Are you really Listening?

Listening skills are so underrated.

I’ve learned a lot of useful stuff over the last few years. I used to dominate the conversation, I would interrupt because I was desperate to say what came into my head before I forgot, I used to talk too much and I would forget to ask people questions and wait to really listen to their answers.  It meant that people didn’t really enjoy spending time with me.  I wouldn’t have enjoyed spending time with me if I had met me.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Am I really listening?”

I bet you have personal, first hand experience of meeting someone new and they monopolise the conversation. They either want to tell you their life story or everything about their amazing new opportunity and they forget to ask you any questions, or to listen to any answers if they did ask you a question. It can be very draining. I bet you’d avoid them if you saw them again….?

I’ve been in many situations in networking recently where I feel like I’ve been grilled, it’s like the other person has 50 questions they needed me to answer before I was allowed a chance to ask them about themselves, and have, you know, a conversation! I feel violated and exhausted, and it doesn’t make me feel valued and accepted.

I don’t know if that’s nervousness on their part, or a way to control the situation, or a way of filtering out people who are useful/useless to them. Whatever the reason, it still leaves me feeling a bit cheated and disrespected. Another person that I’d probably avoid if I saw them again.

Don’t you feel great when you feel listened to?

There’s something lovely about having a real conversation, that gentle to and fro, your turn, my turn, sharing of anecdotal stories, the asking of a question and a listening to the answer, and asking a follow up question based on and directly related to the answer. This is building rapport, a relationship and getting to know someone.

Sam and Dave talking 3

People buy people remember; and even if the person in your conversation isn’t someone you will find yourself working with in the future, you might meet someone else who could use their products or services and with your hand on your heart you will be able to recommend them based on the relationship you built in your conversation.

The other kind of listening that is often missed is looking out for details; names, dates, places, anything that you can repeat back to the other person so they know you really were listening. There’s a technique I use where I repeat what the other person is saying in my head almost like I’m talking at the same time, but it’s a discipline that helps me to block out the rest of the room. Its especially helpful in noisy networking situations when it can be hard to hear clearly or for a sustained amount of time.

What’s your listening technique?

Once out of the meeting, make some notes whilst the info is fresh in your mind about the people you have met. How good will that person, that you just met briefly, feel, if you remember they said their child was going to win an award or they had achieved a big contract, and you ask them how that’s going. They will feel really respected that you bothered to remember. It’s one of the key techniques employed by top charismatic and charming leaders who are extremely successful.

So, don’t be that other person in the conversation that interrogates or won’t take turns; relax, enjoy the dialogue, listen to the way they speak and words they use. Be genuinely interested and offer relevant information. Listen out for an accent, unusual turns of phrase, silently acknowledge if you think they are confident, or shy, or if you think they are just starting out or dab hands, you can modify your language accordingly, (but don’t make assumptions).

It is within you to give the gift of respect and listening.

They might also use similar words in their dialogue like “Do you see what I mean” “Let me paint you a picture” or feel the need to grab a pen to illustrate their point.  Chances are that this is a good indication they will respond to dialogue from you with similar visual references, and you know they will love to see some slides if you are presenting to them.  They might also be influenced by how you dress.  On a similar note, auditory and kinaesthetic people will use different dialogue which will help you understand how to connect with them on an emotional and personal level.  I’ll be doing another blog covering this whole subject soon.

When communicating at home, often the TV or computer will get in the way of communication.  It’s useful to say the person’s name and wait for them to acknowledge you before diving in, so that you know you have their full attention.  “Dave, can I ask you something?”, I wait……….. he pauses TV, looks at me “Go on then, yes”.  Now I know he’s listening and not distracted I can deliver my question or message. If I tried to speak whilst he was in full flow (watching TV for instance) he would not be able to listen to me, or respond to me.  There’s no point getting huffy with someone for not listening if you didn’t give them time to connect with you, and be receptive.

If you know someone else that dominates conversations perhaps you could give them some kind and supportive feedback to help them understand their impact on others. I’ll cover giving and receiving feedback in a future blog.

Remember to ask yourself occasionally “Am I really listening?”

Hope you find this info useful.

Remember – communication isn’t optional.

Airport Meltdown

My poor husband!

10 things employerImagine the scene, if you will, where a woman in her 40s (me) is bawling her eyes out at the closed gate in an airport, having just missed their flight to their honeymoon.  Good job he’s a caring and patient man!

Well that’s just what happened a couple of weeks ago.  On reflection, I understand why it happened, and I can forgive myself for any embarrassment I caused to my hubby because it wasn’t intentional, and I had lost complete control of my emotions.  I reverted back to a 4 year old version of me who was tired, hot, frustrated, in pain (I’ve got a sore heel and shoulder and we had walked a long way) and now I was red hot angry.

This airport meltdown was either going to come out as tears or something a lot more violent.

Violence is not tolerated (and nor should it be).  I only wish they had a punch bag installed at every gate for each person to express themselves when they miss a flight.  Much less embarrassing.

Thanks to my other half, I was able to get it out via bawling like a toddler (without being shut down by being told to stop crying or to cheer up), and then took a few deep breaths, dried my eyes and took stock of the situation.  It only took me about 4 mins to let it all out, but I’m really glad I did.  I needed to ‘reboot’.

Right then, where to stay tonight, how do we get there and can we get another flight tomorrow?

I think that without giving in to the meltdown, it would have been like a bubbling volcano inside me; I would have been emotional, snappy to my hubby, and aggressive and rude to others.

There’s definitely something scary about admitting you’ve had a giant public meltdown to strangers on the internet.  I don’t know if I’ll be judged or pitied, or supported and reassured.  I know that it turned out to be a good thing, to let it all out like that, but I could tell that people around us were uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say or do.  They might have thought I was been childish or there was some wrong with my mental health.  Or maybe they thought I was a spoiled brat and was having a temper tantrum.  I’ll never know what was going on inside their heads.

What would you do if you saw my airport meltdown?

It’s a difficult question to answer until you’re actually there.  I think if I had been on my own I would have received more attention, but everyone could see I had my man watching over me. I wasn’t alone and suffering.

I’m sure I’ll have more meltdowns in my life – fortunately they rarely get to that level of regression, and I’ll just manage them like I do daily with coping mechanisms, but actually, I really do think the best response to my situation was to cry like that.

Afterwards I was able to explain to some extent what happened and why that was the right thing to do to my hubby. He was kind and supportive and practical. Just what I needed.

Perhaps if you see someone having a big cry like that you’ll be kind, sensitive and compassionate (perhaps you always would have been).  Being an Aspie rarely means having a lack of emotion, its more like there’s too much and its really hard to express it to those on and not on the spectrum.  So the emotions come out at odd angles and in strange ways and often explosively.

Airport meltdowns are anticipated by airports at last! is a website that was set up in 2010 to help those travelling with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with all areas of the travelling, from the packing to the airport to the holiday itself.  In particular this page helps with airport worries. I wish I’d seen it before I’d flown.  I have travelled a lot in my life, but it’s always been very stressful and full of anxiety and now I realise that it could have been a lot easier.

When we were in Shannon airport in Ireland on our way home I also noticed they had a special service for those with ASD, so we can visit the airport beforehand (in person or virtually) and get to know the airport and what will happen on the day we fly. What a fab and forward thinking idea.

I hope other adults reading this will feel less odd if they have experienced public meltdowns like this, knowing they are not alone.  Also for partners of those having the meltdowns – I hope you have gained a small insight into what might be happening.

Remember, if you have met a person with ASD, you have met a person with ASD. We’re all different and will respond differently in similar situations. It’s just different wiring in the noggin.

Actually for me, I have accepted that it’s quite normal and healthy for me to express myself in this way in the given situation.

I look forward (!) to my next airport meltdown.

Well, maybe not…..

Because communication isn’t optional.

One task at a time

Which task do you want me to do first?

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I am fortunate to be married to a clever, kind and supportive husband.  He also has Asperger’s.  In the early years of our relationship, especially as he spent more and more time with me at my house it became apparent that chores, tasks and housework were going to be an issue.

In the interests of a harmonious household, and ensuring our relationship had a future I had to do some adjustments to my own expectations of what he was capable of and how we could work together.

Rules of engagement – task by task

I couldn’t get my head round why he couldn’t just do as I asked him to do and why he had a meltdown if I gave him more than one task at a time! What was wrong with him? He never spontaneously picked up a cloth or a vacuum, I had to ask him EVERY time! It was exhausting.

Because I CHOSE to feel that way instead on reflecting and asking my (then boyfriend) how he feels about it all.

We actually had one of those sit-down chats where we talk about serious stuff.  Not an easy chat and lots of eye contact was avoided, but we managed to talk honestly with each other and come to an understanding:

  1. I will ask for one task at a time to be completed
  2. I will describe the outcome I desire (not the method/instructions to get there)
  3. I will state clearly the deadline for that task (and I always make sure I respect the fact that he might be in the middle of a game/film/book etc)
  4. He will be honest about whether he can complete the task, and to time.

This way my hubby can choose if he can complete the task and as each task is always a new task I am not nagging him. Each new request has not been uttered before today.

Sometimes there are many tasks to complete in one day (housework usually) and I will pair them up and give him a choice.  Do you want to do the washing up or vacuum the lounge? That stops any pathological demand avoidance from kicking in.

Lastly I never give him more than one task at a time unless I can write out a list.  The list doesn’t have more than three things on it (unless I’m away for several days) and the choice of what order to do them in and when is up to him.

