THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Work weirdo: I'm one, so try my survival guide

A social skills deficit is not a workplace death sentence. I know. I have that sensory integration dysfunction known as Asperger's Syndrome. If you're like me, you just need some tips for bridging the gap between other peoples' social skills and your own:

1. Don't tell your boss

People don't care about your random, personal crap. Also, your boss won't know what to do. She can't read 400 pages on Asperger's.

Instead, ask your boss questions about social situations. Your boss will appreciate that you know you don't know. And your boss will think you're coachable. The biggest problem with people who have poor social skills is that they don't know what they're missing, so they are not coachable. You will differentiate yourself from this crowd when you ask for help.

2.  Spend limited amounts of time with people

We can look charming and quirky in small doses, but in large doses, it's overwhelming. So go out to dinner, but then go home. Go to the company picnic, but just talk with people for a little bit. Then leave.

At work, you do not need to spend tons of time with people. You can be the weird, smart one– as long as you're not too weird. Get along with people for a little. Then go back to your cube.

3. Be great, even if a little odd

By the time you get to the mid-point in your career, it's clear that the people who stand out as great are thinking in odd ways.

People who are really likable don't have to be good at what they do. People just love being around them. (That's fair, because someone who everyone likes actually does make the team more productive.)

It's important it is to to be a star. This is the only way for the socially-challenged to stay employable. You will always be difficult to deal with, so you need to make it worth everyone's time.

4. Do office politics by being direct

There is office politics in every office because office politics is about how people get along. If you have Asperger's, there is not a good way for you to know all the nuances. We don't understand mean, vindictive, passive aggressive– these are all way too complicated. So we don't do them.

Unfortunately, I've noticed that much of how I act comes off as mean, even if this is not my intention. So you need to really look at peoples' faces. And if you get a bad reaction when you say something, even if you think it's not a bad thing to say, you need to stop and ask if you hurt someone's feelings. I ask this four or five times a day. Most of the time people are surprised that I don't know. But I keep asking. There is no other way to find out.

5. Don't get frustrated by the rules

Recently, I've been reminded about how hard it was to learn business rules because I had to learn dating rules. I got frustrated about dating– like I'll never learn. For four dates I didn't understand why people drink on a date. I don't understand why you don't say at the beginning of the date if you want to have sex at the end, so you know what you're leading to.

There are rules like this for the office, as well. Just follow them. Don't ask for any rationale. It won't make sense. That's okay.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.


1 comment

A rare achievement in journalism -- an article that is at once amusing and highly practical as well. Maybe all of the professional Aspies in C'ville (how many could there be?) can get togther some time and mill around uncomfortably. Thanks for the advice!