Too Rude, Too Arrogant, Too Smart, Too Aloof, Too Emotional, Too Much
I view my communication style as straightforward and to the point. I don't feel the need to use flowery language or unnecessary adjectives. However, I acknowledge that this approach may be challenging for some individuals, and I am making a conscious effort to become more aware of how others perceive my communication. I believe that communication is a collaborative process, and since people with different neurotypes have varying communication styles, there is a social responsibility to accommodate those differences. It is not solely the individual's responsibility to conform to a perceived social norm.
In work environments, my direct communication style has been one of my biggest challenges. I have been labeled with inaccurate descriptions based on my approach, but those who know me well understand that my intention is not to cause harm; I simply prefer to get straight to the point. Unfortunately, in most workplaces, the general rule of thumb for communication is passive-aggressive, which I find rather disturbing. There's a funny meme going around social media featuring Wednesday Addams with the caption:
"It's not my fault I cannot interpret your emotional Morse code."
This resonates with me because I often struggle to decipher the indirect communication style that is often prevalent in the workplace or any setting for that matter.
Effective communication is a two-way street, and it is not solely the responsibility of one neurotype to adapt to another's communication style. It's essential to acknowledge and accept that there are different ways of communicating a message. When a misunderstanding occurs, there should be a safe environment for both parties to come to an understanding. Ultimately, the goal is to learn how to communicate effectively with one another. This principle of neuroinclusion is beneficial for all neurotypes as it promotes productivity in workplaces and other institutions and creates a safe environment for conflict resolution. One of my favorite authors on communication, Sarah Schulman, wrote in her book "Conflict is Not Abuse," that:
"Our own discomfort around conflict can be an obstacle to liberation."
As an autistic person, I've had my fair share of communication mishaps that have led to conflicts and emotional distress. It's like trying to play a game of "Where's Waldo?" but instead of Waldo, people are searching for a banana in an apple orchard. I mean, come on, folks - there are no bananas here, just apples. I communicate directly and honestly, without any ulterior motives or sneaky intentions, which is typical of many autistic individuals. However, this directness can sometimes be misconstrued, leading to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It's frustrating when people are looking for something that simply isn't there, but I've learned to stay true to myself and say what I mean and mean what I say.
Despite these challenges, I have also become very perceptive of manipulative communication tactics, and I refuse to tolerate gaslighting or other harmful behaviors. People who are used to employing these tactics are often caught off guard when they don't work on me, and they may become defensive or even try to turn the tables on me. I have also learned to be cautious about expressing my emotions in communication, as some individuals may hold onto this information and use it against me later on. Communicating with certain individuals can be a precarious situation, which is why promoting neuroinclusion is crucial, as it fosters psychological safety for everyone involved.
Recently, I had a situation with my partner, who has his own unique neuroindividuality, although it's up to him to discover it. We both have been experiencing communication errors, but we're learning together to create a safe space for communication between us. Despite our efforts, we still make mistakes, and we always come back together to find common ground. Recently, my partner became irritated with me for not "reading between the lines," which is a common problem I have with many people. I need direct communication to understand. For example, when my partner assumes that I understand his emotions and need for extra support, I don't get it, and I need him to tell me explicitly. Although I want to show support and love to my loved ones, I don't catch social cues that neurotypicals do.
Being left out of the loop can be a difficult and isolating experience. Lately, I have noticed that Tony has been acting differently, showing little interest in meeting my needs and going silent. For instance, yesterday evening, I didn't enjoy the meal I prepared and decided to have a bowl of cereal instead, throwing the dish away in the garbage disposal. Given Tony's lack of enthusiasm for the meal, I assumed he wouldn't want it either. However, Tony became angry after the fact and scolded me for wasting food, saying, "Why did you do that? You know it makes me angry when food is wasted." Unfortunately, Tony's interpretation of my actions as being in opposition to his values caused unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding.
As the clock neared 10 pm, I headed to the bedroom, only to have Tony grab his books and exit the room without saying a word in response to my farewell. The source of our conflict is our opposing sleep schedules, a problem that has plagued us since we moved into our current home. Our TV is bigger and brighter than our previous home, and Tony's sleeping habits are erratic. He stays up all night, reads with the lights on, opens and closes doors, and tosses and turns, causing the bed to shake.
This nightly disruption leaves me feeling drained and causes me to seek solitude instead of spending time with Tony. His unpredictable sleep patterns make it difficult for me to establish my own sleeping routine, creating a cycle of exhaustion and isolation. I've tried accommodating his needs by purchasing an eye mask, earplugs, and even a headband that plays soothing noise to drown out sounds, but these solutions only provide partial relief, causing sensory discomfort or irritation. Despite my efforts to find a compromise, Tony seems unwilling to work together, opting to sleep elsewhere, resentful about it.
To reach a resolution, I proposed a solution to turn off the TV and lights by midnight, giving Tony enough time to watch and fall asleep while I try to rest. Unfortunately, Tony wasn't interested in finding a middle ground and chose to sleep in the living room instead. This prompted me to have an honest conversation with him about how his actions were affecting me and our relationship, approaching the topic with empathy and understanding rather than blame and criticism.
After some consideration, I decided to text Tony my concerns in the hopes that I could express myself fully without interruption and that he might better understand. This approach has worked in the past, so I thought it was worth a try. Tony responded with vulnerability and clarity regarding what was bothering him and causing his strange behavior towards me. However, when we attempted to discuss the situation in person, our communication broke down yet again. I don't believe it is done to intentionally hurt me, but Tony used phrases like "you are demanding," "you are choosing sleep over the relationship," and finally "you are isolating." The accusations Tony made felt like an attack on my intentions, which are focused on my personal well-being. However, Tony struggles to express his needs directly instead focusing on my shortcomings, so we ended up in a back-and-forth argument that ultimately led to me storming off to the bedroom.
I fired off one last text from the bedroom, asserting, "If I'm choosing sleep over the relationship, then by that logic, you're choosing to be nasty over the relationship. I'll choose sleep over nasty any day of the week." Tony quickly owned up to his behavior and apologized for taking his stress out on me. We resolved to spend the evening watching TV together upstairs to bridge the distance between us. It turned out that he had been feeling disconnected and isolated, not the other way around. We even set a timer to switch off the TV by midnight. This small victory was a positive milestone in our ongoing journey towards more effective communication and deeper understanding of one another.
One final note I want to highlight is Tony's suggestion that I should not take things personally, which is something I have often heard throughout my life. It is a common refrain that many neurodivergent individuals have heard countless times before. However, the truth of the matter is that for those who process communication in a direct manner, it is only natural to take things personally when they are presented in such a personal manner. When someone says, "you are isolating" instead of "I feel isolated," it is a very personal statement that can be difficult to process.
Autistic individuals often experience emotional distress due to the direct nature of their communication style, which can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings for both parties involved. It can be challenging for neurotypical individuals to interpret and navigate the nuances of communication with autistic individuals, leading to frustration and conflict. However, promoting neuroinclusion and respecting different communication styles can help create a more understanding and inclusive environment where everyone feels heard and valued.
"We must resist the urge to reduce complex situations to the simplest possible narrative, especially when it comes to defining conflict." - Sarah Schulman
Sarah Schulman’s book Conflict is not Abuse has been instrumental in helping me understand that people communicate differently based on a multitude of factors. Schulman emphasizes the importance of resisting the urge to simplify complex situations, especially when it comes to defining conflict. This is particularly relevant in the context of neurodiversity, where differences in information processing and interpretation can easily lead to misunderstandings. It is essential for society to accommodate these differences to foster more respectful and meaningful relationships.