Friday, 30 December 2011

The Right Way to Address Another Persons Negative Behavioral Traits

A very minor incident that happened today reminded me and helped me to clarify in my mind something I've been thinking about lately, to do with dealing with bad behavior, or negative behavioral traits, that may occur in people with Aspergers, but also applies to neuro-typicals.

I know a man who is in many ways very helpful, but has a number of undesirable traits that he seems to be somewhat aware of himself. Those traits are firstly, that he can quckly change his tone from being friendly to being somewhat aggresive, after something he sees that irritates him, and secondly, he is easily able to see the negatives in people, and can find a bone to pick with anyone he knows.

On several occasions, he has had to point out to me a few technical mistakes I make occasionally, sometimes when he has seen a pattern. These are not fatal errors or especially numerous ones, but the type that everyone will make from time to time. He has often accused me, when pointing out these errors, of sighing and groaning at him or over-reacting or even taking offence at them, and has said he finds it 'rude.' He's accused me of trying to pass the blame onto another person. This is led to us almost falling out once or twice.

Now when someone tells me I've done something wrong or made a mistake. that's bad news. It doesn't really matter who the messenger is, although how the messager delivers may impact my impression of the seriousness of the error. But it's bad news because I want to get things right, I want to be regarded as competant, I want to progress in life an in my career, and anything that says I'm not up to standard is bad news. How do we normally react to bad news? With a sigh or a groan. That's our natural reaction!

So you've just had a tickling off over a basic mistake, perhaps some errors in a spreadsheet or walking too fast, you naturally sigh and groan, the the same person moans at you for a sigh or a groan and tells you you're being rude, then guess what - you have compounded the problem. You are now faced with two pieces of bad news - you've made an error and your behavior is sub-standard and rude. What's you naturally reaction? An even bigger sigh, and on, and on. It can go round in circles.

Now this type of situation happens all the time. It happens in schools when a telling off over a sub-standard homework assignment is followed by a a telling off over a bad reaction to the teacher's displeasure. At least that's how I see it.

Now my question is, do we learn better when we are in a good mood or a bad mood? Sometimes it appears the only times we're taught how to 'behave' is by being told off when we get it wrong. As autistic speaker Ros Blackburn has said, there is a difference between being told how to behave, and being told off about how you behave. I would like to suggest that after facing a rebuke on two different accounts, it is a bit much to expect one to walk back to their desk with a happy smile on their face!

It is important that we distinguish between what is 'rude' and what is a natural reaction to bad news. I strongly object to the charge of 'rudeness' simply because I'm displaying my natural reaction, and the fact I happen to have a nervous and reactionary disposition and a tendency to panic. One must be careful in their use of words. If we say 'it may appear rude' is better than 'that's rude' it helps to shows we recognise that they are not being malicious.

The main point I wish to make is this. If someone, after facing a ticking off over one thing, is reacting badly, and has a behavioral trait that needs to be addressed for whatever reason, the time to address it is not when that person is being told off for another misnomer. No, the time to address such traits is when a more calm, controlled and positive situation arises, such as their annual review, which will most likely begin with a few 'well dones.' If more urgent, organise a one-to-one meeting several hours or days later when that person is in a good mood, and at that kind of meeting start off with something positive, and just gently mention the negative trait or issue that needs addressing, and explain calmly how that person needs to be aware how their behavior is impacting others. That way, it will also help ensure that what you are saying is accurate depiction of the person's behavior and not a 'reaction' to it. A few positives will assure them that their misnomers do not make them incompetent or a failier, and that in itself will mean that they will be less likely to react badly when the next one is brought to their attention.

In short, don't bombard you child, pupil or work colleague with more than one rebuke at once. Address behavior when that person is in a good mood in a planned and organised setting, and do it all carefully and sensitively.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Social Shields and Avoiding Awkward Conversations

For as long as I can remember, I have adopted various 'social shields' as a way to get out of an awkward conversation. By awkward conversations I am talking about when someone asks me a question about an issue that I wish to keep private, not because of any kind of bad behavior I've done, but when it relates to a matter of personal preferences that for some hard to explain reason is a sensitive issue for me - often because there is some kind of pre-concieved image tied into my preference whichever way that I am embarrased to associate myself with. My main social shields used to be my watch, and being concerned about time keeping, and needing the toilet. These days, it tends to be my mobile, and its use is not in such obvious situations as it used to be, as I am better prepared and able to handle more questions.

One thing I am sensitive to is knowing what personal things certain people know about me and what I keep private from them. Now sometimes I may have very mixed feelings about whether I want to tell someone I know, such as a work colleague, certain things about my life, preferences and beliefs. On the one hand if I do tell them, it will open myself up to some more interesting conversations and enable me to discuss things that I definitely do want to talk about, but won't make much sense unless I explain the sensitive issue first. On the other hand, revealing the sensitive issue has the potential to give rise to more awkward questions and conversations with that person, and there may be future occassions when I may be concerned as to what that person is thinking about me when a certain situation arises (i.e. if you tell someone you fancy a certain girl and then three months later you're all out together, that's just one general example of the sort of thing I mean). On the basis that you cannot undo information you have given to someone, I generally play safe, and if telling that person something about me is just going to make life harder, I just choose avoid to avoid that topic.

