Autism at Work: How to Meet a Meeting in the Middle

I Don’t Love Meetings

When employed, I have to drag my autistic self to meetings at work. I could love meetings, but I don’t. I could love them if they were efficient, productive and to the point.

But they aren’t, so I don’t.

I could also love meetings if everyone came prepared, had a common goal and conducted the meeting at the meeting. (Anyone else ever attend a meeting where all decisions had been made at a pre-meeting?)

I may be able to love meetings if attendees had the same level of focus I bring with me. Doesn’t everyone love an intently focused meeting attendee? (The saying shouldn’t be “laser focused,” it should be “with the focus of an autist” – ok, it doesn’t roll off the tongue, but I think it indicates something sharper.) What is the point of attending a meeting you don’t truly care about? If you don’t care, why come?

Also, people attend meetings. Sometimes a few people, sometimes a lot of people. But there are people. Don’t get me wrong here, I actually like spending time with people, I just have a limit and spending time with people in poorly run meetings may push that limit.

I can’t be alone in having these feelings. You can act like these things don’t bother you, but I bet they really do, at least at some level.

What may make me unique is my extremely low tolerance level for the issues that come with them and an unfortunate willingness to share my feelings about them (politely, of course!!).

I know meetings are necessary and can be good.

I recognize that meetings provide opportunities for things like sharing ideas, distributing information and relationship building. They just also come with the potential for waste, distraction and conflict if not run well. I am a huge proponent of well-run meetings, I just find that most are not. My autism does not slow me down much at work, but when put in the context of meetings, it is front and center.

There’s more.

Meetings Don’t Love Me Either

Others don’t always love me at meetings. (Hard to believe after the description up above, right??) They could love me at meetings, but they don’t.

They could love me if I opened with some small talk and eased into the content of the meeting rather than jumping in with both feet. (Yep, I am totally a jumper!)

They could love me if I participated in the meeting and appeared to collaborate rather than waiting until I felt I had the solution and then shared my vision. (I don’t usually comment until I see things go a direction with which I disagree or I feel some level of confidence I have an efficient and elegant solution to a problem (at least as efficient and elegant as possible). This tendency to hang back has the disappointing result of making me appear either negative or arrogant. The exception to this behavior may be brainstorming. Even I love a solid brainstorming session!!)

They could love me if I had the patience for the standard thirty to sixty minute meeting. (Couldn’t a high percentage of meetings really be conducted start to finish in ten to fifteen minutes? Planning and preparation people!)

But reality rules, and if I want to work, I have to be able to survive meetings and I have to be able to work well with others.

How to Meet a Meeting in the Middle

So what do I have to do?

  • Develop a conscious awareness of my issues at meetings, which may change from one context to another. (See above, I may have issues.)
  • Understand that my level of preparedness and that of others varies. (I am still coming prepared. No one needs to see me twitch which is what would happen if I was not prepared!)
  • Help the meeting organizer (if it is not myself) or the team determine a common goal.
  • Encourage others who try to meet with me outside of the meeting to bring their platform before the group and encourage the group to communicate fully rather than politicking for positions individually prior to the meeting.
  • Schedule my day to accommodate the amount of “people time” I am going to have with an emphasis on important meetings. (I do have a system of categorizing my life that helps.)
  • Embrace the gentle meeting opener. ((I am groaning inside even as I write this point.) If everyone arrived early at the meeting like I inevitably do, they could chat prior to the meeting and the meeting could begin on time and on topic. (Just the thought makes me smile!))
  • Share my preliminary thoughts and ideas and my method for arriving at my conclusions rather than skipping points and just announcing the results of my thought processes. (I have had to really work on this skill. My autistic brain likes to jump around and I all too frequently just share my conclusions. Check out how I came to understand how to breakdown my communication with other adults.)
  • Negotiate with others regarding the most appropriate meeting length. (All meetings do not have to be thirty to sixty minutes. Ten to fifteen minutes can really move a project forward if well-spent. Thirty to sixty minutes or more may be necessary if the topic or exercise warrants it in which case, I am all for it!!)

A Meeting that Works

So how does this translate into my meeting performance?

Here is a simple example. Recently after a performance review, I had a meeting with two co-workers about transitioning their department to a new data tracking tool. Hungry to get to the meat of the meeting, I jumped right in and began. Hearing the voice of my boss in my little autistic head, I stopped and told my co-workers that I was supposed to engage in small talk with others and, blushing with embarrassment, asked them how their day was going.

Because I was well-known for being intense and focused, this abrupt departure from my norm was met with amusement, my co-workers acknowledging between chuckles the effort I had to put into backing up and starting over.

Turns out they too wanted to skip the fluff and get at the substance of the meeting!! What a joy!! A quick minute to make fun of myself enabled us to break the ice, further our relationship, and productively attack the content of the meeting. How long did the meeting last? About fifteen minutes. Perfect! (If you need me I will be at the watercooler chatting it up!!)

It turns out that I can participate in the meetings in a way that makes them better for me and makes me better for them!

She can meet a meeting in the middle with Her Autism!!!

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  1. Fred December 3, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    What does this have to do with me dealing with autism in my daughter- she doesn’t work. Can we have help with dealing with real, everyday problems I have with her?

    • Heather December 3, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      Hey! Thanks for your comment! I wrote this in recognition that there are people with autism of all ages doing all types of things! If you have specific questions shot me a note on our contact page, and I will try to write some posts to address them! We are just getting started, and I look forward to hearing from you about what you need and how we can help!

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