Customer Phone Support Etiquette

“Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” (The Golden Rule)

Okay, so I know I haven’t posted anything in a LONG time. I’m sorry, I’ve been putting it off and putting it off and then just kind of forgot about it. But I’m going to try and write a little more regularly…at least semi-regularly.

 

So, after being out of work for approximately 4 months, I have begun a new job as a Product Information Center (PIC) agent in a call center environment. It’s not a “dream job,” but it’s for a very reputable company where I can hopefully get my “foot in the door” and eventually find a job more in line with my major, but that’s all beside the point. My point is this: Be conscientious of customer phone support staff and what they have to deal with every day. Working in that environment has given me a new appreciation for people in similar scenarios where they have to answer phones all day, i.e. customer phone support and other comparable jobs.

Let’s start with the obvious type of caller most of us think about when when we think phone customer service: the angry customer. These are the type of calls most call center operators dread. It means they have to sit and listen to an irate customer who won’t let them get a word in edgewise while they rant about their broken/defective product. I honestly don’t know how it works in other call center situations, but in my case, as an operator, complaining to me might help me get a little background information on what kind of help they need, but it’s ultimately futile as I do not handle products directly and instead have to transfer the call to the proper division so the angry person on the other end has to again repeat their complaint in its entirety to the technician. So, what have they wrought? They’ve wasted their breath complaining to the wrong person, and they’ve more than likely annoyed or upset the operator who initially took their call.

So try and put yourself in both/either positions: Say you have a defective product, or something breaks, or you have a general complaint about whatever you’re calling about. You are certainly entitled to be upset/irritated. No one would blame you for being annoyed at this kind of inconvenience. It’s natural. BUT, try to keep in mind that it’s not the operator’s fault your stuff broke. Don’t shoot the messenger, as it were. It’s somebody’s fault you’re having to deal with this annoyance, but it isn’t theirs. Don’t be mean/rude to them just because you’re having a bad day. They’re trying their best to help you (at least most of them). Alternatively, try to envision things from the side of the phone operator. Would you really want to talk to someone who does nothing but complain? I didn’t think so. So why would you want to subject someone to something you wouldn’t want to experience yourself?

Let’s move on to more pleasant settings. There are, of course, the callers who greet you warmly when you answer the phone and actually want to make the call as easy as possible. These are the people most phone operators want to talk to. The conversation is smooth and business is usually completed without incident. Most calls begin with the caller/customer asking how you’re doing. It may be legitimate courtesy on their part or it may just be small talk. the point is that you should always treat the customer with as much respect as you can, whether they’re yelling at you or laughing with you. If people treat you with respect, you should always do the same. And if they don’t, be the better person and rise above.

Another thing I’ve learned over the last few weeks is that if you’re going to call a customer support phone line, do as much research as you can, especially if your call is regarding a product. Find and write down all relevant serial, part, and UPC (under bar codes) numbers. Chances are if you have all the information you need before you even begin dialing, the call will go smoother. As I said, I don’t deal with company products directly, but I do have access to a database where I can look up items usually by serial or part number so I can then find out where to transfer the customer’s call. Don’t go into a customer support call blind with no information to give the operator. It only confuses them and will probably serve to aggravate you because they can’t find what you’re looking for. Furthermore, don’t automatically assume the first person you talk to on a support call is directly knowledgeable about the issue or product you’re calling about. Just because they may work the phones, doesn’t mean they have intimate knowledge about the company products. You can certainly ask, but do it a polite and civil manner such as, “are you at all familiar with this product?” And don’t be completely surprised if they’re not. Often customer support is the “middleman” who sends your call to where it needs to go.

One more thing to consider is that more often than not you’re going to be put on hold. This is just a natural fact in these kinds of situations. Now, I am fully aware and can certainly sympathize with having to be put on hold for long periods of time. No one likes it. And it’s fully possible that SOME phone operators will put customers on hold hoping they get frustrated and go away. Obviously, this is not professional or respectful. But do consider that often, when you’re put on hold, it’s because the phone operator needs to do some research of their own to learn as much about your issue or product as they can so that they can assist you to the best of their ability. Sometimes, they might need to ask a colleague or a supervisor because they don’t know the answer. Bare with them as long as you’re able. If it gets to the point where you’ve just been on hold too long or you have to go, then by all means, hang up. But consider that such an act MIGHT cause the phone operator to believe they’ve failed in some way. It is sometimes unavoidable and both parties need to deal with that as best they can. Just remember, being put on hold for a minute or two is natural. Be patient, more often than not, they’ll be right back and with more information to help you.

