There is an important NLP premise I hold dear: the meaning of the communication is the response it elicits, separate from my intent.
I believe the truth in this dictum completely, down through my bones. That belief, however is rather poignant, given my communications problems: as an Asperger’s sufferer I sometimes unwittingly communicate in ways that harm, confuse, or annoy. And knowing someone has been harmed because of my inadequecies is deeply painful.
- When asking a business friend of 5 years why we hadn’t spoken in months, he tersely told me he stopped talking to me when I said something he found offensive and that he didn’t want to be friends with someone who would say something like that. When he added that he was not open to an apology, I was crushed, given I most likely said one of my straight-from-the-hip Aspie statements that had no intention of harming.
I was crushed: I talked to him several times a week for a year while his wife suffered with cancer, gave him a free training program, and helped him with his business. Didn’t that mean we were friends, and issues could be resolved? Apparently my comment must have been a doosy – so bad that it was worth ending a 5 year friendship. But this is conjecture. He never discussed it with me. He just walked away. Does that mean that I should only have friends who will discuss things? Very confusing.
- A large prospect who had scheduled a time to speak and didn’t keep or break the appointment (disastrous to do to an Aspie given our inflexibility with schedules) ended up walking away following my 2 emails asking him where he disappeared to. I forget I’m not supposed to ask that. Goes against rules I don’t understand. In my map of the world, either keep an appointment or break it – don’t ignore it. But obviously, that thinking is in the minority. I’m supposed to sit and wait.
- A close friend got annoyed and nasty because I offered to help with something she felt perfectly capable of managing and felt put-down because of the offer. I thought I was supporting her. And after 35 years of friendship, isn’t there an understanding there? Is there nowhere I can go to have a normal conversation?
- A potential business partner hung up on me when I got onto my ‘topic’ and talked too much, even though I told him I might do that and he should interrupt as I might not have the ability once I got started. I guess I was asking too much. Good thing others find my topic interesting!
It’s not that I don’t try. I’ve had massive amounts of therapy, coaching, group work and I’m a million times better than I was growing up. I’m able to maintain friends and clients, and a quasi normal life. But damn, I daily find myself losing business, or saying things I didn’t realize were inappropriate.
In a recent episode of my favorite Parenthood TV show, my little buddie Max (a 12 year old with Aspergers) is being ‘mainlined’ and had his first day in normal school with normal kids. He kept shouting out the answers to everything because, well, because he knew them. The frustrated teacher said,
“MAX. You MUST raise your hand first.”
So he raised his hand and kept shouting out the answers.
“MAX. You can’t speak until I call on you. When you raise your hand you’re just teling me you have the answer.”
Max stopped and looked up quizzically: “You didn’t say that. You just said to raise my hand.”
ASPIES MEAN NO HARM: THE WORLD IS JUST A LITERAL PLACE
That’s what the world is like for me. Everything is literal. You make an appointment, I plan on you keeping it unless you tell me you’re cancelling. Once you don’t keep the appointment and don’t let me know, I actually sit and wait, watching emails come through for days, trying to figure out what I did wrong.
Or when I respond in what I think is a helpful way, only to discover it’s not helpful. I get confused, and beat myself up for harming you.
It’s never an Aspie’s intent to harm. The world just looks different to us. Tell me: how can I explain to someone that I just might say the wrong thing – and I have no intent to harm…but my world is not the same world you’re living in. How can I help folks understanding that at the beginning of relationships? My long term friends love me WITH my idiosyncracies, and laugh together (There she goes again! or Boy that hurt… truthful, but ouch. or Sharon Drew! Breathe. It will be ok.).
One of my long standing clients was handing me over to another division, and I overheard the new man say to my old client: “Is she always like this?” to which he replied, “Yes. And you’ll learn to love her.”
Thankfully there are enough folks who recognize my good qualities, and find me charming. And there are plenty in business who love me for my brains and overlook my idiosyncracies. Given what I’ve read about Einstein’s personality, it’s a good thing he had brains.
But I sure hurt for those who don’t understand or forgive my idiosyncracies, or match the good against the bad, or possibly realize I wouldn’t have the brains to think so far outside of the box if it weren’t for the issues on the other end.
I really want my communication to serve, to nurture, to nourish. I keep trying, and succeed very very often indeed. I just have such sadness for those times I fail.