What You Say and How

Effective communication is not just about what something is said but also how. When related to Asperger syndrome, the latter can be problematic and also the unintentional source of friction with others.

Discourse is described as any utterance longer than a sentence. It also incorporates the tone and style of delivery.

For someone with Asperger syndrome it is the deliver that can present difficulties for a number of interrelated reasons. To begin with, there may be a tendency to talk either too much or too little. If the subject in question is of interest – particularly strong interest – then there is the possibility that any related discourse can be drawn out and dominate any conversational interaction. Cues or indications from the opposite person to stop may not be picked up on.

At other times, there may be periods where contribution to any conversation is either negligible or lacking. This is especially so where the person feels apprehensive or nervous or unsure as to their knowledge about the topic being discussed and, even more so, when in a group such as when presenting. Anxiety, therefore, will impact upon discourse and the ability to talk effectively.

Perhaps most pertinently of all however, is the tone of delivery which can contain a high level of emotion. As a result, even though the message may be relevant and pertinent, the way its conveyed reduces its impact and means that the argument is taken less seriously or not at all. If the issue in question is personal and relates to another person, it may also be inflammatory.

These issues very much apply in a business context. However, there are further, specific factors prevalent here that also impact upon communication and managerial performance and where changes and improvements can bring real benefits for a manager with Asperger syndrome.

* Ethical Values

Discourse may be loaded in terms of ethics and values about which a person with Asperger feels strongly but which are misplaced in a business context. This may also include contentious subject matter.

* Emotion

If a topic is something about which a manager with AS feels passionate and has strong views about, then there is likely to be a high degree of emotion involved.

Emotion may cloud judgement, increase anxiety and mean that any words or discourse are inappropriately selected and delivered in the wrong tone and without weight. Associated body language also may be detrimental.

Overall, this may mean that a person may unconsciously impact on, and negatively effect, others.

* Inappropriate Words

Words may be used which, to someone with Asperger, may be relatively inoffensive and appropriate but which to others, will communicate the exact opposite. Metaphors and figures of speech may be used when not fully understood or in an incorrect context.

* Inappropriately Delivered Words

At times the words chosen may be in themselves acceptable but delivered in the wrong way or out of context.

* Misguided Discourse

There may be a tendency to trust excessively and inappropriately others. Words may be used which are later deployed and used against the [AS Manager] sender. This is particularly true in relation to senior management.

* Personal Discourse

Verbiage may include references – albeit indirect – against an individual and be personally biased, as opposed to, using facts. Who is being spoken to, and what their reaction is likely to be, may not be taken into account or sufficiently considered.

* Small Talk & Gossip

Small talk may be difficult at times for someone with Asperger but gossip may not. This is especially so if linked to values, ethics or people who do not share the same or similar outlooks.

All of these issues will affect a manager with AS in a business environment. However, the condition may mean their effect and impact is also heightened. They are, therefore, sources of potential hazard.

Adjustment to what is said and how it is said can bring about enormous, significant and beneficial improvements. Enhanced discourse and choice of words may also be one of the easiest ameliorative actions to apply.

* Avoid small talk and gossip of a personal or contentious nature. Remain within the confines of non-sensitive and inoffensive subject matter relating to non-work issues

* Ethical Values

Business and ethics do not always mix easily. The values exuded by a person with AS will not be automatically applicable in a business environment, nor can they be expected.

Cognitive conditioning to ensure exclusion of ethics and related values from the business context in which one operates to ensure that ethics/values verbiage to not intrude into business discourse is a required first step.

Do not expect either to be able to communicate personal values or expect their reciprocation. Refrain from discussing matters relating to values and do not comment on individual perception in this area of others to avoid instigating antagonism.

* Focus on business issues only and ensure that these, and related issues only, are personally discussed in line with identified and stated personal objectives.

* Emotion

The greater the emotion the more highly charged any subsequent discourse is likely to be. Reducing levels of arousal and emotion will contribute to reducing related expression in language terms during business dialogue.

Seek to discuss issues – particularly contentious and personal – rationally. Emotion may at times be appropriate – i.e. when supporting and rallying staff – but at many times it will be unproductive. Business results normally depend on tangible outputs, not unsubstantiated emotions or feelings that may cloud issues and inter-personal relationships.

* Reduce emotional input into dialogue and discourse so as to convey information and related messages in a rational, measured fashion.

* Use of Appropriate Words

Heightened ethics, values, views and the feelings inherent within Asperger will all contribute towards an enhanced tendency to deploy strong, pertinent and “to-the-point” verbs when describing or conveying opinion.

