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A bit of a different take on the: "My colleague is distracting, how can I resolve this?"

Maybe a bit of background. I myself am a young developer, autistic and am working my first full time job. In my internship and often other places I have always had the comment that I barely spoke. Although I now feel very comfortable at my own work, I distract myself often enough that it is annoying to myself. Often times talking with my coworker next to me and being a distraction to others.

We have an open office, islands are close to eachother. The dev team does have to communicate a lot and laughter is appreciated, there is a fine balance between having a fun place and disturbing others around me.

  1. What steps could I take to distract myself less? I have tried the following: blocking all sites non work related that I catch myself drifting too, installing a strict workflow plugin, taking a breather outside when I'm feeling anxious / annoying.

  2. How can I reduce myself being distracting to others?

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    What is the distracting behaviour that gets noticed by your colleagues? – 520 says Reinstate Monica May 28 at 8:05
  • Most of the times my laugh, when someone says something funny. Or me talking to my collegue, work related or otherwise. Apparently my voice carries quite some weight – M. Doe May 28 at 8:09
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    @MaartenW. So the problem isn't that you are distracting people on purpose; you can't control your voice for the occasion and speak too loudly? – lucasgcb May 28 at 8:14
  • I'm honestly not that sure. The main factor is getting distracted and pulling my co worker in with me, because we get along great. But because we're all in an open office if you want to work without headphones it can be distracting (I experience it too from others, so to reflect that upon myself). But I cannot reasonably expect people to wear headphones every day all day. – M. Doe May 28 at 9:13
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    How do you feel about noise canceling headphones? I find that being able to hear conversation in an open plan office makes me want to compulsively engage if I have a relevant thought. When I have been in that kind of work structure the only way I could get out of peoples way and get work done was to hunker down with active noise canceling headphones and try to sit in a way that I can't see motion. – Dataminion May 28 at 18:05
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Tell your coworkers to be explicit.

For non-spectrum people communication about annoyance will be subtle and non-verbal. You are probably are not that great at either of those things.

There is no harm in just telling them "hey people, if I am ever annoying you, that is not my intention so just tell me, I'm not great with hints, I promise to not take offence"

This work best if communicated in private to a few people who sit closest and maybe your teamlead/direct manager.

And when people tell you, take it seriously. You might have built a web of social rules around yourself that will mark this as "sarcastic, ignore" or "a joke, laugh at" but it is important to step back, breathe, and take this communication at face value.

(caveat, I don't know you, where on the spectrum you are or your cultural context, just relaying what I myself, a not-autistic-but-not-great-at-social-things-either know about this)

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    Also, if you promise to not take offense, make sure that you don't take offense. – Stun Brick May 28 at 13:29
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Try to. You're admitting that there is a distraction problem with you. That's 50% of the job done because you're conscient of it and will work on it.

There is no perfect technique to be less distracted, but here are some suggestions that helped me when I was a young worker, full of energy:

  • Plan some breaks and bring you coworkers with you : if you take breaks at fixed hours with your colleagues, you can teach yourself to stay focus for some time, then allow yourself to chat, make jokes etc. A fixed planning is not what make you focused, but create a structure which could help you get focused more easily

  • Browser off : Close your browser as soon as you don't NEED it to work. If you let it open, you will be tempted to go on some funny websites and then you will be tempted to talk about it to your colleagues. The farthest temptation is the more avoidable.

  • Your phone : Don't put it on the table, but somewhere more difficult to reach for. It is a big distraction

  • Isolate yourself : If you are busy, you are not distracted. If working is not enough, try to listen to music, or find something distracting enough to ease your urges, but not enough to slow down your workflow !

It is hard to find balance between working and cooling down, but I'm sure you'll get to it :)

EDIT : I see that the main problem is not being distracted in itself, but the noise you can do by laughing. My advice are still relevant, I think, but I would like to add that I myself have a friend with a laugh strong enough to revive deads : there is no great solution to that i'm afraid. If you can't control it (do try, work on it and try to control your voice tone when you're too enthousiast), just present apologies to the people you distracted and go on : that's not a big matter really, and I personnaly feel less pressured when someone around me is laughing from time to time.

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Unless you have an incredibly loud/distinctive laugh, I think it may be saying more about your colleague(s) than you. Open plan offices have disadvantages, this is one of them.

On saying that, might be worth following the suggestion to ask more explicitly what the issue is. It might not be quite what you think e.g you might not be picking up on cues that a colleague is particularly busy, or not in a mood to talk/joke

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My nephew is autistic. Just a few weeks ago he told his entire class that he's autistic. They responded in some really cool, accepting ways. They also realized there's a reason that he sometimes acts a bit differently than them.

Only thing I can add to the excellent answers already is to consider telling your co-workers you're on the spectrum if you haven't already. I'm guessing they probably already know, but if they don't, you might want to make them aware--as it can explain some of the behavior.

In time, your coworkers will value you and learn how to interact. Everyone has their quirks, and they'll just come to realize you're like them in many ways.

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