My personal Viewpoint feature this month is developed off of the back of an article in The Financial Times entitled: “Shaking off the Doom and Gloom” which I listed previously in a limited form on my Asperger Management Group on the Linkedin social networking site.
It is written by Luke Johnson, one of my favourite commentators who writes a weekly piece about business matters. I often find that his views and position closely reflect my own and I often relate what his says to my own experience and way of thinking.
The piece talks about the current economic downturn and how everyone is tired and sick t death of it! They key task, therefore, according to Johnson is to restore confidence despite various challenges and revive a sense of optimism to revert a decline in living standards.
This scenario had, I thought, close parallels with the position a person with Asperger Syndrome (AS) often finds themselves in, as did addressing the areas that Johnson subsequently goes on to list. As Johnson says, this can be done with sufficient willpower.
To boost the morale of entrepreneurs (managers with Asperger) who are finding it tough the following is advocated.
- Study History
The key benefit of this is that it helps put present difficulties in perspective. I have certainly found this with my experience of a manager with Asperger.
The mental library that I have build up as a direct result of my – good and bad – experiences in the workplace have provided me with an invaluable store of analogous examples which have afforded me insight into the root cause of problems, the means of dealing with them and so both avoiding them in the first place and, if they do recur, how I would deal with them differently.
Some immediate examples that spring to mind include: not reacting when coming under attack personally; working on issues proactively so as to avoid last minute stress and pressure and; making written notes in meetings that can act as a reference later to mitigate my lower propensity to memorise data.
Think back to your own experience and identify the areas which have presented difficulties for you personally and techniques that can assist improving performance and outcomes.
- Avoid the News
As Johnson says the news is invariably negative. Bad news sells better than good meaning that many stories are exaggerated and dramatised to catch the attention.
This, I feel, is good advice in relation to Asperger Syndrome. The word “autism” immediately brings up negative connotations in many people meaning that much f what is reported is negative. As we all know there is another side of the coin – and a very positive one at that.
I take with a very large pinch of salt what I read about Asperger. How many people outside of the Asperger community believe for example that Gary McKinnon – the person currently under threat of being extricated to the United States for hacking into US military systems – is a highly talented programmer not a danger to society?
I now the limitations and challenges my AS places upon me, but I also of the real benefits that it affords me also. I focus on this and do not allow negative stories in the media to impact negatively on my judgement or self-belief.
- Spend Time with Young People
I thought that this was an interesting one. I have always got on well with both young and old people. A reason is, I believe, is because they are not peers meaning that the problem that emanates from my Asperger of not resonating with the lifestyles, tastes or fashions of contemporise is largely avoided.
As the text says, many older and experienced people can be cynical. Before I discovered that I was affected by Asperger I was unable, as a result, to think about it or its possible downsides.
Though finding out about my AS was undoubtedly beneficial, as it provided the explanation for so many of the difficulties I was encountering at work, being with people who accept you for who you are is also beneficial.
Working with young people which, to a large degree I am doing currently, enables me to pass on the insight and lessons from my experience to them and which is really valued.
I am also learning an incredible amount by interacting with young people as David in his Case Study outlines. Controlling my emotions more and assuming ad accepting ore self-responsibility are two examples that come to mind.
- Remain Rational
Ah, a difficult one!
As Johnson oh so rightly says: the worse almost never happens, but how often do we with Asperger think the opposite?
My wife is forever reminding me that things that I believe are likely to happen invariably never do. I am not sure if it is some form of psychic power at work, but when I mentally condition myself to believe that a negative outcome will not occur almost always it doesn’t.
Central to this has been developing the mindset that my Asperger does not mean I am lesser in any way or that it is to “blame” for any difficulties – often inter-personally related – that I encounter.
If I insist on this it means that I naturally adopt a more positive stance and, I think, exude a more confident demeanour to others which, in turn, gives off the impression that I am not a soft touch. As Johnson goes on to say: “being constantly in dread of fresh catastrophes is impractical and taints our judgement”.
- Avoid Pessimists
This point is similar to the previous two points. Most of us have a bias towards a negative or positive outlook; having Asperger means that I, in the past have, often gravitated towards the former.
What this potentially means is, if we surround ourselves or interact with those espousing negative thoughts and opinions, then not only are those likely to rub off on us, but it has the potential to exacerbate Asperger “negatives”.
So many people I speak to via AspergerManagement exude a negative mindset. I can understand why and always try to talk them out of it. Having to deal with some of the challenges presented by the Asperger personality profile means that we simply cannot afford it.
In a corporate context it can be very detrimental for a variety of reasons: being viewed as uncertain/lacking in confidence, failing to lead and inspire others, giving the impression that one is downbeat about the company and things in general.
I try to associate and form relationships with successful, respected work colleagues or, as Johnson says, keep the company of sunny characters; those with an upbeat disposition. As he goes on to say: “you’ll find it infectious”.
<strong>6. Read the Stoics</strong>
Classical writers like Marcus Aurelius provide readers with uplifting advice about preserving equanimity amid awful circumstances.
I have begun to practice this. I think that the “Asperger school of hard knocks” has forced me to do so! It’s a bit like adopting the mindset mentioned previously of that “the worst almost never happens”.
Having lost my career previously due largely to circumstances outside of my control, and then subsequently having been proved by later developments t have been right, I now simply “care less”. What I mean by this is not that I don’t care – if your job, career ad livelihood are on the line it would be flippant not to do so – but more that I don’t let possible events that are outside of my control worry me: if it happens it happens, and it is not down to any fault on my part; certainly not as a result of my AS.
