The other day, I was in discussions about taking on a project, a talk going so swimmingly that I joked about ending 45 minutes early..
Then we came to an item where I wouldn’t budge. But neither would they.
I’m either one of the easiest people you’ll work with, or I’m one of the most difficult. There is no in-between. But the good news?
You can choose the easy option.
You might have autistic co-workers or other autistic relations in your life. If you’ve ever thought “I wish it were easier to get along/work with/handle this person,” then the answers are:
- We wish that too.
- Don’t wish when you can understand and act.
So here are my five easy ways to best work with (not against) autistic people like me.
Don’t play to win on your terms. Remember Words with Friends? I was unbeatable, not because of my vocabulary. I played an impenetrable defensive strategy. Everyone lost when they tried to win their way. We autistic people are often more guarded and defensive; if you try to break that down, we’ll hunker down. But if you’re willing to let us be as guarded and defensive for you, then that’s our win, together.
Work harder on the setup. In my printing presswork, the majority of the effort was setup — if we got that right, we could crank out jobs seamlessly for hours. My autistic tendency is to bristle when too frequently interrupted, intruded, steered. If you approach work more up front and just let us run with things thereafter and remain focused, we’ll work great!
Be ready to be curious. We have probably thought out our “defense” more than you have your “offense.” We’re not trying to be difficult or intractable – we’re just reflexively protective of our comfort, capabilities, and competency. The people who get the most out of me are those who engage my curiosity, trick me into wanting to solve a problem, and give me the liberty to work in a way where I’m comfortable and not conflicted. (If you’re one of my stakeholders/customers, please don’t abuse this, LOL)
Resolve — don’t flatten — objections. As a teenager, I once pitched a fit because my mom shot down my request to go to a Thai place instead of her idea: The Cheesecake Factory. I thought they just served cheesecake, so I objected. While I was happy to discover I was kinda wrong, I’d have LOVED to have had this more thoughtfully solved, like “Hunter, you probably want spicy Asian food — the Cheesecake Factory has enormous portions, with deserts, and a substantial Asian food selection. I’ve been there, and none of us have been to Thai Cafe whatever – and I know what you like. We should go.”
Take our side first – trust me. Like FBI Lead International Kidnapping Negotiator Chris Voss would advise, get a “That’s right!” out of someone, not a “You’re right.” Like many other autistic people, if I need convincing, the “appeal to people” aspect often falls flat. But get us bought in on an idea, something we can internally acknowledge, assent, celebrate — and then incorporate — we might even defend your side of things better than you can! The hardest ones to face across the table are the ones you want most on your side.
We are definitely more different than we are difficult, and I hope these five steps help explain that difference. They help us. To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic – or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!