Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chop Down Your OAQ (Overall Annoyance Quotient)

Penelope Trunk, Aspie career blogger and entrepreneur, has posted five ways she believes Aspies can be less annoying at the office.

Ms. Trunk has recounted her own experiences as an Aspie, in this post and elsewhere, with credibility and panache. She certainly has a strong handle on some of the ways her AS affects her.

She's got it right on the money wrt spending limited amounts of time with people. As I've said, Aspies have a limited amount of social fuel, and then we need to recharge. It's not a matter of all or nothing; many of us can come to an office party for a few minutes, a half hour or an hour. (In fact, many of us can stay longer if we know just how long we're going to be there.)

Ms. Trunk also advises that we not disclose our condition. There certainly is something to be said for that advice; many Aspies have decided to keep their conditions to themselves.

And many others have decided otherwise. Including yours truly. I've found that if you disclose after having been hired, you can get reasonable accommodations - including better understanding for things you do that would otherwise be written off to laziness, bad attitude or even ill intent. No guarantees, but it can happen. The bottom line is: depending on your condition, the odds can be better if you disclose than if you don't disclose. (It's certainly true in my case, which is why I've "come out of the closet" in the first place.)

Ms. Trunk certainly has a point in that when you disclose, the boss needs to know what to do about it. Just saying "I'm an Aspie" won't help much unless you have good reason to believe the other person already knows about the autism spectrum. Even then, it's a good idea to explain how it affects you and what the other person and you can do together to minimize your weaknesses and leverage your strengths. Especially if you want to claim legal protections.

As she points out, you can't expect your boss to read a 400-page book. The best thing to do is list some concise but detailed specific implications of your condition and requested accommodations. Maybe also send him or her some links to - or print out for him or her - a few good articles on AS. (If I may say so myself, Building Common Ground has some good resources along the right-hand column.)

Of course, the above is if you choose to disclose - and like I said, I myself only suggest disclosing after you've been hired. Disclosing while they're still considering you gives them an incentive to reject you, especially because the law would require them to accommodate you if they hire you. In any case, the disclosure decision is purely your own.

Ms. Trunk suggests instead asking questions about what to do in various situations. That can work well if (1) you actually know in a given situation that there could be more there than meets your eye and (2) you don't need to ask so many questions so often that you become...well...annoying.

Keep in mind former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's concept of "unknown unknowns". Asking questions works for "known unknowns" - things that you know you don't know about. Many times we Aspies have problems with things we don't know that we know nothing about.

For one thing, many seemingly objective situations have social implications - eg, if the boss makes a mistake, when should you just let it pass, when should you correct her privately and when should you speak up right away? If an Aspie thinks it's only about replacing the error with fact, one can come to grief quickly and never know quite what happened or why.

(Another way in which people - especially Aspies - can unintentionally offend others is to assume that their experience is everyone's experience, and go on to make flat statements about the world. That often comes across as dictatorial. When you say "All X are Y," well, people who have found some Xs as Zs instead interpret your words as saying they don't count, and they can get cranky.)

So, asking questions can be good for those of us who are basically well-schooled in social matters but need some blanks filled in once in a while. For those of us who may offend and not know it, we need somewhat broader tolerance and help. That's much more likely to come from someone who knows you have a relevant diagnosable disability.

Ms. Trunk also points out that we need to be especially good at what we do. She's got an excellent point there - if we're going to upset people once in a while, however unintentionally, we're going to need to make up for it by being better than average - to say the least - at our jobs. Bosses tend to prefer likable people, and she points out that such people help others become more productive. Not everyone may agree with her that it's fair, let alone as obviously fair as she seems to think, but fair or unfair it is reality.

She also mentions that we have difficulty sussing out the complexities of office politics. The next questions is whether we can opt out of much of the process, and if not whether we can learn to grasp the twists and turns. There's no place at which anyone can opt out of politics entirely; on the other hand some places are much more "political" than others (slightly NSFW) and Aspies should consider avoiding them.

Last but not least, Ms. Trunk is quite right in that sometimes you just have to accept the rules, especially unspoken rules that no one person makes or can unmake. Not everything that happens is going to make sense - sometimes especially to an Aspie.

Btw, these insights can help us socially as well as professionally. Many if not most of us - including yours truly - have fewer friends than we'd very much like. And many of us are lonely for a mate - I was for a very long time, for example. Improving our social skills and devising workarounds will help us get and keep good friends, dates and romantic partners. (And - fairly or otherwise - so will getting and keeping good jobs, which directly affects our social lives too!)

What do you think?

H/T: Malcolm Johnson.

1 comment:

Penelope Trunk said...

I loved reading your analysis about what people need for coping. I learned a lot from your post about how to think about what I need and how to tell people.

Also, I am always receiving emails from people who want to know how to succeed at work with Asperger's, and I think I will send them to your site -- I love the niche you've carved out for yourself.