Earlier in my career, I thought I should be a manager and leader. And I worked hard enough to get promoted twice to a management position.
But I struggled with aspects of the job. Letting people go was one of the most difficult things for me to deal with.
Having taken the Clifton Strengths Finder, I now know that harmony, connectedness, and empathy are my top strengths. While I’m good at building a consensus and hearing all sides of a matter, I struggle with being direct and assertive in high conflict situations.
Over time, I’ve worked on those weaknesses, and I’m much more effective on coaching and confronting people, particularly in work and counseling situations.
But I had to develop self-awareness and go to work on my weaknesses while acknowledging and maximizing my strengths.
Every person can improve their communication in the workplace by following certain strategies.
Perhaps you, as an Aspergers/autism person, struggle with communication in general.
Or at least communication with NTs (neurotypicals).
Here’s what one Aspergers person shared about their experience in the workplace:
NTs (neurotypicals) go through life reacting to stimuli naturally.
We don’t. We have to use logic to understand our stimuli and calculate a response.
For the neurotypical, “social skills” are like muscle memory. Not a skill so much as a reflex.
We have to learn them. More than that, we have to decide to learn them, study them, and experiment with them. We use them like tools. It requires effort and discipline.
Use These Strategies to Improve Your Communication in the Workplace
Mindset: Cut Yourself Some Slack
Realize that communication with co-workers is different from trying to make close friends.
Ms. Ashley Stanford, author of Business for Aspies, says,
Perhaps the most important lesson to remember is that your ability to succeed as a friend in the younger years does not necessarily determine your success as an adult in your career.
Knowing this can free you up from putting too high of expectations on yourself, particularly if you’ve struggled with friendships in junior high or high school.
Develop Self Awareness With the Johari Window
Check this Johari Window explanation:
The upper left-hand quadrant (also known as the open area) represents things you know about yourself, and things others know about you. This can include behavior, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and your work history.
The upper right-hand quadrant represents both strengths and weaknesses that you aren’t consciously aware of, but is clear to others. Particularly with weaknesses, it can involve issues that are hard to face directly, yet can be seen by others.
This quadrant is the most difficult to hear about, but probably the most important if you want to communicate more effectively in the workplace.
The hidden area (lower left quadrant) represents things that you know about yourself, but others don’t know.
Finally, the last quadrant (lower right quadrant) represents things unknown to you and unknown to others.
Use the Johari Window to Improve Your Communication Skills
Start off with your positive qualities.
Create your own Johari Window here –> http://kevan.org/johari.
This resource provides mainly positive attributes to choose from.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the positive attributes, ask a trusted friend or colleague to fill in weaknesses, or areas you need to work on.
These are the blind spots that may be holding you back.
As you receive feedback on both your positive and negative qualities, you’ll know better how you come across to others.
Asking for Feedback
If we’re going to improve our interpersonal communication, we have to increase others’ awareness of ourselves and our awareness of ourselves. We are trying to reduce the blind area by soliciting feedback.
Jennifer Winter, in her article about 4 steps for asking for and getting truly honest feedback, recommends playing the long game, which means merely that we need to give people time to get to know us before we start asking for feedback.
We need to give people at least a year to get to know us so that they can accurately reflect upon their experience of us.
Also, they need to feel that they can trust us, just as we need to be able to feel we can trust them. So how do you build trust? By listening.
Action Step – Listen to Only You Forever’s podcast episode, called Listen to Understand. You can also read the article for very specific ways to improve your listening skills. The podcast episode focuses on marriage, but the listening skills are just as effective to improve workplace communication.
Improve Your Social Skills
In my career, I’ve realized that I need to work on skills like public speaking and leadership. Those skills don’t come easily to me.
But I’ve taken courses, read blogs, and put myself in situations that required me to work on those skills.
I’ll never be a CEO or upper management executive.
But I’ve learned enough to be good enough.
Kind of like playing the piano.
Here’s what you can do:
- Study and become comfortable with body language –
- Learn how to cope effectively with eye contact – Ms. Ashley Stanford, author of Business for Aspies, says,
Less is More.
The key here is that you still have to have some eye contact, but not too much.
1. Count – Look at the person’s face and count to three. Then glance away while they are talking or you are talking.
2. When the person looks away, look at their face. When they look at you, wait one second, then look away also.
3. Mimic their facial expressions. When they raise their eyebrows, raise yours slightly too. When they smile, smile too. It’s a way to keep in sync with the person you are talking to. Often called mirroring. Think of it as paraphrasing versus copying. Don’t try to imitate exactly, but rather mimic their expressions is a more mild way.
4. This will feel unnatural, but works. Plaster a gentle smile on your face. A muted gentle smile, not a big Cheshire cat smile.
Here’s a quote from Ms. Stanford’s book –
“One woman with autism said, ‘I practiced this by pulling the corners of my mouth up and I held them there. Once I felt the facial muscle I could flex it any time I wanted.'”
Additional resource/article – How to Maintain Eye Contact, via Wiki How.
- Listen to my episode about How to Improve Your Social Skills, with Dan Wendler.
Consider Asking For Accommodations
Barbara Bissonnette, in her article called 10 Tips for Getting and Keeping a Good Job, over on Wrong Planet, suggests that there are ways to ask for accommodations if you’re continuing to struggle with communication.
Go to the Free Guides section on her web site and ask for her free resource called Workplace Disclosure: Strategies for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome and NLD.
Familiarize yourself with the AskJan site for reasonable accommodations.
Got More Questions? Find Help Online
- Join a LinkedIn Group. The benefit here is that you can pick the brain of many professionals, who are very knowledgeable.
- If you don’t feel comfortable asking a question on LinkedIn, and you want to remain anonymous, create a pen-name on Wrong Planet. Join Wrong Planet (wrongplanet.net), then go to Forums–>Coping in Life–>Work and Finding a Job, and ask your question/s there.
- Join the Thrive with Aspergers closed Facebook group. Members are respectful and supportive.
A timeless classic – How to Win Friends and Influence People – one Wrong Planet forum participant recommended this book as helping him improve his communication skills.
Penelope Trunk, in her article, Dealing with social awkwardness at work: Insights from the autism community, recommends limiting the number of meetings you attend, and keeping communication to email or 1:1 meetings.
Tim Ferris’ book, The Four-Hour Work Week gives a lot of tips for curtailing the amount of meetings you have to attend. You may find other tricks and tips there to help you navigate your workplace successfully and with better communication.
A related article from this blog – Improving Communication Skills – Who Can Help?
Here’s a helpful list of questions when you can’t think of anything else to say – http://www.conversationstarters.com/.
Your Communication Skills Plan of Action:
- Shift your expectations. You don’t have to be good friends with co-workers. You just have to know how to communicate and get along.
- Use the Johari Window to improve your self-awareness.
- Practice your communication skills. Listen to Only You Forever’s podcast episode, called Listen to Understand. Go to Dan Wendler’s site, called Improve Your Social Skills, and start going through it bit by bit.
- Sign up for Barbara Bissonnette’s free resources, one of which talks about how to seek accommodations in the workplace.
- When specific workplace communication questions come up, ask for help online. Join Wrong Planet anonymously if you want to maintain your privacy, and ask questions in the work forum.
I worked really hard on this article! I hope you find it helpful, and if you do, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or on any other of your social networks. I’d love to hear your questions and comments below.