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I have Asperger's syndrome which makes it difficult for me to navigate the social aspects of the workplace, and I understand that other conditions such as depression, anxiety, et cetera can also cause difficulty in interacting with others at the workplace.

I have tried several approaches in the past:

  1. Communicating on days when I am less symptomatic, that I have these difficulties, go into it briefly, and ask if they see me acting inappropriately to just say something.
  2. Kept it to myself, and remained that odd guy in the IT department.
  3. Picked up books such as "How to win friends and influence people" or "The seven habits of highly successful people or "Rhinoceros Success" in an attempt to teach myself appropriate social behaviors (which make little sense to me, but is what is expected).

Are there other strategies that I, or anyone else with social difficulties might employ to limit workplace disruptions?

If you were managing an employee with social difficulties, what would be your approach? How would you handle someone who is unintentionally rude or disruptive?

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    You could tell people? We should be becoming more educated about mental and physical disabilities now, so anyone who has a problem coping with your disability is the one with the problem (not you). – Snow Sep 29 '16 at 14:43
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    Do you want to focus on "how to manage" or "how should I, as someone with Asperger's, interact" - it seems like both are present here, in the question? – enderland Sep 29 '16 at 14:47
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    How bad are the social faux-pas' you're making? There's a pretty wide range. – Erik Sep 29 '16 at 14:56
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    I am profoundly hard of hearing myself and as such not exactly the norm in terms of social interactions. I just know some folks will find it odd that I have trouble interacting during certain social situations. Most people are understanding since I do have visible hearing aids. Perhaps people are more understanding than you realize, but just know not everyone will be. – Dan Sep 29 '16 at 18:33
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    be so valuable that no one cares what you do unless you start peeing in the pot plants. I've met more than one like that. – Kilisi Sep 29 '16 at 22:04
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+250

As someone who's not on the Spectrum but who's worked with and been friends with quite a number of people with social difficulties over the years, I can (only) offer a perspective from the "other side": As a colleague / team member, I would find something similar to your first strategy helpful (if you trust me enough to disclose this vulnerability):

  1. Communicating on days when I am less symptomatic, that I have these difficulties, go into it briefly, and ask if they see me acting inappropriately to just say something.

However, be veeery careful to not then act in a way that shifts responsiblity for handling and working around your social behaviour to your colleagues, amounting to "Well, I told you that I'm crap at this so why are you complaining (only now)?" Ultimately, you (and nobody else) is responsible for your behaviour.

Also, as Myles already noted, calling you out can be highly uncomfortable for others, especially if you are in any way in a higher position than them (and that may simply be because of your age or job experience). They may consider calling you out a career limiting move and just keep their mouth shut.

So if you go for strategy #1, (I would ask you to) make sure to visibly and audibly take responsibility for and work on your behaviour. If you realise you unintentionally offended somebody, an apology goes a long way (even if it is a few days later, better still if sooner).

If you want people to say something, make sure to be seen to accept these comments as gracefully as possible. Obviously, if instead you start arguing why you are right anyway / that nobody should be offended because you didn't mean it that way, this will send a strong signal to everybody watching that you do not really want to be called out.

If you realise that somebody's making an effort to help you handle your behaviour, thank them.

If (to me) your behaviour becomes indistinguishable from jerk behaviour, you are (in my book) for all practical purposes a jerk - Asperger's or no Asperger's. Especially so if you're my superior. So anything you can do to show me that you're not really a jerk, that you're just stressed out or tired, helps.

Edit:

Almost forgot: Please take your self-care seriously! If you're tired and irritated because your upstairs neighbour kept practising the saxophone all night long or because that entitled customer is breathing down your neck, I can sympathise. Much less so if you just forgot to stop working last night, if you just forgot eating your regular meals, if you just forgot taking the weekend off, etc. Don't intentionally or through (self-)neglect put yourself into a situation where you perform poorly on the social stuff (and probably also on all the other stuff).

As a grown-up, you should by now know how much alcohol you can handle, how little sleep you can handle, how much and what food you need when, how much downtime you need to recover, etc. If not, find out asap! ;-) This may sound ridiculous but if I had a penny for all the completely avoidable arguments I've had for precisely this reason...

If you get in the zone a lot and forget eating/resting, use an electronic calendar to remind yourself (or get a dog that will take you for a walk every few hours ;-)).

