There are two big reasons why humans are social animals. One is because if we didn’t socialise the race would die out pretty quickly. The other is that we all have different skills which tend to work well in tandem. Skills can be learned and practiced but some people will be naturally better at certain things than others, so, we need a variety of people with different personalities and skills.
In a work environment it’s the employer’s goal to create a team that possesses all the skills and character traits needed to make a product or provide a service.
Aspies may struggle to find suitable employment because their personality doesn’t automatically fit and their social skills make it hard to work confidently as part of a team. Nonetheless we have lots to offer potential employers and team mates.
Often, it is simply a case of finding the right role and proceeding with confidence. We don’t need to be confident about our social abilities but we do need to have confidence in the skills, perspective and experience we have to offer.
Objectivity and perspective
Although we can get bogged down in personal worries Aspies are often good at taking a detached view of a work problem.
I’m logically minded and I spot things that don’t make sense, inefficiencies, discrepancies and other problems and I can come up with solutions. Often these solutions may seem like a harsh approach to a non-Aspie but they are based on logic and they are valuable for solving problems and making improvements.
This kind of objectivity can make a positive difference to the bottom line of any type of business.
Some people think Aspies aren’t creative but that’s not true. I can solve problems using creative thinking and I can write articles, blog posts, tweets and other social media updates using my creativity to keep them interesting and useful. I can create content plans and devise strategies for coping with new and stressful situations. All of these things rely on creativity.
It’s not just about writing like Tolkein or painting like Van Gogh. Creativity and problem solving go hand in hand.
Attention to detail
For as long as I can recall people have used the ‘p’ word to describe me, yes, I’m a pedant. So are lots of Aspies. We’re not specifically looking for ways to insult your work, we just notice things.
I’m good at proofreading with words and numbers.
My first job was as a data entry clerk and although it was tedious going through thousands of records every day I was impressed with the number of discrepancies I could spot and rectify. My employer’s liked it too.
This is something that has been grossly undervalued in many offices I’ve worked in. There is a pervasive culture of slacking and socialising that I first noticed at school.
At my school I was a boffin. I paid attention, did my work and didn’t stand about gossiping about stupid things like what I did at the weekend or who was a bitch and why. At work I continued in this vein, only to discover that it wasn’t what people wanted. Or maybe it just wasn’t what they expected.
- I didn’t make small talk during work hours.
- I didn’t go for drinks with the team after work.
- I didn’t make or accept personal phone calls.
- I came in for overtime, even at weekends.
- I was punctual.
- I didn’t overrun my lunch break.
Sounds like the model employee, right? Some places do appreciate these qualities. Our ability to focus on the task in hand and to separate our work and personal spheres is one that I admire. Not all employers do but they should.
With experience came the realisation that some small talk is hard to avoid if you want to have friendly working relationships with the people around you. This has never been my forte but there are two stock questions which are my friends.
“Did you have a good weekend/evening?”
“How’s that client/project of yours going?”
Another good one is
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
This may sound dumb but you only really need a small amount of conversation to help you fit in. This allows you to feel like a proper member of the team rather than the only child left outside the sweet shop. You may find you can get on very well with some of your team mates and others not so much. That’s OK. It’s not a test. Neither is it a playground where you’re looked down on if you have fewer than five friends.
- Everyone in your office has a different personality – being different doesn’t automatically mean ‘freak’.
- You have natural skills and abilities that are useful to employers and to fulfilling specific roles.
- Don’t feel you have to join in with ‘water cooler gossip’. A bit of friendly conversation is beneficial but there’s no need to compromise your professionalism or integrity.
- An awkward silence or a difficult relationship is a shared responsibility.
My list of common Aspie skills probably isn’t exhaustive and I’d love it if you could suggest more that would be useful and make us stand out to prospective employers!