Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Better to drop the ball than rub it the wrong way


We see yet another study showing that brilliant boors lose out to likable dunderheads.

Specifically, a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that customers get a bad feeling about places where co-workers mistreat one another, even if the customers themselves are well-treated - and worse than where the employees are incompetent.

Kenya McCullum has outlined the situation in the Workplace Communication Examiner.

Takeaway for Aspies: Even if we're technically skilled, that won't save us if customers feel badly about how we interact with co-workers (let alone customers themselves). Address social skills shortfalls first, then worry about keeping your technical edge. Our interpersonal side could easily become our Achilles heel - and we know what happened to Achilles.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Staying Safe Out There

Sometimes it's tough for Aspies (and others, too) to stay safe on the street. We need to navigate between the Scylla of tough-looking people (eg, piercings, tattoos, leather jackets) who may actually be nice, and seemingly innocuous people who want to beat, mug or even rape or kill us.

Criminals give off signals - and they're also very good at reading potential victims' signals. (For example, an "interview" is the process by which a criminal closely checks out someone to see if it's safe to attack him or her.)

For some good, concrete steps to spotting and avoiding thugs, check out this great* resource - including self-defense expert Marc "Animal" MacYoung (he's the short guy with relatively short and dark hair, mustache and beard):

[*] And basically SFW - except of course for simulated violence.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Custom Made Trouble

Good morning,

One problem we Aspies tend to run into is unwritten, unspoken customs and traditions. Sometimes it feels like getting up in the middle of the night - stepping on, tripping over and bumping your shin into all those things you didn't even know were there.

When making a business deal, we can negotiate specific, written agreements in which everything's all out in the open. And we'd better, because while oral agreements are enforceable, if a disagreement comes up we may not be able to prove they're complete. Then, a judge or arbitrator may need to fill in the blanks.

Back in 1991, before Lisa Kudrow became the household word she has been for years now, she hired Scott Howard as her manager for 10% of her earnings - on a handshake. Neither the original agreement nor either of two renegotiations was put in writing. In 2007, she terminated the contract.

End of the matter? Not quite. Mr. Howard believes that his share* of her income includes any continuing payments for projects she had done while he still worked for her. Ms. Kudrow says, in effect, "Show where I explicitly agreed with that."

Mr. Howard's response, in effect: "It's industry custom - after all, I did the work that got you the income, so I'm still entitled to my share of it. Since it's implicit custom, it doesn't need to be spelled out - it's just assumed. I took that into account when agreeing to work for you, let alone for as low a share as I did. Now you show where we explicitly disagreed with that."

An appeals court has ruled that Mr. Howard is entitled to argue on the basis of industry custom, so the case will go to trial despite the fact that neither party even mentioned post-termination payments while he worked for her. No matter who wins, both sides will pay a great deal in terms of time, stress and money, including legal fees**.

And all this is assuming both sides honestly saw the agreement differently. Neither side has accused the other of fraud, misrepresentation or unfair dealing.

The thing is, while people should explain more and assume less, no one can possibly spell out everything. We have to rest on some implicit understandings. Custom and tradition spare us a good deal of work.

Under the law, in various situations there are certain customs which are widespread enough that everyone is conclusively presumed to know about them. (For example, if you rent an apartment your payment is due on the first of each month, and that's when it needs to be received, not sent, by.) That means that if your case gets to a court or arbitrator, they won't even care whether or not you, personally, knew. Customs, even unwritten ones, in this sense are like laws - ignorance is no excuse.

If a custom is applicable - meaning if there's a custom that covers your situation and your contract hasn't specifically provided for or excluded it - it will be applied, period. And if you sealed your agreement with a handshake, you probably can't prove that said agreement explicitly addressed it. So if there was an applicable custom you didn't know about, you're pretty much screwed.

So to avoid customs and traditions we don't know about - and may not know to ask about - coming back to bite us, we should put our agreements in writing. Also, we should get advice from a knowledgeable person who can point out any customs we may have missed. Sometimes, that person should be a lawyer. All this goes double if we're new to this kind of setting (eg, if it's our first time renting an apartment).