In a business context this will be at times be appropriate and necessary: in a sales scenario to drive home a “close the deal” message for example.

At other times however, use of strong language will exacerbate an issue and, at times, elevate beyond its level of importance. Where other personalities are involved this will contain the potential to offend and invite recourse and retribution.

When discussing contentious or personal issues, especially ones containing an element of personal feeling and involvement, select softer, more conciliatory words of moderate impact: “enquiring” not “critical” for example when describing the approach of someone towards the standpoint of another.

Use metaphors and figures of speech carefully and only certain when the context in which they are being deployed is appropriate.

Conversely, do use heightened, positive and impactful words when complimenting or praising colleagues. Code and model sympathetic comments as expressed by others.

Understanding clearly the words of others is also important, especially in relation to detailed, complicated subject. Clarification mitigates difficulties later by reducing the impression of others of not having fully understood issues and discourse

* Moderate choice of words especially in relation to contentious/personal issues. Use striking verbs when discussing positive developments and outcomes.

* Be careful in the use of metaphors and only where certain they are appropriate.

* Ask for clarification from others if a word or discourse is not fully understood.

* Prosody

Or the tone and way words or discourse are delivered.

For many with Asperger, words and discourse are delivered monotonously with little variation in pitch or tone.

Learning to stress and modify rhythm and pitch to emphasise key words and issues is a vital attribute in business in order to convey managerial messages and instructions. Doing so will also mitigate the tendency of a person with Asperger for pedantic speech and the avoidance of abstractions.

Augmenting voice delivery with proactive body language will also enhance managerial gravitas. Slowing down delivery by conversing in a measured way also reduces tension and increases impact.

Development of skills in this arena will also help reduce the impression of “different ness” of a person with Asperger and alleviate acceptance by colleagues into a business context generally.

* Self-listen to ascertain and gain insight and appreciation into the way speech is delivered.

* Practice variations in pitch and tone when delivering discourse and highlight key words.

* Misguided Discourse

The innate honesty and openness of the Asperger personality, combined with the – unrealistic – expectation that such traits will be reciprocated, may mean at times a tendency to be too trusting, open and divulgence of more information in a business scenario than is wise or necessary.

Contentious and sensitive issues should not be openly discussed without careful consideration of those with whom dialogue is being undertaken or who is within earshot. Be guarded to whom related discussion takes place.

Ensure that all discourse is largely business related only and largely factually based.

* Always assume that information divulged may be replayed and, possibly, used against one later.

* In the main, limit trust and only discuss sensitive or personal matters with colleagues with whom one is confident that one can trust and reliably confide in.

* Do not use negative self-discourse when conversing with others to avoid providing detrimental impressions which will be spread later.

* Personal Discourse

In a business context a manager will inevitably have to work with, and alongside, people who are perceived as difficult or whose views and approach digress from what is understood to be acceptable and appropriate.

The reaction of people will differ and should be taken into consideration. One personality may understand, be sympathetic and receptive to what is being is said and why a person is saying it. They may be trustworthy; others will not. Seniority will also be a factor.

* Refrain completely from discussion with colleagues and personalities in anything other than objective terms. Do not comment about them or others personally.

* Evaluate who discourse is being undertaken with and consider the potential consequences and outcomes that emanate as a result of their position and personality.

* Small Talk & Gossip

In a commercial environment small talk is still necessary, particularly in relation to business socialization.

As with personal discourse, conversation should remain within the boundaries of non-contentious subject matter and talk or gossip that relates in anyway to sensitive, business related issues should be avoided wherever possible.

* Avoid talk relating to sensitive business or personal issues. Retain distance from such discourse and talk only about non-personal issues and those that relate to open business operations.

* Resist the temptation to get drawn into such conversations and discourse and retain distance from the instigators of it. Be wary of allowing other people to induce discussion in such areas.


Effective verbal and non-verbal communication is essential in business and for all managers. For a manager with AS, it may be more difficult and hazardous for a number of reasons.

Reducing emotion during discussion and discourse is essential. Using moderate words and language is likewise and consider who one is talking to and what their response in likely to be and developing the skill of reducing the emotion impacting upon discourse should be a key personal objective.

Most importantly of all however, is the need to keep personal values, ethical judgements and perceptions of others out of business dialogue. Keep dialogue and discourse business related and based on objective discussion and facts only to reduce the potential for contention and conflict, especially with regard to others.

If uncertainty prevails there is one fail-safe course of action. If you can’t say something positive about a person or a subject, don’t say anything at all!

Managing with Asperger Syndrome