When is Rude Really Rude? Fuggedaboutit!

From “NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette” by Nathan W. Pyle

New Yorkers don’t mean to be rude; they’re just impatient. Time is highly valued here, so we show others respect by making an effort not to waste theirs

from Why Do New Yorkers Seem So Rude?

New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude. Pushy. Selfish.

A recent article describes  the reason why: New Yorkers value time. Associate Director for International Student Services at New York University, Tom Sirinides, explains that the pushiness is a response to a need to get places on time, that New Yorkers don’t have patience for people who delay them.

This is meant to provide a reason, a context for why New Yorkers aren’t nice to one another. Does that then make it OK? The next time you get body-checked on the sidewalk by someone not looking where they’re going, do you just think to yourself, “Oh, that’s fine—he’s in a hurry.”

nyc etiquette assertive subway

From “NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette” by Nathan W. Pyle

When you visit or live in New York, there’s a perception that you have to be pushy and rude to survive, just to get by. But all things get taken too far, and when that happens there’s a need to consider balance. In New York, and everywhere where people live around other people, folks should consider the balance of assertiveness and restraint:

  • If you’re too restrained, it’s true you may never get on that crowded subway. so
    metimes you just have to push a bit.
  • But be too assertive and you run the risk of being unnecessarily violent and hurting others, just because you don’t want to wait three minutes for the next subway.

Many New Yorkers—myself included!—could benefit from leaning a little more toward the restraint side.

And perhaps more important than the explanation of New York rudeness are Sirinides’s thoughts on understanding other cultures’ customs:

Never confuse differences in etiquette with moral failings—or, in other words, don’t assume someone is wrong or backward just because his or her customs differ from what you’re used to

Good advice for anyone—whether visitors surviving in New York, or neurotypicals responding to social differences of folks with ASD.

Tell me more about this “highway”

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my way road sign

“It’s my way or the highway.”

I write articles for my job. I tend to write long articles, including lots of details. I like it that way! That’s how I write, and I think it’s good, and how it should be. The problem is, the articles get sent to hundreds of teachers to read and use. So my colleagues sometimes give me feedback to shorten an article, to take out some details.

I sometimes feel like telling them to “take a hike!” It’s my way or the highway, as they say. What I mean is that I don’t want the feedback. In those times, I feel I am the only person who could possibly know what’s best for me and my work. In other words, I want to stick to doing things my way.

The problem is, there are times when advice from others is actually very helpful to me. (In fact, I should probably make this blog post a little shorter, according to the feedback of some readers…)

For lots of people—including, but not only folks on the autism spectrum—it can be hard to know when to stick to your way of doing things, and when to be open to advice and try new ways. Let’s explore—

Only Sticking with Your Way

archorSticking with your way of doing things is like an anchor, firmly planted in the ocean floor. It doesn’t move, doesn’t budge for anything or anyone. This can be important to do at times, like when you are 100% certain that you need to take a break from a long work meeting (your way), even if others are insisting you stay.

But too much sticking with your way, too much of the time, means you vehemently insist on only doing things the way you do them. You then ignore the advice other people give, even if that advice will actually be helpful for you. There are times when a friend, relative, teacher, or coworker gives you advice that will be helpful—even when you feel like your way is better.

Only Trying New Ways

sailboatSo what’s the alternative to sticking with your way? It’s trying new ways of doing things. For this, we use an image of a sailboat, whose route is guided by the wind. This is when we are open to advice and feedback, we listen to and consider the guidance of our relatives and peers and make changes in our behavior according to their suggestions.

This is not to say that you should always be open to new ways of doing things! If you only try new ways, you can lose sight of the important things you’ve learned about yourself. And if the advice comes from someone who doesn’t know us well, or who does not have our best interest in mind, trying their way could be harmful to us.

So what to do? Strike a balance!

