By any standards, I’m considered successful. A NYTimes bestselling author of 9 books, an inventor and thought leader, I’ve trained a very large number of people globally in a change facilitation model I invented (Buying Facilitation®), started up a successful tech company in the 1980s and a non-profit that helped thousands of people walk again, and had my picture on the cover of magazines. But unless I’m referred, unless people have followed my work and know me, I’m patronized, condescended to, ignored, and dismissed in most settings. Why? Because I have Asperger’s, and I relate and respond differently.
I’m told I’m intense, challenging, in your face. And I bet that’s all true, although I can’t tell because it all seems normal to me. And then, maybe because I don’t conform to the norm, or because I’m a woman, people feel they have the right to disrespect me. As a result, my important ideas about facilitating others through their own congruent change – so necessary in healthcare, leadership, sales, coaching – get ignored, misinterpreted, stolen, or ridiculed. And it’s a shame, as these concepts are not only revolutionary, but important and would serve a vast number of people.
And sometimes the people who unwittingly disrespect or ignore me are the same people who fervently believe in equality, diversity, and #metoo. How do these folks forget their values when they actually come face to face with someone like me who is merely ‘different’? Where do their values go?
WE ALL SEEK TO BE KIND
In our workplaces, our social lives, the daily lives of our children, our schools, our communities, it’s more urgent than ever that we communicate/serve others with kindness and equanimity, that we become intentional. But getting it right is often like walking an obstacle course. We mean well, but sometimes we inadvertently get it wrong. We certainly don’t mean to.
Given our vantage point from the culture we identify with – with inbred norms and accepted behaviors – we sometimes unwittingly wound others from unfamiliar cultures because we don’t understand our differences. Obviously we can’t stand in their shoes, try as we might. Sometimes we don’t have the knowledge to automatically behave correctly or recognize a misstep. Sometimes we unknowingly bias how we listen. And sometimes we don’t know for certain the correct action or communication approach.
I believe that if we operate from the universal values we all hold as human values, we will be more inclusive, less hurtful, be far more creative, and serve others. It’s time we learn to do the right thing.
Kindness. While our intent is usually to be kind, sometimes we unwittingly harm. How can we determine if our action will be experienced as hurtful or kind? For openers, we could stop making assumptions and begin dialogues by asking our communication partners for guidance on best communication styles, or ask to be told when/if we misstep. Personally, I hear what’s said differently than neurotypicals, and respond accordingly – which often confuses others. When I see a quizzical look on someone’s face I immediately ask them what they heard me say. I wish I had the ability to avoid the misstep, especially when people walk away rather than discuss it with me to find a common language and acceptance.
To mitigate this problem I’ve learned to introduce myself thus: “I have Asperger’s, and sometimes my responses are too direct and can cause hurt. Please accept my apologies in advance. And please let me know if I’ve confused or annoyed you so I can make it right. I have no intention to harm you. Help me make it right so we can be connected.” This usually works, and the incidents of miscommunication have drastically reduced. I understand that that few people intend to be unkind, and don’t realize it when they are. But it begs the question: how can we all just show up as kind people and accept differences as merely interesting instead of challenging?
Willingness to hear diverse ideas. We often assume our communication approach, our beliefs, the words we choose, our norms, are ‘the right ones’ and forget that these ideas are ‘right’ only for us. What would you need to believe differently to willingly listen to ideas that are diverse?
This is a big one for me. As an original thinker I regularly run into people eager to dismiss me, unwilling to consider my ideas worthwhile rather than be curious enough to consider them. Recently, at a think tank filled with lots of other smart people, I met a neuroscientist doing research in an area my original ideas could enhance and where I know the field is stuck. When I offered one of my new ideas, he called me a liar, saying my ideas were impossible (after I’ve trained it to thousands of people and written books on it).
When our idiosyncratic beliefs keep us from expanding our own knowledge base, we are not only harming ourselves but those who could benefit. Not to mention the world is restricted by the biases of those with the loudest voices and most acclaim along the lines of conventional thinking.