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned during my two weeks at my new job, but already I’ve discovered a new found respect for phone/customer support operators and what they/we/I have to go through every day. Sometimes, drama and unpleasantness are unavoidable. It’s going to happen sometimes, and sometimes, even though you have every piece of information you believe is pertinent to your situation, the operator may still be unable to assist you. In my job, sometimes people call in about products that are obsolete or have been discontinued and are no longer made or sold. There is literally nothing they can do about it. Above all, just try to remember, the customer support operators are humans too, they don’t just sit there believing you are annoying and hoping you will go away. Some legitimately want to you and insure you receive the best service possible. Give ’em a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised how well it goes and how much more well informed you’ll be after you hang up.

Gun Safety & Responsibility

There are so many things I want to say about the shooting that took place in Seattle on Thursday — first and foremost, the student security monitor, currently identified as Jon Meis, who subdued the gunman IS a hero in every sense. He risked his own life to prevent the further harm that would have inevitably come to his fellow students and staff. I hope the school shows him some kind of appreciation for his actions. So many other people would have simply run for cover or find any way they could to escape. The fact that this student ran TOWARD danger to keep others out of it, speaks volumes about his bravery.

Second, the fact that Meis was able to use pepper-spray on the gunman while he reloaded tells me that maybe we don’t need more armed security guards in schools. While it’s true, Meis was probably fortunate enough to get as close as he did to use it, and that the gunman must not have been wearing any protective eye gear were definitely strokes of luck. The point is, that Meis, with the help of several other students held the gunman down while the police arrived. Students, not police, disarmed and subdued a gunman without the use of a firearm themselves. It IS possible to stop a rampaging gunman without killing him. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association said after the Sandy Hook school shooting, that, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This has been proven to be untrue.

Thirdly, I don’t know why people wake up one morning and decide to go on a shooting spree. I can only guess that they feel victimized in an uncaring world, and that they just want to end it all. However, even if they decide to end their own lives, it would only further the feeling of isolation and loneliness they probably feel; or they’re too scared to take their lives. But…if they go to a public place, like a school or a theater full of people — people who they feel are responsible for their depression/frustration in their lives, there’s a good chance that depending on their “success,” they could be immortalized forever. Even if they go down in the annals of history as a gun-toting psychopath…at least now, people will have noticed them, perhaps even admire them for their acts of brutality, and consider it themselves. There are reports all over the web of people who admire Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold for what they did at Columbine High School in April 1999.

Finally, the university he went to was extremely Christian-based. Apparently, the school will take disciplinary action against students who engage in extramarital sex, homosexual activity, or possess alcohol. While I may not agree with some of their policies, that doesn’t mean any of them have the right to be killed for their lifestyle/belief structures/philosophical practices. I don’t know what the motive was behind this shooting, or why this school was targeted, but IF it was because of the school’s practicing faith, it’s just another reason we need to be more open minded about peoples’ beliefs, even when they differ from our own.

I don’t know what the answer is to reducing the un-necessary slaughter of innocent people, because someone decides to take their anger out on a building full of people by gunning them down. But I’m confident that the US is not doing everything it can to keep firearms out of the hands of people who should not have them. I also think that parents need to take the initiative. If they even suspect their child of mental instability, they need to seek professional help as soon as possible. And for parents who already own guns, that is your constitutional right, but please, keep your guns un-loaded, and your ammunition locked up in a safe place that you are confident will not be accessed by your child. And lastly, if you are planning on purchasing a firearm, first ask yourself two questions:

– What is the reason I want to own a gun? Do I feel my life is being threatened? Or do I just want to have one just because I like the feeling of power and protection it gives me?

