This is the third of a four-part series of the significant episodes in my autistic working life, where I’ve endured failures and scraped by with second chances.
If it were your:
- First business trip, and
- First time meeting all your peers in person, and
- First org-wide succession planning session, while being your
- First month after a major promotion into a leadership role
Then I’m sure you probably wouldn’t have done what I ended up doing: something that hushed the room, raised eyebrows, and quick-dry cemented my reputation in a way I never could undo.
I’d like to say that many of us with autism are more “truth crusaders,” but we’re more “defenders of fact.” We’re good at pattern recognition & anomaly detection, but we’re not the best at keeping quiet about it.
And that can get us into trouble.
I was the second-newest of the thirty organizational leaders at a summit – a big step for me after many steps in my Apple journey. Midway through, we discussed who on each of our teams would be our best future leaders in the making.
Since those in question were all my peers just weeks ago, I knew well who’d be ready to make the next steps.
One of the leaders waxed enthusiastic and eloquent about one person, someone who’d launched some initiatives, conjured up some coaching tricks, and cobbled some half-decent results.
But I knew this person. They weren’t really altogether worthy of that billing.
As this narrative went unchallenged, I thought “I’m sorry, I just don’t see this from them.”
But what came out was, well—just that:
“I’m sorry, I just don’t see this from them.”
So what do you do with crickets? Make more noise?
I kept going, already committed to the flag I planted, articulating my disagreements, all the while trying to find some footing to recover and yank this tirade back into something that’ll pass for constructive feedback.
It didn’t work.
That quiet, awkward lull gripped the air for too long — thankfully, our business manager called for a break. As soon as he did, I saw my boss get up from his chair and start making his way toward me. Great.
“Hey Hunter, just a bit of feedback —”
The disappointing complexity of the situation seized my shoulders. Our culture was supposed to be “feedback fit.” I had a direct view into this person’s impact. I made a mess of conveying “perceived truth” vs. “perceived opportunity.”
Unlike times where I rushed to judgment, this time, I felt the truth of the matter could offset how I went about speaking the matter.
I’d like to say I salvaged this situation and made nice — and I did: I spoke to the gentleman at dinner and was honest about my own learning opportunity in tactfully conveying my thoughts. Thankfully, he knew enough about my “impassioned” tendencies and was gracious enough in me coming around to apologize. We get on decently these days!
I’d also like to say that my reputation was reforged as more one thoughtful and graceful in truth — but it wasn’t.
This was not one of those easy fixes, despite the work.
These introspections into my autistic professional self, they’ve helped — even if it’s just highlighting where I know I can be hasty, where I need to work harder, and where my “numb spots” lie.
It’s hardest even when you know and feel you’re right.
But it’s not always about being right.
The idea of right/wrong & truth/untruth & good/better/best had long been my success criteria in The Life Autistic — until I ran aground in my hardest lesson: failure.