Q I am a woman with autism. I have a hard time managing people from the human relations perspective. When they have an issue, how do I uncover what people really want versus the concern they state so that I can help resolve it as a manager?
EILEEN PARKER COZY CALM
A I understand that autism restricts one's ability to show empathy and connect with people on the affective level. A normally difficult communications problem becomes more so in your situation. People are usually reticent in stating workplace concerns, and it is often difficult for managers to understand what people are getting at in a situation charged with some emotion.
I am assuming that the issues at hand are human relations issues.
In many cases managers are able to get at the heart of the issue by reading body language and other non-verbal cues. You may not be able to easily do so. Therefore, you need ways to gather and process information while not making the other person defensive, uneasy or even hostile.
First, listen closely to how the person tells the story of the issue. The facts of the matter will be important to you, so make sure you understand them. Yet, pushing for the facts will most likely make the other person uneasy.
Second, ask him/her to interpret the facts for you.
Ask questions that relate to an understanding of degree of severity of the issue. How does it affect the quality of the person's working life? What resolution would he/she like to see? Are there alternative outcomes that would be desirable? What do you like about them? What don't you like about them?
This line of questioning gives you information that you might not have otherwise picked up from non-verbal cues and would involve the other person in the problem-solving process.
Third, find a trusted adviser who can help you understand the concerns of the employee. This person should be someone who knows you and whom you can trust.
You are in a difficult situation in terms of managing employee relations. Take your time with the communications and find the support you need to enhance your own management effectiveness.
PROFESSOR OF MANAGEMENT,
UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS
OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS