New boss is autistic. Help(74 Posts)
So I have been in my current company for 5 years. I have always done well, have had good appraisals etc. Now I have a new boss. He's well known to be autistic. I can't work out how to communicate with him. He won't let me speak, talks over me, talks down to me. Can anyone recommend a resource to help me learn more about how I can get the best out of this new situation?
"Well known to be autistic"? Is this an actual formal acknowledged diagnosis, or does everyone refer to him as "a bit autistic"?
Has he been in a managerial position before? Could you speak to his previous line reports about the best way to work together?
Is he autistic or not? Well known to be and actually is are different.
If he's well known to be then surely speaking to some of his previous colleagues on how to handle him would be better?
He has received coaching from the company to help his interactions with people. I believe that the diagnosis is correct. He is very senior in the organisation and has been in his role for several years. Many of his direct reports have left the organisation over time (hence the coaching). I want to try to make this work, but I need to understand him better. Are there any resources out there?
I'm afraid I don't know about formal resources, but logically if face-to-face interactions are tricky (and I imagine the phone might be difficult too) then it makes sense to communicate via email as much as possible.
I'd go for clear, direct emails, with obvious bullet points laying out a plan if needed/wanted. I prefer that style of message myself, and it will allow you to get points across without being cut off.
Give him time to read and digest it and to respond. Take out all the social interaction/interrupting etc
I tried email first. But as soon as I hit send the phone rings. He skim reads the email and then rings me to tell me what he wants me to do. Often he has misunderstood but talks over me when I try to explain. He will say "IceQueen, you are not listening. This is what [name in third person] wants you to do". We are in different countries, and he is not a native English speaker, which adds to the communication problem. It's trashing my confidence and making me very anxious. I dread the phone ringing
Oh dear, that is harder shorter and clearer emails?!
We have a client like this. You may need to go out of your comfort zone and say "WE CAN NOT DO THAT, DAVE", or similar. Stop him in his tracks by baldly stating that what he is asking is not possible, for reasons 1 2 and 3. Minimal waffle. He might just hear you then.
Incidentally, is he like this with men too?
You have to stop and listen without interrupting.
Announce that you’re going to speak now (not in a dicky way but you know what I mean: “Ok I’m going to take in what you’ve said. Would you mind if I go ahead and add my two cents?).
With ASD, there have to be starts and finishes. Usually people with ASD need to complete their thoughts (it’s a little OCDish) and you sort of have to say, “It’s my turn now. Your turn is finished” but in a ‘grown up’ way.
Give them one option at a time. Don’t overload or overwhelm. Less is more. Clear, concise language. Don’t sit on the fence.
Very basically, with ASD kids, they tend to live by visual schedules. “First breakfast, then playground, next it’s quiet reading time.” This is because transitioning from task to task is a bit stressful. So with your boss, you’ll need to honour that he’ll have to mentally shut one door before he opens another. Actually, I find their way of thinking much more organised. They don’t ‘do’ spontaneity, shades of grey, maybe/maybe not, whimsy.
Keep your environment calm and quiet when talking with him. Give him time to express his thoughts.
@TheVanguardSix, thank you so much for that, I can see how it might work. I'm quite a logical person, so it makes sense. I will try it.
I do find that he interrupts a lot, and he gets impatient when he loses interest,. So in a meeting he will just cut someone off who is speaking if he no longer wants to hear what they are saying (regardless of whether it's of interest to other attendees). He is quite aggressive when he does this which can be daunting, and as a result he often jumps to the wrong conclusion, because he hasn't heard the full piece of information. Then you have to go round the loop of humoring his incorrect assumption.
This has been going on for years but it's the first time I have worked directly for him, and it's already impacting my confidence. I have a 121 with him today, let's see how that goes.
Bullet points, colours, bolding etc. E.g
1. Your boss doesn’t understand you.
2. Email short sentences.
3. I need from you xyz
It seems totally rude, but it helped me communicate with my colleague and he wasn’t offended (suprisingly!)
That is really, really difficult for you.
The thing about ASD is that it requires intervention from an early age, so it's really hard to undo or work with things like the constant interrupting. My DS is autistic and I worked in a school until very recently for autistic children. My DH is also Asperger's. I'm surrounded! ASDers don't do well with dialogue. It's their biggest challenge. DH can go on talking for ages and ages. I dread bringing him to social occasions because he will take the mike and not step off the podium; even as people's attention spans drop like flies, he'll rabbit on and on. My DS has this issue (but he's 5 and I can use strategies to work with this). DH interrupts me all the time. Drives me mental.
So the thing I notice is that they're voice/opinion is the dominant one and on top of that, their opinion is the right one. And it is mighty hard to make headway when they hold such firm ground.
So what you don't need to do is worry about being polite. Just be straight. He will respond very well to direct, straight, honest talk. No airs and graces. People on the spectrum tend to do very well with the truth. You'll sort of have to tell him "I need to speak now." You'll need to stop him from talking and guide him into listening to you with brute force: "I am going to speak now."
Believe me, he'll return to what he wanted to say once you're done. So, don't worry about interrupting him.
Probably discussion in large groups/round table discussions is something to keep at a minimum with your boss. One-to-one works much better.
Speak in facts and information. Emotions, which, ironically can run incredibly deeply for a person on the spectrum, tend not to come into the world of speech. They tend to speak about and respond to clear, factual information. You may have to point out to your boss that, "John might be upset if you decide to go with plan A because plan A puts John at risk of losing his job and income, which will worry his family and cause stress in the household."
Cause and effect.
Everything has a consequence. So with a person on the spectrum, you have to be like, "We are doing it this way because this will happen when we do it this way."
You don't say, "Don't eat those berries."
You don't even say, "Don't eat those berries because those ones are poisonous."
What you say is, "Don't eat those berries because those ones are poisonous and they will make you ill (and you really don't want to be ill)."
Just keep thinking, he thinks in 'cause and effect' terms.
If we do this, this happens. If we don't do this, that happens.
When you open up a thought and share it with him, you have to close that thought and complete it.
God, does any of this make sense?
Often you need to be a human stop sign.
You have to stop them and say, "I am going to talk now," or "We are now finished. Let's move onto our next discussion."
Do it nicely and gently. It's the words you use that matter.
Hope this helps, somewhat.
PS: At the same time, keep it simple. So once you've explained, "We can't skydive off the top of the building because we have no parachutes today," close it down. You've explained it cleanly and clearly in a sentence or two. No need to embelish or extend your thoughts (unless there are questions).
You don't need to carry on about how you might have parachutes later or tomorrow and that the weather might be more in your favour next week because there's a wind coming in from North Africa which makes skydiving off the building next Wednesday a much better prospect and oh, by then, John might have come back from sick leave and he can join you guys for skydiving. He might bring his paraglider.
None of that. Too much white noise.
Keep it clean. Keep it neat.
Just the facts, ma'am.
Cause and effect.
Oh wow @TheVangaurdSix, that really makes a lot of sense. And I am seeing that I need to think carefully about the questions I ask him as well.
So not long after I joined his team, I received a meeting invitation from him. I was unable to attend so I emailed him and asked if the meeting might be moved. I received a one word reply: "No"
What I should have asked was "May I be excused from this meeting because I have to do X"
My previous boss would have replied to my email and said "It can't be moved but it's not essential you attend" (or whatever). She would have filled in the gaps. He doesn't.
I will write down the questions I want to ask him today and be careful that I literally ask him exactly what I want answered.
Hopefully I'll get the hang of him in time. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain this to me
I guess there isn't much point in trying to explain to him how this is making me feel?
I think it's worth telling him how it makes you feel. I'm an autistic person and am perfectly capable of taking on board advice, and am anxious to make myself easy to approach, to understand people more etc. I appreciate that he may be different but he shouldn't just be written off like that.
I have an autistic senior boss and think the points given above are amazing. I think it is worth explaining how you feel so you can work on strategies together, the meeting example above is excellent as both sides are equally valid.
I think hard as it subtract you need to try and detach your emotions, like you said it is natural to fill in gaps where none exist, so being blunt isn't rude, your asked a question and were given an answer. As you have already realised it's about asking the right question. And it is ok to put some of the onus on them to help you out, ours not fair that you bear the brunt yourself.
Best of luck today
@autumndreaming I don't think he is very concerned about being easy to approach. He feels that the British and Americans are far too polite and waste time by allowing people to finish what they are saying. He says this.
At the same time, he worries about his people causing offence to others in the organisation (in particular a branch that is in his home country), where he feels it might reflect badly on him. In these instances he micro-controls every word that is spoken to them. This just strips my confidence - that I can't be trusted to ask a question of a colleague in another part of the company.
You could be describing one of the managers I had to work with. He has a child who is severely autistic and he ticks every box.
Eventually I stopped caring. It was causing me so much stress, affecting my work and also I wasn't the only one suffering.
I refused to talk over the phone and just ensured that everything was backed up over email. That way I had a case about the way he spoke to and treated me and his subordinates when we stopped tolerating his behaviour and began forwarding issues to senior management things became a lot better.
I could never work beneath him it would be unbearable but in my role now I'd actually say we work really well together.
In my case this is a senior management person already. I work for a company that is owned by a particular nationality, all the senior staff are that nationality, including HR. Senior managers are untouchable. So I have no route upwards.
I'm sorry to hear that. You sound so kind and considerate but you have to also prioritise your health and your work.
Thank you @Contraceptionismyfri
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