Balancing Sticking with Your Way and Trying New Ways

Are there times when you should try new ways of doing things? Absolutely, yes. Are there other times when you should absolutely just stick to your ways? Yes, also. Let’s think about the balance of the two.

balance stick with-try new

Remember in the end, Balance Challenges are meant to help you find solutions to make things the best they can be for you and others with you.
With that in mind, think about a couple questions that might help guide finding this balance:
  1. WHO is giving the advice/feedback?
    • If it is a “trusted source,” someone who you have a close relationship with—like a parent or established close friend—you may want to consider trying their new way. Trusted people, if they really can be trusted, try to have our best interest in mind.
    • For example, if your mother suggests that you text a friend from school to see if they know the homework you forgot, she’s probably trying to help find a solution, even if it’s not something you’re used to doing. Maybe that’s a 60/40 toward the try new ways side.
    • try new 60-40
  2. WHAT are they asking you to change?
    • Is it “no big deal”? If it’s not a difficult thing to change, it might be worth trying their way. If it doesn’t work after a couple tries, at least there was the chance it could have been helpful.
    • If someone is suggesting to you that you completely change the way you dress and cut your hair to impress other kids, that’s a big deal and probably a time when you lean toward sticking with your way. Perhaps that’s a 70/30 on the stick with my way side.
    • stick with 70-30

But be sure not to fall into the only trying new ways trap. Obeying the directions every classmate and teacher without question can lead to uncomfortable or dangerous choices.

But it doesn’t hurt to be open to new ideas. When a trusted person gives advice or feedback, rejecting it immediately means you fall into the stick with my way trap, and when that happens you don’t make tough things better.

More on balancing needs

If this is helpful, read more about some other balances that are connected to this idea:

I make a promise to make my next blog post shorter, with fewer details. I’m open to trying that new way to make my posts easier for everyone to read!

For an explanation of the Balance Challenge framework, see Balance Breakdown, always accessible on the top navigation bar.

The most important lesson for most things: balance.

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I recently got an email from a company trying to convince me to pay for their email reminder service. The first line was:

The most important lesson you can learn when starting a sales career: persistence.
—FollowUpThen

To be fair, I don’t have anything like a sales career, so I don’t claim to be an expert on such things. But I do think that advice is misguided. If you focus exclusively on persistence, you run the risk of being overbearing. I imagine there are people who would be more likely to buy something if that salesperson just backed off!

Instead of focusing on persistence, I believe the better advice is to always consider striking a balance. In this case, it’s a matter of finding a balance between, on the one hand:

persistence

and on the other hand:

patience

This is a fairer and likely to be more effective to help you get what you want, and make other people around you happy.

Persistence – or patience – to the extreme

persistence

persistence

You can’t enter every interaction with the mindset that you will persist at all costs. What about checking in on a professor who’s agreed to write you a letter of recommendation: if you send follow-up emails day after day asking when it’s going to be done, the professor might get so annoyed that she’ll change her mind and not write the letter. So much for persistence! All that did was pester her.

patience

patience

But by contrast, you can’t only be patient and trusting. When arguing with Time Warner Cable to lower your ridiculously expensive monthly bill, keep pushing! Ask to speak to a supervisor, then another supervisor if necessary until your expectations are met. There are indeed times when persisting is necessary.

It really comes down to striking a balance between persistence and patience. You figure out how much to “lean” in one way or the other in different situations by considering the context.

Balance in all things

Any time someone uses the phrase “the most important lesson is,” it should be following with “a balance between…” Just about all advice—even good advice—can be misinterpreted or misapplied and taken to the extreme. Instead of thinking, “In my life, I always need to x” I believe more people will be helped by thinking, “In my life, I need to find the balance between x and y.” There’s a lot of space in between, and that’s where people end up the most successful and satisfied.

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For an explanation of the Balance Challenge framework, see Balance Breakdown, always accessible on the top navigation bar.

All the World’s an Audience

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audience main image animatedWhat do you say to whom, and how much, and when…?

People usually don’t address their six year old sister with “Your Honor…” and they rarely say “Sup?” to their principal.

We don’t speak the same way to everyone. We make changes to what we say based on our audience – who we’re with, and what’s going on.

Let’s look at a couple decisions we make about changing our language for different audiences – WHAT, and HOW MUCH – by thinking about balance.

WHAT to Say

Do you discuss details of upcoming dentist appointments with your friends? Not usually – that’s something that’s typically discussed with your parents.

Do you say, “Good afternoon” to classmates? Probably not that much – that’s something reserved for someone like a teacher.

