The importance of imperfect communication

As everyone knows already, autistics may sometimes say things that sound inappropriate, and this is because we don’t realise how what we’re saying is perceived. That doesn’t necessarily mean what we say is what we really thing. I should be speaking for myself here but I assume this may be also an experience of other autistic people. So basically what I think is a result of how I was ‘trained’ and I was trained by my mum and society in general (through articles in magazines or TV programmes) to be more assertive, confident, and to put myself first.

At the same time, living in the society that always say the right thing is not allowing us, autistics, to see how that imperfect communication looks like – because yes, we can still see very well why something someone else said is inappropriate, even if we can’t see it in our own communication.

I was brought up in Poland, in a communist country, where the importance of good customer service didn’t really cross anyone’s mind till possibly around the time I was in my mid 20s (over 10 years after communism has ended) so I saw some examples of bad communication that then made me aware of what to avoid.

Once a roommate from my student door told me how she went to a local convenience to get some milk. Supermarkets were quite rare at the time, instead in many shops all the stock was kept behind the counter and a shop assistant had to fetch stuff for clients. So my roommate said she asked for milk and the shop assistant brought her semi skimmed with a comment ‘You don’t need it to be any fatter than that’ and I thought, really? That’s so inappropriate! That was over 20 years ago but it made me really aware that I need to watch my communication in case I’m a shop assistant.

The problem however is that we, autistics, have difficulties with transferring our experience from one setting to another so it wouldn’t make me think I need to watch what I’m saying to customers if I, for example, work in a bank. This is not to say that I consider saying random inappropriate things to clients who visit bank branch is OK, I’m only saying that I didn’t have an experience that would make me extra aware I need to really watch my communication if I work in that setting.

Having said that, I had one where a TV correspondent behaved in an inappropriate way, and I guess I’m OK with transferring it to a radio setting. When I was in my early 20s I used to watch news a lot and once I saw a new correspondent on a national TV who was just about to say something, only that she wasn’t speaking but she was rearranging her clothes. She was obviously unaware she was live already. I don’t really know how she was meant to know that, but I suppose she should know, the same like other correspondents. When the journalist from the studio made her aware of it, she started having a go at him! As I said, I don’t know how that works but that wasn’t important, she should have smiled, apologise and say whatever she had to say.

Needless to say, I never seen her again. It may be a bit sad but clearly she wasn’t ready to do that job. It is slightly surprising that she successfully went through selection process.

Since I have been living in the UK those examples of imperfect communication are almost impossible to find, but I have two from a print out I was handed out by one of the attendees on the Disability Confident event. One sentence states ‘Everyone is different and does things in different ways – the Disability Confident scheme allows employers to acknowledge and support this across their whole organisation.’ I wonder if this is what a neurotypical person would also pay attention to, but try to imagine now that the Disability Confident scheme gets removed. What will happen then if the scheme ‘allows’ employers to act certain way? It means that if the scheme gets removed employers will be forced to change their behaviour. And I then wonder why? Possibly because disabled people are so difficult to deal with? That’s what comes to my mind, I’m sorry. Changing ‘allows’ into ‘helps’ would give a totally different meaning to that sentence. It is surprising to me that, while neurotypical people find it so easy to fluff up their communication, they are not fully aware how it sounds after a bit of analysis.

Surprisingly the sentence ‘The best part of the scheme is the networking that we can do with fellow businesses’ does not put me off as much. Of course it should not find it’s way to the print out but at least it makes me think the person who wrote it was being honest. The best part should always be the fact that disabled people get support they need but if the person who wrote that wasn’t disabled they were just stating things from their own perspective. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to support disabled employees, it could mean they’d support them anyway but if they have an event where they can do networking, that’s even better. Having said that it’s a good reminder for me to try to comment on things from other people perspective.

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