What makes life very difficult, is when someone, whilst not necessarily asking you direct, tries to engage you in a conversation about something that just so happens to be a sensitive issue for you. Sometimes the conversation will start on a 'safe' subject, and then in a way that cannot possibly be anticipated, the other person veers the conversation off into what happens to be your senstive area. Sometimes they may feel very strongly about an issue, and I strongly disagree with them, and they try to engage me into a topic, and when this happens, the only form of defense I can use is to pretend to be having to concentrate on whatever I'm doing a bit more, or look at the clock. If I express my views on the matter, I feel it could lead to a whole host of awkward questions, and potentially awkward situations in future - so it is safer just to keep the whole subject private.

When it comes to how open I am on a certain issue, I am often wanting to be all or nothing with people. Either that person knows the full story, or much of it when it comes to my views or preferences on this subject, with all the whys and that, or I just keep quiet about it. Because that person only knowing half the story is likely to make me feel most uncomfortable and leave me wondering what that person is thinking. Besides 'coming out' as such (I'm not gay) on a subejct and explaining everything at once provides a necessary shield against potential awkward questions that may arise in due course. Its like answering them all in advance so you don't have to face them unexpectedly later.

What If They Find Out Through A Third Party

Unfortantly, a recent incident occured by which I appear to have discovered, that a certain person does know after all something about me that I intended to keep private. I have a number of ideas about how that person may have found out. This is surprising in a way, in view of the way they had been talking to me about this subject. I have to say I have absolutely no respect for someone who knows your secrets, and then tries to engage you with a conversation topic you haven't opened up about to try to get you t reveal more, when revealing with could make life more difficult in future. Now the issue I wish to address is: How do you deal with this type of issue with a person with aspergers?

In short I would say, when a person has found something out about another, and has become apparent to both parties, that really that person would rather not have had them know, but its out there now anyway, the best way is to try and reveal in gently, away from others, that you happen to know this, and give the person time to ask questions about what they know and explain their position, and 'come out and reveal all.' Basically revealling everything necessary to avoid awkward conversations in future. Give the person time and space to adjust to the fact you knew about this issue, and if necessary allow them time out to wander and think it through.

I am of course beig very vague in this post, this is necessary to protect my own and other people's identities among those I know. How exactly one will deal with this will vary upon the individual situation. But I hope readers will understand the general principles here, in terms of why some issues will want to be kept private, and have to sensitively tackle a sensitive issue with someone, especially one with aspergers, when unwanted things have become revealled. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Problems of Understanding Jokes

At work, one person recieved a present at the Secret Santa that had a joke attached to it. I cannot elaborate online, for the sake of people's identities. Nevertheless, this incident has helped me to explain better the two-fold difficulty of understanding jokes.

This incident helps me to explain that there is often not a one but a two-fold difficulty for someone with Aspergers to understand a joke. The first difficulty is to do with the fact the Aspergers people tend not be broad and balanced thinkers and do not have a wide general knowledge. They tend to instead go much deeper into their own favourite subject, looking into the tiny details, which can make life lonely as there is no-one who will engage with their distinct interests. It also means that whilst they may appear highly intelligent when discussing a favourite subject, they will also lack a lot of more foundational knowledge, some of which is rarely taught and expected to 'picked-up' such as many innuendos, and as a result some situation may make an Asperger's person appear 'stupid.' Often jokes are based around some assumed piece of common knowledge. If you don't have that piece of knowledge you have no chance of getting it.

The second difficulty is to do with the fact that jokes involve connecting two or more unconnected dots in the back of your mind all within an instant. Now recently I have watched a bit comedy and paid some attention to the structure of jokes I have heard. By chance I even thought of one, albeit a crude and possibly offensive one, but I found it funny, and I'll explain those dots that need connecting. Here's the joke in the format of a conversation between a mother and son.

Son. "Oh I can't stand being overweight many more, I've really got to something to lose weight."

Mother. "Well if join the Army you'll be losing large chunks off your weight when your on the front-line in Afrghanistan"

Perhaps this is both a bad constucted joke and a potentially hurtful one for wounded ex-servicemen and their families, so I apologise if I caused any offence. The joke is that if you get deployed to Afghanistan you may lose weight, by having your legs and arms blown by hitting hit by an IED. You'll lose weight but in all the wrong places!

The thing is to get such a joke you have to both be aware of what is happening in Afghanistan and then quickly remember this and connect the loss of limbs to weight loss. You have to mentally jump over a bridge in order to make sense.

Another issue with jokes is that the answer is not always logical. Here's an example of a joke that I was told has been popular recently.

Q. What is the Capital of France?

A. £2.50.

The joke is based upon the word Capital, and the answer is in relation to the current economic crisis in the eurozone. But why pick £2.50? Why not £1.50, or £3.50 - they're all small amounts of money? This is what I mean by the answer not being logical. Any small figure would do, and there's no logical reason to pick any particular number - unless one can improve upon it of course.

With all these complications in jokes I find it incredible that at least 95% of people regularly get them, and someone like myself, who is quite intelligent (at least I give off that impression) and academic, dosen't. Its like walking into a party - one of the most complicated things for the human brain to deal with, and yet somehow everyone is expected to be able to do it confidently or else look like a 'loser.'