So what topics do we raise, and what words make sense to use, based on whom we’re with?

A helpful way to think about this difference is through balancing casual and formal language.

casual-formal balance

Casual and formal language can be hard to define explicitly. In general, casual language is words and topics that we say naturally, the first things that come to mind. Formal language describes words topics that we think about and consider, and possibly censor, for a particular type of person. For example, if you were late to school one day, you might tell your friend: Damn. My stupid alarm didn’t go off. But for your science teacher, that doesn’t match how she’s expecting to be spoken to – for her, it would be more like: I’m sorry, won’t happen again.

The main question to think about is:

  • What is my connection to the person I’m speaking to?
    • If I’m with someone of “higher status” than myself, I should probably lean more toward formal language. This might be a teacher, professor, principal, boss, or a relative I don’t know very well.
    • If I’m with a friend or someone younger than I am, I can usually lean more toward casual language.

HOW MUCH to Say

There’s a whole other aspect of considering our audience: after we’ve figured out what to say, we have to consider how much to share.

When talking about my favorite TV show to my friends who also watch that TV show, I can get into an incredible level of detail about all the evidence I have for my theory that a certain character didn’t really die… If I try to explain that much to my mom – who hates the show – she’ll be totally disinterested and confused. She won’t know the characters or the plot points, and she’ll probably not care!

This speaks to the need to balance how much we explain and how much we skim.

explain-skim

This balance of our language is again based on who we’re with, but this time, it has more to do with the topic than our status connection to the person. It helps to think about:

  • How much does my audience know about this topic?
    • if they already know a lot, I can probably lean toward explain – we share knowledge about it
    • if they don’t know much, I may want to skim more – unless I’m teaching them something or making a presentation
  • How interested is my audience in the topic?
    • if they are interested, I can lean more toward explain
    • if they are not too interested, you may want to lean toward skim

Of course, it’s sometimes challenging to figure out how much someone knows, and how interested someone is. But it helps to have it be “on our radar,” something we think about and consider.

Be “Slider Savvy”

For folks who want something more concrete, a helpful visual is this slider. It represents the same elements of the balance, but as a continuum from one extreme to the other. Our decisions about how much to “lean” toward one side or another can all fall somewhere along the slider:

balance explain-skim

For example, on our explain ~ skim balance, when thinking about talking to dad’s friend about pi day (March 14, or 3/14, so named for the number pi which begins 3.14), it probably makes sense to be somewhere around 80/20 skim. He may or may not know or be interested, but it couldn’t hurt to mention.

80-20 skim

…but in after school science club, it might be good to be more like 60/40 explain about pi day – to talk about it, and in some detail, but not so much detail that it takes the whole club time.

60-40 explain

Why bother think about audience?

In the U.S., people sometimes refer to our right to free speech to mean we can say whatever we want to whomever we want. In reality, there are often negative outcomes to making mistakes about what we say to whom. Talking about a topic to your boss that he finds inappropriate (too casual) could lead to getting fired. Talking in too much detail about something that a classmate isn’t interested in (too much explain) may mean they avoid working with me in the future.

The Balance Challenge is all about the thinking we can do in social situations to help us create the best outcomes for us and the people we’re with. Balancing casual and formal language, and explaining and skimming, can help to do just that.

And as always, remember this advice is not just for folks with ASD, but for neurotypicals as well. Anyone who knows me (or reads this blog…) knows that I myself can always benefit from trying to lean more toward skim!

For an explanation of the Balance Challenge framework, see Balance Breakdown, always accessible on the top navigation bar.

Neurotypicals Take Note – Accepting Compliments

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compliment image

What do you say…?

How often has someone said that to you? Or how often have you said it to your student or child? The problem is, the answer is a lot more complicated than just “Thank you.”

Social conventions are so complex, and autistic folk are not the only ones who need tips and practice. These are social lessons that neurotypical folk could benefit from!

Neurotypicals need help accepting compliments

As evidenced by Jacqueline Whitmore’s  How to Gracefully Accept a Compliment – written for a presumably neurotypical audience – accepting a compliment is complex. She acknowledges,

Most people love to be noticed, but few know how to accept a compliment gracefully

Rectangle 1Some people respond too humbly. They deflect the compliment, or say things like “it was nothing.” They may pass the compliment on to others (“I didn’t do much – it was a team effort”).