– Do I have the discipline to learn how to use it responsibly and safely? Will I remember to keep it locked up when not using it? Will I insure my ammunition is kept out of the hands of children/people who shouldn’t be using it?

If your answer to either of these questions is “no” or questionable, perhaps you should reconsider your decision to purchase a firearm. I am of the opinion that a gun is not completely and utterly necessary to protect yourself. Please be responsible when it comes to gun safety. While it is true that guns can be used to protect the people you care about, when placed in the wrong hands, guns are nothing but tools of violence and destruction. Be responsible and be safe.

Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”  – William Arthur Ward

I’d like to talk a little today about what I perceive the differences (and similarities) to be between the optimist, the pessimist, and the realist. We’ve all come across each kind of person — the unerringly hopeful optimist, the down-in-the-dumps pessimist, and the “middle-ground” realist. I, myself, believe I fall into the realist category and I will explain why later. Let’s talk about the others.

Let’s start with the optimist: The dictionary defines optimism as, “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.” While this is certainly a more preferred social attitude than the pessimist, optimists have been accused more than once of being naïve or ignorant of the way things are because they choose to see a different better picture than others. They believe that the world is a genuinely good place and that in the eternal conflict between “good” and “evil,” that good will win out in the end. This is a fine belief and it’s one that many people hold. It keeps their spirits high, their faith in humanity remains unshaken, and it’s likely they have a positive self-image. However, when one views the world through “rose-colored-glasses” they often don’t see the “cold, hard facts” that they need to see in order to interact well in society, either because they don’t see them, or they choose not to. Some optimists will believe anything they hear, read or see as long as it goes along with their positive viewpoints on life. Granted this is probably a bit of an extreme, but it is feasible that an optimist can be taken advantage of because they wish to believe in the good they choose to see in everyone. This can lead to trouble if the optimist finds themselves in the wrong situation where their unwavering positivity meets with inevitable negativity that does exist in the world.

Negativity is the domain of the pessimist. The dictionary defines pessimism as, “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, or problems.” Being the exact opposite of an optimist, the pessimist sees only the bad side of life and generally expects the worst of any scenario. However, this is not to say that pessimists are ALWAYS unhappy people (although it can be typical). It could be the case that due to unfortunate past experiences, they go through life always expecting the worst because that’s what they’re used to and have been exposed to all their life. It is not atypical that the pessimist, after being exposed to the better sides of life could become an optimist, or perhaps more likely – a realist.

I consider myself to be a realist, so if you will forgive the conceit, I will proceed with my explanation according to my own personal experiences: Realism is defined as “interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.” Basically meaning that realists tend to view the world from a more “practical” point of view. It is my perception that realists are often viewed as pessimists because their viewpoints tend to contradict those of the optimist. While the optimist generally believes in the positive and favorable aspects of life, the realist will sometimes disagree taking the stance that we live in an unpredictable world that can be as bad as it is good. While the optimist realizes that there are situations, people, and incidents that are by definition bad, they tend to focus on what positive elements can be taken from those incidents. The realist will usually acknowledge (and accept) those positive elements but they will also focus on why bad things happen, i.e. – there are bad people in the world/stuff happens/life isn’t perfect, etc. Where I don’t think the realist receives enough credit is when they encounter the pessimist. Realists can disagree with pessimists just as much as (if not more so than) the optimist. While the pessimist sees only the negative, the realist will try to explain that, yes, bad things happen, but this is not en evil world, there is good here, you just have to know where to look for it.

People can and will take advantage of others. It is in their nature to do so. However, I do not believe people are inherently evil/violent/bad. I think when emotion takes hold, things are said; urges are acted upon, sometimes with negative consequences. But in the long run I am of the belief that most people generally do not enjoy being harmed or bringing harm to others. Most of us are just trying to get by with what we have. And therein lies another difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” People who “have” I think, tend to be much more optimistic about life because they have things that others don’t so they don’t really have a reason to be miserable. The “have-nots” don’t have the things that others do and spend much of their time wishing they did. This can sometimes lead to having a pessimistic outlook on life, i.e. – why do they have everything and I have nothing? It’s not fair!

