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5 Tips for Staying Employed

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5 Tips for Staying Employeed

By Barbara Bissonnette, CEC
Autism Asperger’s Digest  January/February 2014

Melissa’s supervisor complained that she was taking too long to clear tables at the restaurant where she worked. Instead of placing all the dirty dishes in a bin and making one trip to the kitchen as her coworkers did, Melissa removed dirty items by category (one trip for silverware and another trip for glassware), then wiped down the table. She didn’t understand why the more efficient process of making one trip hadn’t been explained to her.

Seth was having a hard time adapting to a new supervisor and expanded job duties. His supervisor suggested how Seth could better manage his projects. He ignored her advice and spent more and more of his time on the activities he enjoyed. He didn’t realize that his supervisor was telling him directly what he needed to change to keep his job.

Greg had a rigid definition of his role as a programmer. He considered his job to be building the finest, most sophisticated systems possible. Convinced that he knew the best and right way, Greg refused to address the company’s need for a fast, easy-to-implement solution. Irritated at his colleagues and unwilling to accept the project parameters, Greg chose to leave a high-paying position.

These stories illustrate the difficulty that many people with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) have understanding the expectations of their employers. Sometimes, as in Melissa’s case, the problem is that neurotypicals do not explicitly spell out tasks that are considered obvious. It is assumed that an employee will deduce what is required, based on past experience or by observing coworkers.

More often the difficulty involves working within a group. Each member of a department, project team, or committee must understand how his expertise and skills contribute to the success of a particular project and the company overall. In any group, individuals will have different needs, values, personality styles, and personal objectives. Managing these differences, and resolving conflicts, requires a variety of interpersonal skills: listening, accepting feedback, communicating clearly, and compromising.

A recent survey of employers (NACE 2011) underscores just how important interpersonal skills (also known as soft skills) are in the workplace. When asked to name the top skills and personal qualities that they want from employees, employers ranked the ability to work on a team number one, followed by strong verbal communication skills, decision making, and problem solving. Technical knowledge was ranked seventh.

Developing your interpersonal skills is the most important thing you can do to maintain employment and manage your career. These skills are essential for understanding the expectations of your employer and getting along with your coworkers.

Since 2006, I have provided career development coaching to individuals with AS. My clients work in creative fields, the skilled trades, information technology, medicine, engineering, law, accounting, retail, distribution, and more! For some, holding on to any job has been an ongoing challenge. Those who maintain steady employment often face significant struggles that can result in disciplinary actions or demotions.

Although each person’s situation is unique, certain circumstances related to interpersonal communication come up repeatedly. The following are five tips for getting along better with your supervisor and coworkers, thus increasing your chances of workplace success.

 

Tip #1: Listen to Instructions

Some individuals have a tendency to react to one or two words that they hear, without fully understanding the meaning of what was said. They begin working on a task without really knowing what is required. Remember, most of the meaning of people’s words comes from the context of a situation and from nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and body language.

Hints for Tip #1. If you have trouble recognizing these signals, or with processing auditory information, develop the habit of checking for meaning. A good way to do this is to summarize your understanding of an assignment: “You want me to update the ledger first and then start processing the checks.” Summarize using your own words. If you repeat verbatim what someone has said, it could be misunderstood as sarcasm or not paying attention.

 

Tip #2: Know the Purpose of a Task

I have worked with clients who do not understand why they are performing various tasks, despite being at their jobs for years. They are missing the big picture. Not knowing the purpose of what you are doing can make it very difficult to learn and remember a process, determine how much detail is required, and recognize when an assignment is complete.

Meghan had lost office jobs because it took her too long to learn how to enter information into a database. To her, a database appeared to be a collection of random, unconnected bits of information. Slight variations between one database program and another completely confused her. At each job, Meghan started learning the database from scratch, trying to remember what information needed to be entered, and where.

It turned out that Meghan didn’t know how a database is used. Once it was explained that its function is to organize information—and Meghan saw examples of how customer data could be used by people in accounts payable, sales, and marketing—things began to make sense. She realized that there are many more similarities, rather than differences, among database programs.

Hints for Tip #2. How does your task or project contribute to the goals of your department or the entire company? Who will use what you produce? For what purpose? If you cannot answer these questions, ask a colleague or your supervisor for clarification: “I want to be sure that I understand how everything fits together. Can you walk me through how the analyses will be used?” You can also ask to see a sample of what the finished product should look like, if you are uncertain.

If you suspect that you are confused about something that is a basic part
of your job or obvious to others, seek assistance from someone you trust such as a coworker, family member, mentor,
or coach.

 

Tip #3: Work within Employer Guidelines

You must work within the guidelines you are given, even if they don’t make sense to you. It is your supervisor’s role to direct the activities of the people reporting to her. Generally, the less complex the job, the more control the supervisor has over how it will be done.

Hints for Tip #3. If you are new on the job, first learn the existing system before suggesting changes. You might come to understand reasons behind the way things are done that aren’t apparent initially. Even in cases where it is acceptable to question an assignment (e.g., you have a management-level position), you must choose your battles. Be sure to differentiate suggesting a legitimate improvement and simply wanting to do something your own way.

Tip #4: Respect Others’ Ideas

This is a basic part of teamwork. Pay attention when other people are speaking. Do not interrupt to interject your ideas, even if you believe that what the other person is saying is wrong. Telling people, “That won’t work” or “We’ve tried that before” is a sign of poor listening and communicates that you don’t think others have important ideas to contribute.

Hints for Tip #4: It is acceptable to disagree with coworkers at times. In this case, disagree but don’t judge. Judgmental phrases imply criticism of someone else: “That’s dumb” or “Anyone can see that.” They make people defensive and less inclined to listen to your point of view. State your opinion in neutral terms such as, “I see the situation differently” or “Here’s how I look at it.”

Tip #5: Accept Feedback

It is part of a manager’s job to provide positive and negative feedback to the people who report to him. Feedback provides insight into how other people perceive you. You then have the chance to influence or change those perceptions by continuing to do more of what is working—and changing what is not.

Hints for Tip #5. Listen to what is being said, and try to understand why the person needed to say it. Do not take it as a personal affront or attack. Perhaps you do not understand expectations or need additional training. Maybe you need to work on your communication skills or learn how to follow someone else’s rules.

Sometimes finding the right job match is a function of trial and error. Use your experiences, both positive and negative, to learn about yourself. Be willing to develop new skills and try different approaches. Most important, never give up!

Note: Names and identifying details have been changed and, in some cases, composites have been used to protect the privacy of individuals.

Barbara Bissonnette is the principal of Forward Motion Coaching (www.ForwardMotion.info). She is the author of The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide: A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success.

Reference
National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). 2011. Job Outlook 2012.

 

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2014. All Rights Reserved. Any distribution, print or electronic, prohibited without permission of author.


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