This may appear kind—after all, it avoids bragging—but it may go too far. When someone gives a compliment, they generally want to recognize another’s accomplishments. So it’s jarring if someone essentially denies that they were responsible for the accomplishments.

Rectangle 1 CopyAnd then other people respond too boastfully. They are quick to accept the compliment and may even add on to the list of their accomplishments. Sometimes they go into detail about how hard they worked.

This usually bothers people, too. It can make the complimenter feel like the other person thinks that they’re better than them.

A complicated skill for all

Because neurotypicals clearly don’t do this complimenting thing all that well, they oversimplify it when addressing it with children with ASD.

A colleague of mine once made a nice comment about the shirt that a student of hers was wearing. The student was on the autism spectrum, and at first glance the exchange seems quite ordinary—

“I like your shirt!”

“Thanks, I like your earrings.”

The only problem: she wasn’t wearing earrings.

What happened? An adult must have taught this young man something like, when someone compliments you, say thank you and compliment them back. He probably got the added tip from a teacher, women like when people compliment their jewelry.

This again speaks to the need for neurotypical professionals working with folks with ASD to accept that they don’t have all the answers about the social world.

It’s about balance

What the advice comes down to is yet another balance, this time between humility and boasting. And it’s one that all people—autistic and neurotypical alike—could be better at.

humble-boastful

A Balanced Approach to Teaching Social Skills

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I recently read a couple of great posts on social skills training from M Kelter of Invisible Strings that connect to the idea of balance. M speaks of the real emotional dangers of social skills approaches that force people to change who they are:

In a world that puts so much pressure on people to assimilate and resemble others, being different can hurt…but learning to hide those differences? That can be equally destructive, if not more so.

I don’t know what the answers is for this…how the balance is struck.

via Etching Helvetica: stories from the autism spectrum

It is indeed a complicated issue. But at the risk of oversimplifying, I think that M has identified the answer: balance.

In the field—or community—of autism, there are strong feelings about social skills approaches. Without wading too deeply into that debate (which you can read more about from Karla Fisher, for starters), the debate sometimes breaks down into:

  • Teach-Skills Group: people (mostly neurotypical) who argue that autistic folk need to be taught social skills, that it’s essential in order to be successful in our society
  • Don’t-Teach-Skills Group: people who argue that autistic folk don’t have anything to gain from learning neurotypical social skills from neurotypical people

What’s implied by the Teach-Skills Group’s assumptions is that in order to be accepted, one must act “normal,” like “everyone else,” i.e., like neurotypical people. An example is eye contact training, something that many autistics describe as distracting or even painful. This can put autistic people under a lot of pressure to conform in a way that can lead to the kinds of emotional destress that M discusses.

However, the Don’t-Teach-Skills Group may be taking things too far: there are certain social expectations in our society that, if not followed, can lead to unpleasant results for all people involved. If one doesn’t compromise at all on their idea when working on a group project at work, for example, the project can stall, and that person may be reprimanded or even fired.

M again clarifies this division quite well:

Because of this tension, discussions about social skills training often lapse into a binary either/or dynamic. It’s described as either helpful or destructive, the end. Once that framework is in place, it’s tough to really sound out any nuances with the topic (which is understandable, given some of the bad history there).

via Autism/Aspergers Q and A: social skills training and managing negativity

The Balance Challenge is all about nuance—the many, many places in between two extremes. We can begin to find that space by looking at this:

Finding a Balance Between Exposing People to New Ideas and Embracing Differences

expose-embraceBoth are valid: it’s important to expose people to ideas they’re not aware of AND it’s crucial to accept what makes people different

But exposure only, without embracing, and social skills training becomes a one-sided, stressful, high-pressure environment

And solely embracing, without exposure, can rob autistic folks of helpful information about the neurotypical social world

If neurotypical people (teachers, therapists, friends and family) are charged with teaching social skills to people with autism, they can:

  • expose autistic folk to common social expectations… without demanding they act them out
  • explore the reasons why these social expectations exist… without trying to convince them they’re universally correct

And autistic folk learning social skills can:

  • offer their perspective on the social world… without insisting that the neurotypical one is wrong
  • discuss what’s challenging about NT expectations… without refusing them outright

Like all learning and growth, this process may be challenging or uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be so much so that people with autism experience emotional duress. Hopefully, they can work with a trusted neurotypical professional or friend.