As a realist, I firmly believe that life is not fair, but I also do not believe it to be un-fair. I realize how much a contradiction that is, but life IS what you make it. If you put forth the effort and give a care to how you live, it’s likely you eventually succeed. It may not be right away, but with the willpower and initiative to make your life better, you will prevail. If you don’t care how your life ends up, it honestly will be hard for others to offer you much sympathy. It’s difficult for many people to care about your life if you don’t yourself.

What’s “Normal”?

I’ve been noticing more and more lately, particularly in those who have mental/developmental disabilities, the feeling of “victimhood,” i.e. – the belief that they are “victims,” being persecuted in an un-caring world. They have the mindset that because of their disability or diagnosis, that it makes them “freaks” or “pariahs” in a world that won’t accept them because they’re different. They wish more than anything else that they could just be “normal,” and blend in with the crowd. And while I can certainly understand where these feelings come from, I don’t support the idea of expecting others to change just for you just because you think they should.

I am on the Autistic spectrum. I’m not ashamed to admit it, nor am I ashamed of the condition itself. I was diagnosed 13 years ago, and since then, have ridden a roller-coaster ride of emotions and sentiments regarding the fact that I have Autism. However, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to be “just like everyone else.” I didn’t want to blend into the crowd and disappear. I didn’t have the desire to be “normal.” For what is normal? Is normal what everyone else is? Because no one is “everyone else.” We’re ALL different…no one is like someone else. We can do our best to emulate others or try and live up to our various role models by trying to follow their beliefs/lifestyle/habits/appearance. But in the end, no matter how much you try and become like someone else, you are still you, and that will never change.

Can you imagine how life would be if we were all exactly the same? No one would argue, no one would disagree, and no one would ever have a different point of view. We would be automatons, with no real purpose in life or qualities that make us unique. As much as some of us may hate to admit it, we are ALL unique. There are 7 billion people on this planet, and not a single one of them is normal.

The feeling of “segregation” that many people have comes from the mindset that because of their varying conditions, that everyone else doesn’t understand them, and as a result shuns them. But it is my view that in general people who think this way do very little to attempt to integrate themselves into society. They believe that the world should adjust to them while they sit back and watch it happen. However, such a thing will never come to pass. Forming any kind of relationship with any one is a give and take. If someone doesn’t understand you, then you need to make every effort to attempt to make them understand. The more they learn about you, the more you learn about them. No one is going to suddenly approach you and say, “hey, I don’t know anything about you…but we’re best friends now.” It doesn’t work like that. In order to truly become part of your environment, you must begin adapting to it, before it begins to adapt to you.

This is not to say that it’s easy. On the contrary it can be extremely difficult. Neurotypicals (people not diagnosed with any kind of disorder) have just as difficult a time forming relationships as anyone else. They may not encounter the same obstacles, but it’s still not easy for them. For more on tips for forming meaningful relationships, you can refer to my earlier post about relationships and communication. It is true that people often fear what they don’t understand, and this can indeed lead to problems. That’s why it’s important, especially for those who consider themselves to be “disabled”/“debilitated” because of their given condition, that they preserver and not allow the close-minded to hinder their efforts for acceptance. It goes without saying that not everyone is going to welcome you with open arms and beg to be your friend, but trust me when I say your friends ARE out there…even if you haven’t met them yet. You will eventually meet the people you’re going to spend the rest of your life knowing, but only if you seek them out and attempt to get to know them while they get to know you. That’s the very essence of what a relationship is.

One final thing I’ll say is that every one of us should strive to be the best we can be, but no more than that. Nobody’s perfect and trying to be perfect is a waste of time. And anyone who demands perfection holds unrealistic expectations. You’re going to make mistakes along the way, you’re going to trip, fall, stumble, and skin your knee a few times. But we can’t just lie down and cry when we do. We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start again. We all make mistakes. But we must learn from those mistakes. If we learn nothing, we don’t grow, and if we don’t grow, we never amount to anything. So before you go accusing the world of not growing to meet your expectations, take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself, “are my expectations reasonable?”

We’re all unique and special in our own way. Wanting noting else but to be normal is a fallacy. We all have our ups and downs. We all have obstacles we deal with on a daily basis. No one’s life is completely perfect. And the more time we spend trying to chase after perfection — trying to become someone else other than who we are, the more we forget who we were before.

