Professional Asperger’s

I’ve worked with quite a few folks who exhibit what I’ll call Professional Asperger’s.  See if this sounds familiar:

  • You stop by their office to ask a question. They look up with their lips pursed, give you a one-word answer, then return their attention to their computer. Consistently.
  • In a meeting, a co-worker admits to making a mistake. This person literally boggles, and with a clipped tone reprimands the co-worker.
  • A user complains about the workings of a little-used part of the system.  This person complains privately that the user’s “an idiot” or “shouldn’t be using the application if they can’t figure it out.”

Note that I’m not talking about people who are quiet, or who aren’t “people persons.”  There’s a big difference between being quiet or focused, and being outright rude.

And yet…when you go out for drinks with this person, they’re nice and normal and polite.  No problems whatsoever.  They’re downright fun outside of work.

What’s going on?  Why the difference?

I think people have unrealistic expectations of the workplace.  “People should just do their jobs,” they’ll say, with the unspoken addition, “correctly, all the time.”

These people treat co-workers like machines, to an extent.  If a peer says “I think it’ll take 10 days to write this code,” then it’ll be done in 10 days.  If it takes 12, a Professional Aspie will act downright shocked.  We’ve all seen this.

But what can we do about it?  Well, we can accept that our co-workers are humans.  Mistakes will happen.  On your project. Real workplaces are not full of beautiful people wearing business suits, striding purposefully down hallways and Executing every minute of the day. We don’t pull all-nighters and solve the problem by morning; we pull all-nighters to find out why there was a problem so we can submit it for the approval process to be tested in two weeks, if that one guy doesn’t throw a monkey wrench into the situation like he usually does.

We would also do well to think more about our co-workers strengths and weaknesses.  We all love to take personality tests; when did you last apply one to your boss?  Your peers?

That’s all I can think of. What would you do?

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