An Englishman in Aspieland or Why Silence Isn’t Always Golden

“A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:7b


Yep it’s that elephant again. This time because we’re talking about how to deal with the elephant in the room.

“I’m just tired of the way the warning’s always between the lines and people only talk to you straight when they’re giving you the boot.”

“Well unfortunately that’s just the British way.”

“But you can’t do that with an Aspie.”

So went the conversation between myself and a colleague in a place where I was temping. I ought to add the incident under discussion was not one I was being disciplined or dismissed for but that conversation encapsulated a problem we run across so often. It can sometimes lead to so much being swept under the carpet on the part of the frustrated neurotypical that the Aspie’s friendships and jobs can implode.

THE ASPIE WAY OF DEALING WITH A PROBLEM: Say it even if not appropriate or necessary e.g. “That’s a horrible dress you’re wearing”.

THE BRITISH WAY OF DEALING WITH A PROBLEM: Keep schtum for fear of causing hurt unless someone’s in danger of being killed on the spot.

Neither way is entirely appropriate. To an extent I envy Aspies living in the Netherlands or some parts of the U.S.  where bluntness is the name of the game.

Aspies sometimes forget that just because something hasn’t been mentioned, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been noticed.

The proper way lies somewhere in between. Take it from an Aspie – we need telling if there’s an issue with our professional or social conduct. Before you cut to the quick with your Aspie friend or colleague, let me tell you a few things I DON’T mean by that.

1. I do not mean speaking in sharp words or a metallic tone: Such methods should only be resorted to if there is either (a) an act of wilful disobedience to instructions (which we’re not necessarily above) or (b) we are about to endanger the safety of ourselves or others. In the latter case some Aspies might need reminding that your reaction is born of concern rather than anger but not all.

2. I do not mean picking out every eccentricity: There is a fine line between behaviour being eccentric and becoming downright inappropriate. Let me give you an example:

ECCENTRIC BEHAVIOUR: Placing one’s hand over one’s mouth during a social or professional interaction.

INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR: Picking one’s nose in a board meeting (or indeed any social setting).

We have an eccentric streak. It’s often enough of a hassle for us to keep the inappropriateness in check without having to curb mere oddities into the bargain.

3. I do not mean pointing out our errors in a way which might humiliate us: If at all possible (and admittedly sometimes it won’t be) address the matter with your Aspie friend/colleague either in a hushed tone or after everyone else has gone. Only point something out immediately if the entire company is being affected by it. I admit I need to remind myself of that latter point in my interaction with one or two Aspie friends.

These are only guidelines. Situations vary. But for all those don’ts there is at least one big do and it is this…

DO be plain. You don’t have to be blunt or harsh or patronising. Just tell it straight as if you were talking to an equal. For example “Have you got a minute Fred? Just so you know, everyone could see when you were looking up Flora Jones’s skirt earlier.” You might even want to add “I think you’ll find that’s why she was ignoring you at lunchtime the other day.”

I hasten to add that I have never looked up a girl’s skirt and nor have I ever known anyone called Flora Jones. But if you follow these guidelines with your Aspie friend, colleague or subordinate then you will be well on the way to gaining their respect for life.