Sticks & Stones

Inspired to write this piece after reading a recent news story: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/16/us/felony-charges-for-2-girls-in-suicide-of-bullied-12-year-old-rebecca-sedwick.html?_r=0

First let me say that I have nothing but sympathy for the family of Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after enduring years of bullying, ridicule, and cyber-attacks. Reading articles like this only furthers my belief that the Internet has allowed a very select few people in this world to think it’s all right to be crude, nasty, and mean to one another — and perhaps more disturbingly…think that they can do it without any repercussions. One of the first lessons we learn in science is that every action has a reaction. Human social interaction is a science unto itself, with many of the same principles of conventional chemistry. We even call the interactions between people “chemistry.” So when “unstable compounds” are introduced to a mixture, it doesn’t take a PhD professor to know it’s potentially asking for trouble.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Now, the original meaning behind this phrase was that physical attacks do hurt, but verbal assaults cause no physical/literal damage. However, as one who believes fervently in the power of words, I respectfully disagree with this statement. Words can and do hurt. And in this modern era, in the age of the online interaction, words have become the new weapons.

You can’t throw a stone at, or hit someone with a stick on a computer. But verbal jabs can cut just as deep. Especially when a person is insulted or bullied in places such as mass online games, or large message boards in front of literally THOUSANDS of people. When one person is singled out in this kind of environment, even the staunchest person can begin to feel a little self-conscious. Imagine being a 12-year-old living in an environment where you genuinely feel the world is out to get you, and no one likes you. No one is debating that adolescence is a difficult time for young people, but it’s made easier when we have friends and others who we know will support us through anything, and we do the same for them. Without friends…the world can seem a very dark place indeed.

Now, as odd as this may sound to say, reading this article has actually made me grateful. Grateful in that, throughout my 26 years of life, I have actually given very little credence to what others have thought of me. I’ve experienced bullying…particularly in middle school and early high school. I was tormented, insulted, and embarrassed publicly, and of course it made me feel terrible, but unlike so many others my age, it was momentary. I always rose above. And I realize that is SO much easier said than done. But I have never cared what other people think of me. It’s my life to live, and I will live it how I want. If you don’t like it, well…that’s your problem isn’t it? So hearing about people who have ended their lives because of bullying of course make me sad…but it also makes me appreciate my life that much more because I’ve been blessed to have discovered early on that the opinion that should matter most to you, is yours.

The final thing I will say is for parents. According to the above article, the parents of the girls who tormented Sedwick, took absolutely no responsibility for their daughters’ conduct. On the contrary, they said their computers were “hacked” and hurtful comments placed on their Facebook pages. A parent, who is unable or unwilling to fulfill the duties expected of them, is a person who is unworthy to be a parent. Indeed, our actions are our own and we must take responsibility for them, but it is the parent’s job to instill that sense of morality in us. If they don’t take any responsibility for their actions, how can they possibly expect their children to do so? This is not to say the parents must discipline young children and interrogate them as to their online activities. But they should involve themselves in their children’s lives and insure that proper steps are taken to insure they are not engaging in flaming, trolling, or cyber-bullying. And of they are, to teach them WHY it’s wrong.

In this new age of online communication, it is so much easier to reach people across great distances along the Super Information Highway. But, it also extremely easy to negatively impact the lives of complete strangers behind a computer screen under the protective shield of anonymity. It’s simple to ignore the suffering of someone you don’t know, and even simpler to add to it. So do them and yourselves a favor, be civil to each other — because, as the old saying goes: “If you can’t say anything nice…don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Autism – Relationships & Communication

  • What is Communication?

Communication is the verbal and non-verbal interaction between two or more individuals by which information is exchanged or transmitted. And it is not always easy. On the contrary, it can be very difficult. But without communication, no one would say anything to anybody, nobody would write anything for anyone to read, relationships would simply not exist. So for all the challenges of communication, it is a proven fact that without it, we would be truly lost.