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    Good point about not letting the diagnosis be an excuse, I agree completely. I can tell by the finer points of your answer that you've had first hand experience. "Obviously, if instead you start arguing why you are right anyway" That is something I've fought hard not to do, and I've also told people that if I get that way to remind me that I told them to call me on it. – Retired Codger Sep 30 '16 at 12:08
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    +1: For the note on self care. Forgetting to eat, sleep, or give yourself a reasonable amount of downtime will drastically increase the chances of a stressful day. – Myles Oct 3 '16 at 17:57
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Definitely read about Temple Grandin, Anthony Burroughs and John Elder Robison, who will give more practical advice than Dale Carnegie on how to relate to people when you are on the spectrum. Carnegie's books focus on what, not how, which is the more common roadblock for people with difficulties picking up social cues.

If you make a general statement that you are on the spectrum and trying to improve your working relationships with others, you may get positive support. It's better to do this before there's an unfortunate incident, so you look proactive (willing) and not reactive (forced).

Families with people who have a son or daughter on the spectrum are a great model for what happens--people learn to accept that there is a difficulty without accepting that negative consequences are tolerable, and that you will need feedback that others would not necessarily need. It also gives you an easy out if you realize you're in an awkward situation--you can simply state "that's the kind of thing I'm working on" and move forward.

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    +1 for the second paragraph. They will know you have difficulties, and may be willing to accept some of your misconduct or help you. – MickMRCX Sep 30 '16 at 9:08
  • +1 as well, knowing is generally better than not knowing. Though it may seem counter productive, People who are not "normal" (at least by Society's vague definition) sometimes need to have special considerations to balance out the negatives caused by the things not "normal" about them. If you do socially negative things, like throw things around, people are likely to think badly of you, but if you throw things because your muscles Spasm and you cant stop it, they might just laugh it off and forget about it. If they think worse after knowing, its a problem with them. – Ryan Oct 4 '16 at 17:23
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In general I'd say that most people are uncomfortable calling others out on weird behavior, so your first strategy will be somewhat ineffective.

Assuming you are getting regular 1-on-1s with your boss, I'd suggest trying to get positive and negative feedback in this respect as a regular part of that meeting. This makes this feedback as less of a confrontation and more of a regular "How am I doing". Keeping this regular also helps your boss keep your behavior in perspective. It can be as simple as "In situation X this week, coworker reacted in a way I didn't expect, can you provide feedback?" or "Have you noticed any instances this week where my comments or behaviors were a bit off of what is expected?".

More specifically on the managers role there are two points to cover, correction and mitigation.

Mitigation is important in assigning employees role. Very few jobs require zero interaction with others however when setting up a role an individual's abilities should be considered. Do not put them in a customer facing role is customers are likely to be emotionally charged (eg answering complaint line) or where emotional contact is core to the job (eg reception).

Correction must be done very carefully as the line between appropriate and inappropriate can be modified by so many slight externalities that general statements of "Don't talk about X" can end up being very wrong when treated without regard to context. For example employee talks casually about death and makes coworkers uncomfortable, manager says "Don't talk about death", coworker brings up recent death of loved one and employee clumsily changes subject because death is an inappropriate subject. When discussing situation where others have been made uncomfortable it's important to explore the situation together, make a plan for correction, and follow up on the plan.

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    Whilst social role modelling and learning social skills by rote is a strategy that works on better days... it's the more autistic days that create the more challenging situations. Adjustments on these days will need to come from the wider workplace. – Michael Shaw Sep 29 '16 at 21:38
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    Where did you catch rote memorization of social skills in this answer? I advised against that in the final paragraph. Also I don't know that it's reasonable to expect assistance from the wider workplace when adjustments are required. I'd be surprised if that were presented to me as a workplace expectation in dealing with a co-worker. – Myles Sep 29 '16 at 21:48
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    Do you have experience of people with Aspergers? If so you would know that social skills are not "just picked up" or can be adjusted by "feedback" they are learned by rote, only used when remembered, and are the first thing to disappear under stress. – Michael Shaw Sep 29 '16 at 22:15
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    I have a nephew and a friend from high school/university on the spectrum. With my high school buddy, I remember him asking for feedback on a few occasions where someone reacted to him in an unexpected way (blowing up or laughing at him). – Myles Sep 29 '16 at 23:10
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    You are both correct. When I, for example, am agitated, it becomes much harder. One strategy I have used is to recuse myself, go somewhere quiet, and compose myself. The stairwell and bathroom are two of my go-to places. – Retired Codger Sep 30 '16 at 12:12
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  1. Communicating on days when I am less symptomatic, that I have these difficulties, go into it briefly, and ask if they see me acting inappropriately to just say something.

Complementary to this strategy, I find it helpful to let people know when I am having a MORE symptomatic or "off" day. I realize this can be harder, to communicate successfully about challenges at times when they're more of an active struggle, so definitely keep it simple. But I've found managing expectations in these circumstances to be helpful in two ways:

  1. For others, it helps put my words and behaviors in context. If they know I'm having an off day, I feel like people have been less likely to instinctively take offense if I make a blunt comment. It also lets people know you are being self-aware, and gives you an opportunity to partner with coworkers on solutions.