Curiosity. Our curiosity is biased by what we already know. It’s not even possible to be curious about something we know nothing, and therefore we restrict our sense of wonder. The best we can do is have our ears attuned to noticing when we hear something ‘new’ or ‘different’ or ‘odd’ and ask questions about it. The worse we can do is what too often happens: turn the other person off or put them down, preferring to be ‘safe’ with what we know.
It’s been quite ‘curious’ to me that when I tell others I’ve invented a new form of question (Facilitative Questions), a new form of training, or coded the physiology of change, I get disparaging looks, eye rolls, a derisive comment, and no curiosity. Seriously? Just imagine if I’m telling the truth! Consider the years folks like Da Vince, or Van Gogh, or Tesla had to struggle to get their new ideas accepted. All those wasted years we could have been learning from them while they were alive.
Willingness to learn and change. This goes with curiosity. It’s about ego, about being smarterbetterrighter. One of the issues here is that our thinking follows the 1,000 trillion synapses in our brains that carry our existing behaviors and ideas. When confronted with something unusual, our brains automatically recruit existent synapses that don’t even know how to hear anything different and they automatically resist. But it’s possible to develop new pathways with new ideas. We just need to recognize when we don’t know something so we can have an eagerness to learn.
Willingness to be wrong and apologize. This is a hard one. So many people need to be right.The only thing they get from that is staying in place, finding friends just like them, and restricting anything new that might cause disruption. We need to be humble. And yet we staunchly defend our ‘rightness’ rather than be wrong. This serves no one.
Humility. What a concept. As an Aspie, I have no choice but to be humble. As soon as I see a quizzical look, or an annoyed face, I assume I’ve done something wrong. It’s about my brain, and I hate harming anyone, but I’ve primed myself to notice so I can take responsibility. Unfortunately, the people who need to be right, better-than, and smarter-than assume I have an agenda, or I ‘have no humility’ or ‘who do you think you are anyway’ syndrome. Feeling superior feeds their ego I suppose so they can continue telling themselves they’re wonderful. Unfortunately, this restricts their own lives and potentially harms others. Who would you be if you lived each moment with humility?
Authenticity. So who are you? No, really. Are you willing to show up as you are? To get it wrong sometimes? To stand up for yourself? To be honest and vulnerable? As an Aspie, I live this way because frankly, I have no choice. But maybe you shouldn’t either. Maybe we all should show up as ourselves, with no pretention, no shield. What would you need to believe differently to be willing to really show up?
Equality. One of the things I’ve learned as a Buddhist and practicing Quaker is that we’re all the same, but responsible for different things. We all want health, happiness, respect, love, friends, a roof over our heads, safety, success for our children, enough money to live comfortably and eat, good work and a little bit of fun every now and again. I used to date a FedEx driver. I earned in a day what he earned in a year. Our professions, life experiences, education, cultures, certainly didn’t match. But he was a brilliant woodcrafter, had the kindest heart I’ve ever experienced, and a knowledge of music that was encyclopedic. I learned a lot from him. We were equal. Humans, each doing the best we can. What would each of us need to believe differently to see worth and value in all others?
Imagine if each of us show up in each interaction authentically. No need to compete, or exhibit better-ness. No need to be right or smart. No need to be richer or more. Just people working, communicating, learning, growing, loving, creating together. I offer these givens:
* Connect not compete * Questions not answers * Listening not talking * Responsibility not blame * Yes not no * Understanding not indifference * Respect not derision * Compassion not malice * Acceptance not dismissal * Possibility not risk
What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to show up authentically, with each communication partner a potential friend, leader, or role model, and each communication an opportunity to make the world a better place? To recognize everyone as having value, not as Other. It’s time to begin. Now. The world, our lives, depend on it.
Sharon Drew Morgen is an original thinker, thought leader, and inventor. She is the author of the NYTimes business bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?. Sharon Drew developed the Buying Facilitation® model that she trains to sales teams in corporations globally, for use with the sales model to facilitate Buyer Readiness. She also runs one day listening programs to enable team members, consultants, and customer-facing folk to hear others without bias. Sharon Drew is a keynote speaker, trainer, consultant, and coach. Sign up for her award winning blog,with original articles on buying, decision making, change and listening firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Drew Morgen April 15th, 2019