  • Communication and Autism

For autistic people, communication can indeed be quite challenging. For many people who are on the autistic spectrum are unable to verbally communicate as most others are. To help with this, they employ the use of sophisticated devices, which speak for them based on general questions and statements they may encounter every day. For everyone else who communicates verbally, there are several tips and strategies to use to insure your message is not only conveyed, but is also understood.

Effective Communication

  • Eye Contact

Not everyone can do this and that’s all right, but one of the most basic facets of communication is eye contact. Even in the initial meeting of someone, if you can look them straight in the eye just once, it shows them you’re truly trying to form a relationship/have a conversation. Even if you can’t hold the eye contact for long, that’s really not a problem. Look at their forehead, or pick a point on a nearby wall and look at that. As long as you’re looking in their general direction, and occasionally make the eye contact during the course of the conversation, it will go better. And chances are, whoever you’re talking to will not hold eye contact for the entire talk either.

  • Putting Words to Expectations

One important part of putting words to expectations is not assuming anything. Do not assume whoever you’re conveying your expectation to is completely and 100% on the same page as you, or vice versa. If you don’t understand something, do not hesitate to ask for clarification. No one will mind, and it shows you’re doing to your best to pay attention. Autistic people often need things explained to them several times before they truly understand — This is natural, so don’t be ashamed if you don’t get it right away. Write it down if you need to.

Communication Etiquette

  • Interests & Topics

It’s fairly typical that many autistic people have one or two very specific interests; things they like or enjoy very much and are skilled at. Because of this, in conversation and other social situations, they will often make mention of their particular interests even if they have nothing or very little to do with the subject currently being discussed. As a result of this potentially awkward interaction, some autistic people will elect not to speak at all or very little because they feel they have nothing to contribute to the conversation. Or, conversely, they may speak a great deal without allowing anyone else to get a word in edgewise. The balance can very difficult to locate, but it is possible.

  • Observation

The first thing you need to take note of is: what is everyone else talking about? It is not only potentially awkward, but also socially bad form to interrupt a conversation and begin interjecting your opinions and topics with no prior warning. Listen, and gauge the conversation until you can find an “entry point.” If none presents itself, do try and interact with others even if the topic at hand does not particularly interest you. Ask general questions, or attempt to find a suitable segue to shift the topic toward one you feel comfortable discussing. Just make sure you keep it long enough to be interesting but brief enough so you don’t completely dominate the conversation. Your opinions matter, but so does everyone else’s. Once you have your say, let them have theirs. This is especially important in a relationship where communication is a give-and-take. If nothing is given/taken, both parties will no longer wish to converse with one another.

  • Participation

On the other hand, it’s possible that some autistic people may not wish to communicate at all, or are unable to. While we encourage interaction and communication in the effort to form relationships, we do not demand it. Such an expectation can be unfair and even unreasonable to some on the autistic spectrum. We must all learn to communicate and interact with others at our own pace. But it is recommended that you take steps to try and engage others in some form of communication. Don’t rush it, but don’t get left behind either. There are many amazing pieces of technology out there for people who are unable to verbally communicate. These devices can allow many autistic people to interact with friends, colleagues, and peers in ways that are just as efficient (if not more-so) as verbal communication.

On Being Understood

Conflicts abound when we are not understood in daily interaction. When we say or do something that is interpreted as something else entirely by another, very little is accomplished. That is why it’s important to not only comprehend what is being said or done, but to truly understand it. And several factors contribute to this. Tone, volume, facial cues and body language, even preconceived notions on the part of one or more parties involved.

  • Tone

Tone matters in conversational interaction. No matter what the situation or whomever you’re talking to — striking the proper tone will help immensely. If your tone is flat and boring, no one will want to listen to you, but if it’s overly excited/boisterous, you’ll have a difficult time getting anyone to take you seriously. Of course it can also depend on your situation. Obviously, you don’t want to sound depressed and sad in a humorous environment, or vice versa. If in the course of a conversation, you become angry or agitated, it’s important to realize, especially in or when attempting to form a relationship, to not allow your frustration or anxiety to dominate the situation. It’s all right if you happen to become agitated, just try to keep a cool head about you to resolve whatever the issue is before it becomes enflamed. Again, tonal control is important.