And together, neurotypical and autistic folk working with one another can decide which skills are crucial to learn and understand (greeting a principal/boss, maybe?), and which are a matter of difference in perspective (eye contact, perhaps?).

Striking this balance is crucial to teaching autistic people, while honoring and validating people’s different perspectives, something almost everyone can agree is at the heart of being social.

Balance News April

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Recent news in the world of balance, education, the social, and problem-solving

There’s a great piece on Edutopia by Elena Aguilar about “mental models” in education. Nice connections to the implications for underlying assumptions of abilities of students of color—the same applies to students with disabilities.

Mental models are our values, beliefs, and a series of assumptions about how the world works. Unconsciously, we create a story about other people, institutions, and the world which drives our behavior. While everyone has them (in fact, we need them to make sense of the complex world in which we live), all mental models are flawed to some extent and usually invisible to us.

via Shifting Mental Models in Educators | Edutopia.

 

And a good write-up of a study documenting sensory struggles of students on the autism spectrum. Researchers interviewed the real experts: students on the autism spectrum. Speaks to the need to balance typical research with the perspectives of the people the research is studying.

Kids With Autism Describe Their Sensory Lives -- Science of Us

Let the kids describe what they’re going through! — shouldn’t be a radical one, but it is.

via Kids With Autism Describe Their Sensory Lives — Science of Us.

 

And here’s one from The Telegraph about the benefit of allowing kids with ADHD to fidget. Teachers need to balance our expectations for student behavior with students’ physical needs.

A study into how children with ADHD process information revealed that their toe-tapping, leg-swinging and restless movements are vital to how they remember things and work out complex tasks.

Scientists suggested that those with ADHD could perform better in tests and homework while doing things like sitting on exercise bikes or activity balls.

via Children with ADHD ‘should be allowed to fidget’ – Telegraph.

Balance Challenge in Action! Relax ~ Work Hard

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Too much stress IS unhealthy! But choosing relaxing and fun whenever you feel like it has bad results. So how do you apply this whole balance idea? 

Let’s consider Henry:

Henry is in 11th grade. He has homework to do every night and will have to start working on his college applications soon. Should Henry “buckle down” and push himself to work harder? Or should he relax a little and take things easy?

The correct answer is… it depends.

What does it depend on? It depends on the context—the factors happening around Henry and his work. For example:

  • How hard does Henry usually work?
  • How are Henry’s grades?
  • Is Henry stressed out by his work?
  • What feedback have his parents and teachers been giving him?

So how can Henry decide what to do? Let’s help him…

Applying the Balance Challenge Scale

relax-work hardLet’s help Henry make a decision by looking at a recent Balance Challenge post on the balance between relaxing and working hard.

The visual we used to understand this balance is the scale.

The scale helps to see how these two ideas are opposites, and that you can “lean” more toward one side or another. Also, it illustrates that as you lean more toward one side (for example, relaxing), you move away from the other side (working hard).

For more details on these elements, see the Balance Breakdown page.

Another helpful image to use to make this concept more concrete is the slider:

action-5050

Again, the left side of the slider represents relaxing; the right side represents working hard. The triangle at the top shows just how much someone is relaxing or working hard.

Here are the possible “positions” along the slider, from all the way to relax to all the way to work hard:

slider animation

So how can the slider help Henry decide whether to “take it easy” or “buckle down”?

Remember the context questions we asked earlier? Where to position the slider all comes down to answering those questions.

Scenario 1

  • How hard does Henry usually work? Not so hard – he usually has free time at night 
  • How are Henry’s grades? He’s getting B’s and C’s
  • Is Henry stressed out by his work? Not usually, no
  • What feedback have his parents and teachers been giving him? People have been telling him to “put his nose to the grindstone”

Well, maybe in this context, it would help Henry to work a bit harder. His grades aren’t terrible, but he has time, he isn’t too stressed out and people are giving him reminders to work harder. Maybe he could move to around 75% hard work:

action copy 75-25

That might mean spending another 45 minutes on homework at night, checking his homework for accuracy before turning it in, and setting up a schedule to start working on his college applications.

