I live in São Paulo, Brazil. I came across your site researching social skills, interpersonal relations at work, etc.

The reason I was researching those items is because I am 41 years old and am stuck in a cycle of losing my jobs every one to two years.

In my most recent job I was a finance treasury manager in charge of a team of 15-20 people (I had to layoff some of them along the way – it was a family-owned, not-so-efficient company before a private equity firm took over).

I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of analysis I had to perform to my boss and could not take time to relate to the team. As time went on I felt that they disliked me, felt insecure, analyzed every word I spoke to other people in the company,  and events led to my discharge.

Nonetheless, I am very competent in finance, but the reason I am always discharged is for interpersonal reasons. My ex-bosses always say what my most recent ex-boss said, “It is not that you raise your voice, but the way you say it, the form.”

It took being fired seven times for me to realize that I have a problem. I have a good heart and I do care for others, so that makes the problem harder to understand.

Now that I am out of my paycheck, I found out that my wife is pregnant. I have other issues in my family currently that make this a very hard time for me, but I am talking to a total stranger oversees.

What could you advise me? I know you do not have much material to work on your response, but in your career you might have come across similar cases.

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5 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    You write about problems that are very very common for people with Aspergers. You are smart, so you are able to get a new job each time, but once you get the job, keeping the job is about social skills.

    Kids with Aspergers get lots of positive reinforcement that being smart makes up for having poor social skills. For example, many people say that if a child gets good grades and is not a trouble maker then the child is doing fine. The problems don’t come to a head for many people with Aspergers until they find they cannot navigate the social demands of an office.

    The feedback your ex-bosses give you is essentially that its not that your yelling but you come across as negative and angry and people feel like you’re yelling. This is very very helpful feedback, even if it’s hard to hear. It’s very difficult for people with Aspergers to self-moderate when it comes to tone; sentiment and feeling come across in non-verbal language, but people with Aspergers don’t get it.

    The best thing you can do is to put yourself in very few situations where you would need to convey sentiment and tone at work. This means you need to work by yourself, rather than managing people.

    Also, you need to have very clearly defined tasks so you don’t need to ask for help and clarification. This is because people with Aspergers are literal, and receiving work assignments is usually not literal — there are gray areas where you need to use your judgment. (For example, people cut corners all day long at work, which is totally fine, but someone with Aspergers is too literal a thinker to understand how to cut corners without offending people.) If you have a job that is clearly defined and repetitive enough that there are not a lot of gray areas then you are more likely to be able to do the work without talking to people.

    As for your home life situation, your wife should read about Aspergers. There are negatives she will have to live with — you will not be the high earner she had anticipated, and you will not be able to modify your behavior based on her requests. But there are positives as well: you will never lie or cheat or be intentionally mean because these are all complicated interpersonal skills that someone with Aspergers can’t handle internally.

    The more you know about Aspergers the more you will be able to live with it successfully.

    Good luck.

    Penelope

  2. Leonie
    Leonie says:

    My heart really goes out to this guy.

    It’s hard to explain, but however difficult it is to navigate the social landscape with aspergers in the U.S. – it is a million times more complicated in Brazil as the social demands are amplified.

    I’m Brazilian and I’ve only worked in the U.S. but I also had a really hard time keeping a job in the past. Right out of college I wanted to work in international development and save the world. And so did every other girl with a liberal arts degree. So, instead of competing with everyone for the popular program jobs, I applied for the development route and got hired. It was a great learning experience, mostly because at high giving levels every single aspect of donor communication is recorded and analyzed. It’s about building relationships and I finally began to understand what was expected in social interactions, mostly because it was presented in a format that made sense to me: data.

    Aside from the access to the interactional data, I hated the work.

    It was exhausting, but I learned the foundation of getting along at work. (I made checklists about how many times I had to say hello to coworkers before I could go to my desk, how many lunch dates I had to have per week, how long to maintain eye contact before looking away, I practiced mirroring the body language of the person I was talking to, I made sure to have at least one good friend everywhere I worked, I smiled a lot, etc.)

    The thing is, for most people the data part is the difficult part and the people part is the “fun” part of the job. I don’t think the letter writer should give up on being a high earner. He just needs to find a job that’s not in management. There are lot’s of those! Focus on your analytical skills. If you can, apply for a Science without borders fellowship in the U.S. Maybe the timing is bad because he’s about to have a baby, but it’s worthwhile to note that bad social skills in Brazil will likely translate to mediocre social skills in the U.S.

    (For what its worth, I’m now working on a masters in statistics while I stay home with my first baby. I’m much happier)

  3. Rick
    Rick says:

    I’ve been relieved of the burden of employment nine times in my career. About half of those were just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the there were me doing or saying something self-sabotaging. I’ve managed to keep my current job largely by keeping a low profile, but that doesn’t work in all organizations!

  4. Gabriella
    Gabriella says:

    Yeah, I just lost mine and I have no idea what I did. I told the company I was Aspergers but they just don’t get that I need to be alone in my own lab.

    I worked for a defense contractor in Tallahassee. I’m a very experienced technician and I get bullied but don’t know how to stop it. I also am often used as the scapegoat so take blame for things I had nothing to do with.

    I was recently put on involuntary indefinite suspension and they said if I come near the place I would be arrested. I’m being treated like a terrorist and have no idea what I have done that could possibly be that bad to throw me out with no reasons or paperwork.

    My HR rep had just left her position so I had no rep available when this happened. I was set up and I think they are going to try and say that I quit and that’s why they took my badge.

    I was hired several years ago as a salary tech in a union shop and became a target right away. They just don’t understand that I need a private lab. They have tons of them there but won’t give me one?

    I’m going back to Austin. I seem to do better there cause I’m understood, thanks to the university.

  5. Gabriella
    Gabriella says:

    Update
    I’m in Austin looking for work and a small family oriented team To work with.
    I do better with small or midsize companies and teams.
    I may have found a perfect shop where I can be part of a smaller team and grow with the company.
    I have good skills and think I will do fine in this smaller place
    I’m much more relaxed and happy in Austin now.
    I’m feeling no stress and talking to my friends and past co-workers here.
    This is a much better environment for me.
    The culture here is healthier too.

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