He’s not the kind of guy that gets tasks out of the way  either – often I arrive home, and as soon as he hears my car on the drive, he leaps up and starts a task.  I used to get cross about this as I wanted him to complete the task earlier in the day so that when I got home we could spend some ‘quality time’ together.  But that is me trying to exert my will over him again, so it truly must be up to him to decide. I have to be okay with it.  I am not his parent!

Getting the task-approach agreed saved our relationship!

I could have spent years getting really cross about how my husband doesn’t conform to the way everyone else does chores; never sees the dirt and never picks up the vacuum, never spontaneously does the washing up or ironing, or he didn’t do it the way I would do it, but by letting that all go, I have made much more room in my life to love my man.  He’s just not wired that way.

By reaching a lasting and relevant agreement I found a way around the frustration. We have harmony in our home and no reason to argue over the little things….

Because, communication isn’t optional. 



10 things Employers can do to help make an ASD employee’s life more comfortable at work

Sam Profile Photo small jpeg copy
10 things Employers can do to help make an ASD employee’s life more comfortable at work
(and therefore get the most from them, including loyalty and productivity)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) isn’t a great label but it does help to describe a differently-brained set of people that might need a little extra help to be their best at work. Only 15% of all diagnosed adults in UK are in work, and only 10% of those feel supported, respected and safe from ridicule at work.

This blog hopes to go someway to helping employers to understand some things they could do to improve the working environment for someone with ASD and get the very best out of a happy, comfortable and productive employee.

  1. Interview with someone who has ASD

It will be very rare for someone with ASD to ring up a prospective employer and ask them to adjust their interview style from open-ended questions to direct questions; when that’s exactly what they need. If an interviewee is avoiding eye contact, stimming (see no.6), and/or fidgeting and might seem to struggle with that first common question “Tell me about yourself”, then you can try another tack of changing to direct questions instead. If the person relaxes before you, you know you are on the right track.

  1. Stress for someone with ASD

Imagine a graph where those not on the spectrum live with an anxiety level daily at about 3 or 4 out of 10, so as the day progresses they can accommodate new stressful things without having a breakdown (usually) and those on the spectrum are probably living with a 8 or 9 out of 10 all day with several meltdowns along the way as life and every decision can be really stressful and pushes them over the edge easily. Managing that stress allows them to shine as they can do great quality work in a comfortable place and be themselves.

  1. Environment for someone with ASD

For a lot of people with ASD, open plan offices provide a very challenging environment, from open or closed windows, or any challenges for the senses (see no.4) to feeling “safe” sitting with their back to the wall and being able to see the door. If moving desks for the third time this year is really stressful to the employee, ask yourself, is it really necessary? If it is possible to make someone a bit more comfortable at work, why wouldn’t you do that?

  1. Senses for someone with ASD

There are certain distractions that can bother those on the spectrum to the point of meltdown or irritation (leading to inappropriate behaviour in the work place).

A) Sight: Direct sunlight can cause a reaction to the light, the heat and reflections on other items in the office.

B) Smells: Pungent food being cooked in microwaves or brought in at lunchtime can be really uncomfortable for someone with a sensitive nose.

C) Touch – well we all know that in the workplace touching someone else is not on unless they consent. There are some on the spectrum who hate to be touched at all, and pull away violently, (often seen as an over-dramatic response). Those that need human contact to feel accepted and might be perceived as too “touchy-feely” might need to be coached on what is appropriate in the office.

D) Taste: Probably the smallest problem in the workplace but when combined with other events contributes to elevated stress levels.

E) Sound: A clicking pen, a tapping foot, a strimmer outside the window, a ticking clock, the faint sound of music from a pair of headphones. Any number of these and more might cause distress to someone on the spectrum, often as part of an already anxious state, including overheard conversations, ringing phones, people typing and squeaky chairs!

   5.  Routine and Rules for someone with ASD

Many of those with ASD prefer a solid routine with clear deadlines. They are likely to be very reliable as long as the instructions have been made really clear. Be aware that some instructions can sound like orders, and because of some people having pathological demand avoidance, a choice would be the better way to present the request.  e.g. Would you prefer to work on the plan today or the procurement tasks?  If the plan is chosen, check in and agree that that means tomorrow the other task will be completed.  They maintain a bit of control, and the tasks still get done under a verbal contract. Checking up on someone (unless checkpoints have been previously agreed) can be detrimental and take away confidence, so there’s an element of trust that needs to be forged early on in the employer/employee relationship. Sometimes someone with ASD might be a real stickler for the rules, and their superior can coach them on when it’s acceptable to bend those rules to assist with team harmony.