Last but not least, while I have passed law school courses including Contracts, I am not a lawyer myself and this is not legal advice. If you have any specific legal issues, please speak with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction, preferably one who's experienced with your kind of situation.

[*] In one of the renegotiations, that share had been reduced to 5%.

[**] Ms. Kudrow certainly will have to pay more legal fees for her defense. Mr. Howard's attorney may or may not be working on a contingency basis, meaning Mr. Howard only pays if he wins - though if that's true and he does win, it will be a substantial share.

Last but not least, for those of us who celebrate it - Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ticket to Ride

On Friday, when getting back from a meeting in the city, I reloaded my SmarTrip card at a machine in the Metro station. When I finished, a family came up to me, and asked how they could get tickets (or rather, farecards) for them to make a round trip into the city and back.

After they told me which station they wanted to get to and from, and the fact that they probably would return during the height (depths?) of rush hour, I figured out the round-trip fare for each member of the four-person family, advised them that each person would need their own farecard and showed them how to use the machine to get all four separate farecards at once. They thanked me effusively.

This kind of thing reminds me of when I used to work as a computer lab consultant in graduate school - basically I helped people with their computer problems. Not everyone seemed to understand the concept of "off-duty" or even "this is a dining hall or an office, not a computer lab" and kept coming to me for help. I had to tell most comers (when I was off-duty of course) no. Not all or even most of them took it well.

So I guess I carry that kind of aura. That said, I'm much more receptive to helping those who, like that family in the Metro station, ask nicely and without a sign that they feel "entitled" to free help.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Personality Divide

Annie Hussey, a young Aspie who like me gives presentations on how to better relate to NTs - and certainly seems to be doing a good job of practicing what she preaches - has this to say to a fellow Aspie close to her.

It really shows how divided many Aspies are between being true to (what we see as) ourselves and being better accepted and liked by others. Many of us struggle to answer "Who am I?"

Incidentally, some minorities, such as many blacks and Hispanics in the U.S., grapple with some of these issues too.

Aspies, please read this and better understand some of your fellow Aspies. NTs, please read this and better understand how Aspies may be at war within ourselves.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Remember, remember...

...the fifth of November.

Yes, 405 years ago today (well, tonight local time), Robert Catesby and a gang of fellow Catholics under his command tried to blow up the English Parliament and King James (James I of England and James VI of Scotland, to be precise). (Not exactly coincidentally, the king was Protestant.) Guy Fawkes was caught with the gunpowder in the House of Lords, and the plot foiled.

To this day, the English celebrate by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, and just plain burning bonfires and setting off fireworks. Guy Fawkes Day is the closest thing the English have to a Fourth of July.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • When thinking of doing something, ask yourself "Will anyone care about this next year, next month or even next week?" Some of the things that stress us out, everyone will forget about by tomorrow! Focus on things people will be talking about years from now.

  • There's a reason it's not Robert Catesby Day. Catesby was nominally in charge, but Fawkes was the guy on the scene, doing what needed doing because he knew how to do it. (Fawkes had fought for a decade in the Spanish Netherlands helping to suppress the Dutch Revolt, so he could handle explosives.) Though he failed, his name lives on (albeit in infamy).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What EMS Can Teach Us


Kelly Grayson, an experienced emergency medic, has given us some pearls of wisdom:

4. About 70% of the battery patients* more than likely deserved it.

6. When dealing with patients, supervisors, or citizens, if it felt good saying it, it was the wrong thing to say.

10. Always follow the rules, but be wise enough to leave them sometimes.

32. If it’s stupid, but it works… then it ain’t stupid.

33. Algorithms** never survive the first thirty seconds of patient contact.

77. Training is learning the rules, experience is learning the exceptions.

42. If someone is pointing a gun at you, two things become apparent: 1) You should have waited for law enforcement; 2) You wish you just hadn’t made that wise-[mouth]ed comment.

[*] People who got hit by someone. Now, they may not think they deserved it, and maybe even you or I may not think so either, but guess what? The guy who hit them thought they deserved it.

Most violence is between people who know each other.

[**] Algorithms are rules and expectations.

(Both pages NSFW in a few places due to language.)