  • Volume

Volume or how loud or soft your voice is, is also something to keep aware of. Going hand-in-hand with this is your environment. If you happen to be a public place with many people, keeping a lower, civilized volume of voice about you is acceptable. If the room happens to be filled with many people all talking over each other, it may become necessary to speak louder. Volume also implies how much “authority” you wish to display in any situation. In a scenario where you must issue or expectations, a louder, and perhaps more confidant approach would be recommended. Speaking with a quiet voice in a situation that requires a firmer approach is impractical. A prime example of this would be attempting to manage small children. They are taught from early ages to listen intently to authority figures. You do not have to be overly strict or demanding with them, just keep them reminded that of what is acceptable by communicating it in a firm but encouraging manner.

  • Body Language

Facial expressions and body language help people to really understand the nature of your message and your mood. When we interact with others, we unconsciously move our bodies in such a way as to imply the meaning of our message. If we’re happy we tend to make grand gestures and smile a lot. If we’re upset we tend to frown or keep a neutral expression while slouching somewhat. And if we’re nervous we tend to fidget. All these actions are clues to how someone is feeling. The issue that many people with autism have is not being aware when concepts like sarcasm are being used. When someone is kidding or joking, there is usually joviality about him or her that one is able to spot: a wide grin, or perhaps a wink. Keep a look out for cues that may suggest whether someone is being serious or not. And if all else fails, ask. It never hurts to make sure.

  • Judgments

One other thing that matters a great deal in communication and has the potential to lead to misunderstandings and conflicts are our preconceived notions about things, and indeed about people. Autistic people tend to make very fast judgments about others they may encounter based on appearance, attitude, habits, and/or behavior. For most neurotypicals, the impressions formed about strangers tend to change over time once they get to know the people they’ve met. It may take considerably longer for people with autism as it sometimes very difficult to part with that initial conclusion. But observe and try to look beyond the exterior to discover who someone is underneath. This is a baseline for forming relationships.

  • We must also all be aware of the perceptions we hold about the world in general. When something doesn’t fit with our supposed comprehension, we tend to argue the point. Debates are all fine and good of course, but people with autism usually live with very precise notions that are comfortable when they do not change. When those notions are challenged or called into question, confusion, apprehension, and sometimes frustration can occur. It’s important to keep cool heads and behave rationally. Discuss your issues calmly and fairly. It is likely you will reach a suitable solution for all involved.
  • Conclusion

Communication is more than just words. It is intent, actions, perception, and most importantly understanding. Autism indeed has a notable effect on how communication between two or more people works. Some people with autism are unable to verbally communicate, but with the use of audio devices that are used in lieu of speaking, it becomes possible. For those who are able to communicate verbally but are either too shy or too embarrassed to do so, we hope we’ve given you some things to think about and some strategies to employ in your future conversations with friends, colleagues, and any other people with whom you wish to form a meaningful relationship with. Relationships are perhaps as complicated as communication itself, if not more so. No one is a mind reader, so we must do all we can to make our purpose clear and our message understood so as to avoid unnecessary conflicts. The better the relationship, the easier it will be to communicate.

Autism – Self-Determination

Self-Determination – “Free choice of one’s own acts or states without external compulsion.”

This is how Webster’s Dictionary defines the concept of self-determination. And it is a concept that autistic people need to seriously take to heart. We live in a world of convenience — convenience, that when disrupted, becomes a problem. We, as humans, do not generally like problems. So that is why it’s so crucially important, after learning you’ve been diagnosed as autistic, that you make it a priority to learn how to stick up and advocate for yourself. Taking yourself seriously is the first step to making other people take you seriously as well.

Learning how to navigate the choppy and often time treacherous waters of human interaction and interpersonal communication is important. And no one is saying it will be easy. On the contrary, it will be difficult, but that is another part of self-determination — not backing down when the going gets tough. When you don’t back down, and instead show confidence in yourself and in your Autism, you show people that you are not afraid to stand up for what you believe in.