  1. The Unexpected and Meltdowns for someone with ASD

With routine also comes the unexpected and it might be prudent to help team members find ways to accommodate the unexpected that might occur. In a lot of jobs there are variables that can be anticipated and perhaps a portion of the day can be allocated to the unknown that can also be used for catching up on emails, personal development or research. Lets face it no-one should be 100% allocated on any job, it’s setting you up for failure instantly. Should a meltdown occur, give that person a few moments to gather themselves as touching or talking to them could make them worse. Get to know your team members so you can anticipate future meltdowns and possibly diffuse them.

  1. Behaviour and Stimming for someone with ASD

Behaviour is a tricky one for many who have ASD and you might see them watching other team members for cues on how to behave in a given situation. They still might misread it, so its important to let them know gently and privately that it wasn’t the right response.  They might pull odd facial expressions when asked questions whilst their brain processes the information much in the way that a computer might. Stimming can be explained as physical movements that the person with ASD does that helps them to feel calm, less anxious and in control. Stimming can take the form of rocking forwards and backwards, playing with hair, or fiddling with a ring on their finger or shaking their hands like they are wet or something else. As long as it does not irritate others or impact their work, surely its acceptable to allow someone to stim as they need to; to feel comfortable and calm.

  1. Eye contact and Language for someone with ASD

For some people with ASD eye contact is really challenging and for neurotypicals (not on the spectrum) they can appear shifty, evasive, disinterested and dishonest. The eye to eye contact is very confrontational much in the same way you wouldn’t stare at a dog or a lion and not expect a growl. Sometimes those on the spectrum might fiddle with their phone or doodle a lot or fiddle with a toy whilst listening to a presentation or instructions, this might be so that they can calm their anxious busy mind and listen wholly. It doesn’t mean they are disinterested or being rude, it probably means they are over stimulated visually or they are uncomfortable (they might be too hot, thirsty and worried about something else).

Sometimes Language might seem inappropriate or too little or too much. See no.9 for dealing with this so that they can work well within a team.

  1. Feedback and Evaluation for someone with ASD

The key to working with someone with ASD is great evaluation and feedback. It’s really important to let the person know what is working well, so they carry on with that great work or behaviour. When the message is more of a development opportunity its important to use your words very carefully (not just for those with ASD but for everyone) and ensure that all ego and emotion are removed. Specific examples of things that haven’t worked so well, followed quickly by encouragement and support on fixing those things, including training opportunities and mentoring will make any employee feel valued, respected and rewarded with your patience and support.

  1. Reward and Recognition for someone with ASD

Finding out how people like to be rewarded is important too as some like a quiet email or handshake from a team leader, whilst others will shine at a public recognition with a shower of applause. Some find that awful as being the centre of attention is dreadful for them and very stressful.

I know all of this sounds like a lot of work, but if you think about it, a lot of this advice can be applied to any human regardless of the way their brain processes information.   For a small amount of initial effort a harmonious team, greater understanding and a productive employee can be gained by employing someone with ASD.  Everyone with ASD is different just as any neurotypical person is different, they don’t conveniently fit into a box and each person will have strengths and weaknesses in different areas, just like everyone else.

Embracing Change

Sam Warner

Change?! They can’t do this to me!

How you react to change is up to you

Sam Profile Photo small jpeg copyI’m someone who knows that change can be both scary and good.  I’m sure you also know this.  But did you know that we can choose how we feel about change?

Managing your own feelings about any situation gives you the ultimate control over how you are able to tackle changes in life.

Change thrust upon you

This is the hardest change to adapt to; often involving something or someone at work and worst of all, if it’s presented without any apparent valid reason.  Re-framing is an exercise in stepping back and taking a few seconds to analyse how you are going to feel about this.  If you go along with your habitual self, you might moan and groan and feel awful about it until it beds in and becomes the new normal.  Or, you can choose to embrace it, explore it and make a concerted effort to practise it until you are fully on board and comfortable with it.  Only you can decide if that’s what you want to do.

No change has power over you

You can choose who or what has power over you.  You are the one giving permission to others to hold that power over you by choosing to feel a certain way.  You can choose to change the way you think and to make it clear to others that you are not giving them permission to take advantage of you or ask you to change without reason or explanation.

If something changes, you can ask yourself, “How will it affect me?”, “What can I do about it?” and “How can I make this work?” before allowing a habitual knee-jerk reaction take hold where you allow yourself to feel put-upon, used, not consulted and ordered about.

I’d like to challenge you to make a change in your life that means you re-take control over how you feel (children do it naturally but are trained to act in a certain way by school so that the teachers can control the pupils).  Any changes you have been avoiding in your life (and you might have called yourself risk-averse to explain away your lack of action) can be studied, practised and embraced.  And when changes happen to you, automatically think of them as good and see how you can make it work.

Don’t let change happen to you! You can be in control without being a control freak!  Life is more enjoyable this way.