiding saying the idea considered “is bad”.
One solution is research outside of a conversation - avoidance. Use Internet, surf net or e-mail, texting, telephone, library, good organization and paperwork filing, talk to friends. Within the conversation, will your brain allow you to process fast enough to ask, "What do you mean?" questions to get clarification? Can you selectively listen to the important points? Practice helps because one can develop memorized responses from experience. It is less stressful knowing your limits and knowing when to ask to slow things down. In some instances, you can write notes on paper. Otherwise, work hard while listening, respect the challenge. Listening is a gift to the person who is talking.
Combating Verbal Abuse
I am adding something called the "body slam", when a boss or superior takes an aggressive tack against you. I have examples such as "I don't trust you". These are hard because it takes too long for the autistic person to think of a response during a conversation. The best answer is "What do you have to gain by being so hard on me? Optimally, you should say it laughing, but that is an advanced solution.
If you can recognize that you are being attacked or in your mind bullied verbally, one can respond best by formulating a question – not a response such as a comment. This is not intuitive and not something I learned when I was a child since I did not talk as a baby. It is not obvious that “fighting back” from verbal abuse is done in the form of asking a question, not by throwing a punch or telling the abuser off.
I have inadvertently upset bosses and co-workers due to my monotune and mumbling voice, difficulty in laughing at jokes, discomfort ineracting with people, general stubborness, and sometimes making a comment they wish I did not make. People have decided I was not the fit for a job. In hindsignt, they try to bring me down like a spinning crocodile, not just with one big bite. By asking me difficult questions, watching everything I do, tellimg me I could have figured something out on my own without need of asking a question, plus general hostility and physical finger-pointing and other gestures, the person can make me dizzy and appear more frustrated, forciing me to almost quit or be eaten alive eventually.
One defense is to know your job as much as possible. This is time-consuming but the more preparation the better.
Workers and bosses can have various styles, some like confrontation, which requires enough working knowledge to formulate the follow-up questions to fend them off. Working knowledge is a weakness for me, the skill to quickly formulate appropriate questions. It is hard to explain in writing.
Knowing the boss, their personal situation and strengths and weaknesses can be helpful, but only if you can deal with the situation. An abusive style will affect all co-workers, so the challenge is to somehow let the boss blow themselves out, somehow do your job and have the self-confidence to fight to the death, although in some cases, job loss will be the destiny. For me it is impossible for me to avoid losing my cool sometimes, but it is best not to lose your temper, let the other person self-destruct.
People have called me “Passive Aggressive”, a psychological term where one avoids direct conflict and trying to go around the person involved. I don’t believe it is easy for an autistic person to execute a passive resistance plan of procrastinating action. What happens is that the autistic person just does not engage in conflict at times because the autistic person is afraid that they are slower and would lose. Autistic people hope for others to help resolve the situation. One cannot always avoid conflict. One has to prepare, and present a case that works for the parties involved. I know I need examples but I work and would have to explain in person.
Becoming a professional, such as trying to be a lawyer or scientist or a certified public accountant. The objective is to find the specialty you enjoy doing and where you minimize your weaknesses, such as office politics and meetings. I did eventually pass the examination using my gift for memorizing and have the CPA designation. Practical prioritizing and managing time is helpful.
Interviewing a Boss
I remember getting two jobs when the interviewer did all the talking and I just sat there until I got the offer, it seemed. In the interview or job, be patient, use e-mail to avoid the struggle of talking and listening, write letters, maximize your strengths and cover your weaknesses.
Handling a boss – try to judge by the interview – if the boss talks more – a better fit for the autistic than a good listener. My problem was getting job offers – if you got one, you had to take it – I did not worry about autism (before my diagnosis at age 34). Once you start working, work as hard as you can within reason of your personal time. Bosses appreciate good effort, such as creating a functional spreadsheet.
A person is given a job title and communicates with others based on the qualification of that title. Example is a reporter requesting an interview, making a request based on who they are (the reporter). There is a skill of figuring out the motives of the interviewee, whether you have any connection to that person.
Job Description & Disability
If you know yourself, you can accept a job description tailored to your strengths. For example, I never became an executive officer but accepted a more structured position within my organization. Structure is crucial for someone having a weakness to hide, although once I felt frustration with a job where I felt like I was treated as a “superclerk”. A challenge is that people may think you are great at everything if you are great at one skill, but that is the contradiction of autism or neurological questions – for example, I had great hand coordination but poor leg coordination due to how I was wired. One has to know your strengths and weaknesses.
I would not disclose my disability to an employer unless it is very specific. I read that higher functioning Autism/Asperger’s most likely would not qualify as a disability - please correct me if that is untrue. Note that private firms are less likely to hire the disabled compared to governments, but for me, I can walk, talk and hear - too subtle to be considered disabled.
It is preferable to set the job description to tailor to your strengths and to minimize your weaknesses. Sadly, you can only learn your weaknesses through trial and error. However, the labels of disorders identified in the past 25 years, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, and High-Functioning Autism are broad and may not totally indicate your problem.
People in business have been helped by mentors, often more experienced members of their organization – internal mentors, or contacts outside of their organization = external mentors. From my experience, being autistic, I remember one worker who advised that I take a test in accounting that did help my career. Finding a mentor is informal – making a friend and trying to identify their example that can help you.
One challenge for the autistic is recognizing when someone is offering to be a mentor – how to read the clues. Another is the networking grind of meeting potential external mentors. Another problem is finding someone to whom you can compare since you know you are autistic. How can you lead others if you are autistic? The example of honest hard work, basic professionalism can win others over, perhaps. I have never mentored someone like me so I would advise that you do more research.
Starting a New Job
Beginning a position can be overwhelming - meeting new people, trying to figure out how to actually do the job, as well as understanding the company culture. It requires patience - taking sufficient time to do the job. I have made mistakes by rushing work done to appear fast - it is easier to overlook all options and necessary steps. Setting up your list of procedures is very important, and sticking to the list. Orientation for me and I assume other people on the spectrum is more challenging due to the overwhelm of having to learn a lot at once.