But what if Henry’s context were quite different?

Scenario 2

  • How hard does Henry usually work? Incredibly hard! He stays up really late every night making sure everything is perfect.
  • How are Henry’s grades? He’s getting almost all A’s.
  • Is Henry stressed out by his work? Yes. He rubs his forehead a lot and sometimes has to take deep breaths to calm himself down.
  • What feedback have his parents and teachers been giving him? People have said he’s doing a great job, but they’re worried he’s making himself really anxious.

In this context, it sounds like it would help Henry to relax quite a lot. Maybe he should be at 90% relax ~ 10% work hard:

action 90-10

For Henry in this case, it could mean he goes to bed 30 minutes earlier—even if not everything has been triple checked—and he could go for a walk after school to calm down and think things through. It doesn’t mean abandoning all his work, but it does mean he should relax a lot more than he is now.

Balance Challenge in Action!

abstract-concrete

My hope is that the Balance Challenge provides a framework for thinking about social decision-making. But it may be too abstract for some. I’d like for this to be something understandable, concrete, and ultimately, actionable.

Achieving balance is all about finding a good position on the slider—one that will be helpful to you to get a result you’re happy with. And it all depends on the context: what’s going on around you?

Using the slider to put the Balance Challenge in Action! should help people not only figure out how to think about a situation, but also how to act.

As always, I appreciate any feedback. Tweet or leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks!

—Aaron

For an explanation of the Balance Challenge framework, see Balance Breakdown, always accessible on the top navigation bar.

Neurotypicals Take Note – Being a good listener

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Be a good listener

People who support individuals with ASD often address listening skills. There are some good things that come out of this work. Autistic folk often have difficulty engaging in back-and-forth conversations in a way that’s expected by their neurotypical conversational partners.

But it’s important for the presumably neurotypical teachers to note that we (NTs) are not perfect social beings who autistic people should use as role models for communication.

Neurotypicals need help listening

Occasionally there is information that becomes popular online that aims to help people improve their social interactions. One such piece is a recent BuzzFeed article, 17 Tips to ACTUALLY Listen When Someone Else is Talking. It includes such tips as:

3. Actually pay full attention to what the other person is saying.

and

8. When the other person is talking, listen for a key word or phrase, and then use it as a springboard to dive into your next comment or question.

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These are good tips! It can require some effort to give our friend or colleague our full attention, particularly with buzzing pinging devices in our pockets and on our wrists. And people do appreciate it when someone remembers and refers back to something they’ve talked about.

At first glance, it might seem that this is an article written for people on the autism spectrum. But it’s not! It’s very telling that it is written for the general public. The intended audience of the piece is not folks with diagnosed communication challenges—it’s “everyone.”

And that’s the point to remember: all people have communication challenges. When providing support and instruction to people with ASD, let’s not make the mistake to think that there is one “right” way to communicate, and that it’s our way. “Our way” is riddled with problems: for one, there is a huge number of people who don’t really listen to each other.

It’s all about balance

I hope that the Balance Challenges on this blog can be supportive for autistic people, but neurotypical allies could also benefit from thinking about them with respect to their own social decision making.

And whatever work we do to support individuals with autism, let’s give some thought to striking a balance between “our way” and “their way” of communicating.

For an explanation of the Balance Challenge framework, see Balance Breakdown, always accessible on the top navigation bar.

When Off Topic is On Target

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tangent comic

People often tell individuals with ASD to stay “on topic” in a conversation. And there’s some good reason: most people don’t like the feeling that a conversation that goes “off the rails” and turns into being about different than intended.

But do we always need to stay on topic? Have you ever thought about how a typical conversation goes? Many times, they don’t stay on one topic the whole time. It’s more like the conversation veers from the latest episode of Big Bang Theory… to theoretical physics… to physical education class.

So when do we need to stay on topic, and when is ok to stray from the topic a little? It may be helpful to think about finding a balance!

Balance Between Being On Topic and Off on a Tangent

Balance

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