You can learn the most from the biggest setbacks) see below and there are always further opportunities going forward. Don’t look back, or a Luke Johnson wrote in another article, let the past contaminate the future.
<strong>7. Admit Mistakes and Move On</strong>
The article states: “all of us make bad decisions, suffer setbacks and endure failures”.
Hard as though it is to accept and face this, I know that having Asperger Syndrome means that these issues are often more pronounced. I also know, understand and appreciate that dealing with this is, a times, incredibly hard, not least of al because required support, advice and guidance is often unavailable.
However, the alternative is to let mistakes remain internally and fester which means, in effect, letting them do ongoing, permanent and unnecessary damage. I believe we [with Asperger syndrome] simply have to face this.
This is especially true in today’s corporate environment. Permanent and unpredictable change means we will inevitably face disruption to the routines we prefer, or personally setbacks resulting from managerial practices that we find hard to accept as a result of our innate honesty, but that is life.
If the mistake is our fault, apologise as Johnson advocates. If we can made redundant or are on the end of unfair practice, start afresh and don’t get mired in regret. All contribute towards preventing us from fulfilling the real potential that our Asperger affords in life and at work.
<strong>8. Keep Busy”</strong>
From a personal perspective, I cannot emphasise how important this is, especially at work. If something is bothering my mind has the propensity to wander consistently back to it.
I can remember reading about this in The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome by Professor Tony Attwood. It is distracting, draining and counterproductive as it prevents me from working consistently and productively, not least of all because it saps my mental energy.
If I am busy I am doing things and getting them done. As this section says, “dynamic individuals don’t have time to get depressed; they are too busy striving to make progress”.
Focus on required tasks and get them done!
A few years ago I worked on some psycho-analytical tapes/programme that also advocated this (I have referred to this before in a previous article: aspergermanagement.com/decision-making-asperger-syndrome).
I have found it invaluable. It, as the feature says, counters gloom and stress. Afterwards I feel good which is counter to some of the things that I sometimes feel as a result of my AS.
<strong>Focus on Small Wins</strong>
Luke Johnson makes the point that, everyday we experience little victories that can act as encouragement.
I experience this and talk about them in my blog, i.e. I believe that this can be incredibly beneficial for a person/manager with Asperger syndrome. It is particularly important if one experiences a major setback – as has happened to me at work – and which can , unfortunately, have a more pronounced impact on someone with AS.
The reason why I feel that this is such as invaluable tool – especially in a work context – is because of the technique that Johnson advocates: focus on small wins. Modest achievements can restore confidence and also, importantly, build momentum that can propel you.
There are other, more general reasons, why I found this beneficial as a manager with Asperger Syndrome. It helps me overcome Urgency Addiction. For reasons which I still don’t fully understand, I find making a start the most difficult thing. It’s the thought of all I have to do …. and what I need to do after that.
Once I have made a start by gradually easing myself into something, I then find I start to work steadily and consistently. Once I have completed one thing, feel I have less to do, more relaxed and on top of things. Completing something or achieving a small win propels my momentum.
<strong>Ignore Events Over Which You Have No Control</strong>
The lesson here is similar as in Read the Stoics above. Worrying what may happen as a result of a corporate restructure over which I have no influence is futile.
Related to this is my need to take more care of myself or, as Luke Johnson rightly I believe says, “expend energies on aspects of your own career that you can genuinely influence.
Appropo Asperger at work this means taking care f myself in relation to my Asperger. If I am being unfairly treated or victimised then I confront it or, if I cannot do anything about, extricate myself from the situation. If my interest are not being served by the company I request changes or move on.
<strong>Concentrate on Your Micro-Economy</strong>
Forget the macro-economic climate and concern yourself with your immediate environment.
What this means for me from an Asperger perspective in a work context is: concern yourself with what you are doing, ensure you tangibly on what you are required to do and try to avoid as far as possible external factors like corporate politics or personal disapproval of others deflect and drain you.
What matters as Johnson says is what concerns and impacts on you; whether you can enhance what you can do (skills, experience etc) and what you can tangibly deliver.
I have fund that if I am performing and “delivering” it mitigates many of the potential downsides that my Asperger has the propensity to do. Successful delivery prevents criticism or opinion about my lower inter-personal/social skills. If I can develop my technical skills they become more valuable to the company and make me more valuable to them and less dispensable.
Many years ago whilst at University, I had a summer job in the local hospital. I was walking down the corridor one day when a person passing said: “gosh, you look serious!”
As Luke Johnson says, psychologist know humour is healthy. I have found that humour is often the best way to deal with disagreements of discord.
Not least of al this is because of the intensity that my Asperger can afford in me but which can be significantly reduced or overcome by doing what Johnson suggests doing – “don’t take yourself too seriously”.
As I have so often said, I may be different because of my AS but I am lesser as a result of it. I try not to worry about it so much at work because as Johnson also says “a day without laughter is a day wasted!”
I am going to conclude this feature with the same words that Luke Johnson concludes his with as, I feel, they are so relevant and pertinent to some with Asperger, especially so in a working environment: “of course, there is no magic formula” and that the path as he says is “never smooth”.
I know from my own experience in the world of work how challenging it can be to try and operate with Asperger syndrome. However, I also know from my own experience that seeking to address some of the issues mentioned above is the only way. I also know that it is very much possible to do so successfully.
Accepting a mindset that encompasses Johnson’s comment that “resilience is hard won” is a very good and beneficial place to start. I know it isn’t going to be easy, but I also know that I can do it. As the article concludes by saying, “great generals inspire a belief in a hopeful future and we need some of that inspiration now”.
My Asperger syndrome has always afforded me that as a manager.