For example: "Hey, I'm having an off day/I'm a little stressed. I need some space to work independently this afternoon." Or "Can we move this conversation to email? I need some time to process my thoughts/I can give you a clearer answer that way."

  1. For me, letting people know I'm having an "Aspie" day reduces my anxiety about performing to social expectations (important, as that anxiety can compound very quickly). I realize I still have a responsibility to be aware and manage my behaviors to the best of my ability, so this is not to say that warning people is an excuse to act however I want that day. But it helps me put my interactions in perspective: if I say something wrong, the outcome is "I made a mistake and I can fix it" rather than "I am a complete jerk, what is wrong with me?"

A good strategy is to prepare some key phrases or indicators you can use to communicate when you're feeling more stressed or symptomatic, because then you don't have the pressure of coming up with talking points about your mental health in the moment. I usually wear my headphones with one earphone off so I can hear when my coworkers are trying to ask me a question or engage me in discussion. I put both earphones on when it's better not to communicate in person, and then my coworkers know to IM or email me instead. And I personally like the phrase "I'm operating at reduced social capacity" to let people know it's a rough day for me.

Thanks for your question! It demonstrates a lot of thoughtfulness, and I found the answers and comments helpful and interesting myself as someone with Asperger's and an office job.

  • I'm operating at reduced social capacity brings some humour into the situation. – Jan Doggen Oct 4 '16 at 14:25
  • Being aware of your stress level and warning people about it requires quite some introspection/self-awareness and demonstrates that you're mindful and respect other people's feelings - (hence) I really appreciate if somebody does that. It's not always easy, though. – AllTheKingsHorses Oct 4 '16 at 15:09
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As somebody who worked with people who were affected by Aspergers:

Give the people some time to adjust to you - even if they have an offended look in the first few days sometimes (I know how i looked and felt when my colleague finished the sentence with a technical statement and left the room one second later), it's not the end of the world. Many people (usually the more successful ones) are capable of realizing that individual events do not make up your personality - and (as with all other colleagues) they will see your strengths in comparison to your weaknesses. (e.g. in my experience for finding a technical solution, the people who have are less susceptible to social interactions may also feel less social pressure and make a more unbiased decision)

1

At work:

I would suggest discussing this situation with your company's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) first. If you don't have a company EAP, then consider discussing this issue with your HR department.

At home: Yes, read as much as you can about your situation and what can be done to assist you.

Your community: Seek out support groups or MeetUps that can help you deal with your concerns. Seek professional help if affordable and necessary.

Above all, don't do #2 (Kept it to myself, and remained that odd guy in the IT department.) How will things ever get better if you do nothing... :-)

-2

In reality, you probably cannot avoid social awkwardness. You are who you are. What can be engineered is an environment where there is a work space that encourages the office acceptable version of you, a plan to handle times when office is not the right environment and tolerance that some times you will say the things that others may only think.

Talk to HR with the approach of "helping HR to help get the best out of you at work" prepared with plenty of information about Asperger, and saying that can we try a few things to see if they can help you improve your work quality and productivity.

I have seen a highly autistic mathematician who was paid 10x average earnings for his maths skills, but could not cope with changes like the elevator being out of order. He had a personal assistant who's duties including waiting to greet him at reception each morning, escorting him around the office and supporting his social interactions with other staff.

Now, in comparison, I'm sure your symptoms are less severe than this, and the office adjustments that will help will be within your employers ability to provide.

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    What sort of office adjustments are you suggesting? The OP is looking for specific strategies for himself or a manager to use. How do you create that friendly environment? How do you handle times when the office isn't the right environment? How do you encourage tolerance in co-workers? What sort of things are you suggesting they bring to HR? This answer doesn't provide much in the way of actionable strategy, which seems to be what the OP is looking for. – Myles Sep 29 '16 at 23:15
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    The first part is a counter to the question in that a lot of the answer is not going to be him changing his behaviour. The strategy is to create awareness and to get HR buy in to try different things to see what helps. Th – Michael Shaw Sep 29 '16 at 23:18
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    "Talk to HR with the approach of "helping HR to help get the best out of you at work" prepared with plenty of information about Asperger, and saying that can we try a few things to see if they can help you improve your work quality and productivity." Thats basicly all that is usefull and that does not add anything since the OP has coped with this Problem and is looking for "out of the box" suggestions. – Raoul Mensink Sep 30 '16 at 14:52

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