Sep 12, 2012 0 Share

Why I Have a Business, Not a Job


Illustration of man being fired by boss.
iStockphoto

All I did was call my supervisor an idiot. 

No, really. Here's how it happened. 

One fine afternoon, for some reason management suspected me of having fouled up an account I was working on.

Did they talk to me about it first? Oh no ... that would have been too logical and efficient. 

Well, that's one of my pet peeves—being judged without having my side of the story heard. I suspect everyone gets that once or twice in a while, but we Aspies get it a bit more often. Among other things we tend to cross certain unspoken lines into territory that people don't talk about. Like how you talk to a girl, for instance. Or your boss. (As a married man, I'm repeating myself!) 

Anyway, we tend to tick off folks without knowing it, and unlike us, they tend to have those things known as “friends.” You know, like on Facebook but you sometimes talk to them in real life, too. And when you annoy someone who has friends, they tend to talk to those friends about you, and despite our supposedly living in a society where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, those friends tend to decide that other person was right based only on what was told to them. Which makes for interesting encounters later on. 

So let's just say that's a sore spot for me. 

And speaking of which, I was on the spot when my supervisor finally discussed the issue with me. (Which by then had been resolved.) Having been surprised like that, I felt quite a bit of stress. That happens to most people; perhaps Aspies feel it a bit more. 

Under stress, we tend to revert to what's most familiar. And my most familiar relevant thought was “Judging people without hearing them out is wrong.” 

By then, though, I knew that you can't just criticize someone—you have to show why it's in their interest to do what you suggest. 

So when he admitted that he'd assumed I'd fouled up without checking first, I pointed out: “It makes you look like an idiot.” After all, no one wants to look like an idiot, right? 

Even though most of the team was in the room at the time, you could have heard a pin drop. And no, the next sound wasn't “You're fired!” 

Thing is, after thinking about it just a bit I knew that would be a bad thing to say. Yes, literally all I was doing was giving the supervisor a heads-up. In reality, even I understood that I was in effect calling him an idiot. Problem is, if my mouth was a stage, my wiser self was like the keynote speaker who was still in the bathroom so the emcee had to just say something while waiting for her to get back to the microphone. 

You might say I had a reverse staircase wit—if I had to react on the spot, I sometimes gave a much “wittier” response than I would have done after careful consideration. 

Thing is, if you work in a company you often have to “think on your feet”—which sometimes is tough when you're also trying to “think before you speak.”

On the other hand, if you've got your own office and people contact you ordinarily by email and phone—and your phone has voicemail anyway—you can devote more of your energy to helping the other person get what they need from the conversation. Keep in mind that many Aspies (and introverts in general) have what I call a “social fuel gauge”—when your needle is pointing close to Empty, maybe after a long day of interacting with others, or you're feeling frustrated, or you haven't had much sleep—it's best to wait a few minutes or hours to “refuel” until your needle points closer to Full. 

And when you're by yourself—especially when you're no one's official subordinate—that helps a great deal. You'll always be the unofficial subordinate of whoever's signing the front of your checks, but generally they just want broad results, and are not interested in looking over your shoulder every day. 

One last thing: When you're a coach/consultant/trainer/speaker like me, you have much more leeway to warn people (Nicely, mind you!) that they might look like idiots. They're actually—up to a point—paying you for that kind of feedback!