Let’s take the definition one bit at a time. Firstly: “Free choice.” Obviously, free choice means free will, emphasizing the importance of self. Free will means you are not subject to the will of another. Thusly, it remains up to you to choose how you will let your Autism affect your life. And it will affect your life, but how much is for you to determine. There will be “external compulsions,” (more on that later) advice from others along the way, and situations, which may seem confusing, but in the end, you’re the primary decision maker. You can allow Autism consume and dominate your life, or you can choose to master it and use it to your advantage. There really are several positives to being autistic. Keep them in mind going forward. Autism is a part of your life, but it can’t define YOU…you must define IT.

This is not to say that you mustn’t or can’t allow your Autism to play a significant role in your life. After all, it is a part of you, and you have to consider it in all your future endeavors. Merely that it is one part of you, amongst many other qualities that make you who you are…that make you unique from anyone else in the world. As such, combine all those factors, including your Autism, to make an informed and intelligent decision regarding all your actions.

Secondly: “One’s own acts or states.” This is the most important part of self-determination. And perhaps one of the most valuable life lessons anyone, whether they’re autistic or not, will learn. We must all take responsibility for our own actions. Mistakes will be made, that is what it means to be human. But we have to learn from those mistakes first, before doing anything else. To casually disregard them, or even worse, blame them on something else (including Autism), is not an acceptable practice. At some point, we all do things we regret — this is entirely natural. But the difference is, when you have Autism, you may not realize the mistake you’ve made until much later. So…let’s say you’ve just a mistake. What do you do about it now?

It’s important to remember, that these are usually two-sided situations. Because of your Autism, certain things may not become immediately apparent. It is up to you to learn to notice certain social cues/reactions among others, not just yourself. For example, you’re telling a joke or relating an anecdote that you think is particularly funny. Is everyone else smiling and laughing? Do they look annoyed? Uncomfortable? Bored? Pay attention to your audience. Just because you enjoy something, doesn’t mean everyone else will too. It will take you a while to get used to your environment and realize what is and is not acceptable in daily conversation. Just remember to consider your audience. And if you do end up offending others, or making them uncomfortable, taking charge of the situation becomes your next step. Determine WHAT you did, and more importantly, WHY it was wrong. Don’t worry; it’s all part of the learning process.

Finally: “Without external compulsion.” You are the only one who has any control over your life. While it is true we all have to answer to someone, be it a boss, teacher, parent, or counselor, it’s important to remember that while these “external compulsions” certainly have an impact on your life, they no not rule it. They can recommend a course of action, but only you can decide what course you will eventually take, and carry it out. And as with any situation, there will inevitably be peer pressure or coercion from others to make decisions that you may not feel comfortable with. Do what you think is right, and in the end, even if it turns out you were incorrect, if you can explain your decision and stand by it, in the long run, everything will eventually work out.

So, in review: free choice to choose your own actions, actions that you must take responsibility for, and external compulsions that in the long run, may be influential but seldom coercive.

One last thing we’ll discuss in this chapter is whether or not to disclose your Autism. This means whether you outright tell your friends/colleagues/employers that you are autistic or not tell them at all. This is all depending of course on your level of Autism. If you feel you can adapt and function well without anyone needing to know of your Autism (unless of course you feel it’s right to tell someone), then say nothing. Don’t keep it a secret; just don’t volunteer the information right off the bat. Let it come up in casual conversation where you can disclose comfortably if you choose.

However, if you think it’s important for everyone to know you have Autism and feel the need to divulge this information immediately, do it with care and finesse. And be prepared to explain what Autism is, as understanding of Autism in the public eye is still relatively new. And if you do disclose right away, do make sure to express the importance of tolerance and understanding to your audience. Stress that if a mistake is made on your part (or even theirs), that it must be discussed mutually and a solution reached that each side is comfortable with. Otherwise, it could become a frustrating hindrance that may result in further disagreements.

We cannot tell you what course or action to take in your life. That is what self-determination is all about. It is your life to live. Learning, adapting, and growing to accept and utilize your Autism to the best of your ability will make you stronger. We can give you the strategies but only you can implement them. Just remember to stay focused, advocate for yourself and take responsibility for your actions. It won’t be easy, but you will eventually learn to recognize the various social situations you will find yourself in, and make the most informed decision you can about how best to proceed.