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Navigating Different Communication Styles


Hi, everyone. I'm going to talk about different communication styles and what that means. I'm talking a lot from a personal perspective and also based on a little bit of research that I have dong. And go straight into it. About me. We had my intro.

Which people ask me who I work for I like to use Facebook relationship status, it's complicated. I'm employed by Microsoft but I work for GitHub, that happened weird reasons which is kind of fun. I'm autistic. I've really enjoyed the conversation so far. There's a couple times kind of self-identification as neurodiverse.

It's taken me a long time to say I'm autistic. I want through levels. I used to say I might be autistic, I think I'm autistic. So my journey came from my daughter's diagnosis which was very similar.

So I went through a journey with her and it made me realize that a lot of my problems growing up stemmed from autism. I have coping mechanisms, I'm an adult and I've learned ways to deal with my life and I don't feel like I need a diagnosis to be able to same I'm autistic. That's lovely. I've watched a lot of Star Trek during the pandemic, my wife and I started rewatching it and we just finned IDS9. There's a lot of Star Trek pictures. I tried to pick them for specific reasons. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to know why. I work for accessibility team at GitHub. It's rewarding interesting complicated job and I also have aphantasia. That's where you can't see pictures in your mind. My thought patterns are in head, my own voice talking. If it's not a phrase, it is now. What do I mean by a communication difference? I'm going to talk a lot about behaviors. I'll talk about why is that on the next slide but eye contact and voice. I will talk about difficulties that might be caused by difficulties in communication. Just a trigger warning, there's lots of pictures of people on these slides. Some may appear to be looking directly at you. Sometimes people are less comfortable with eye contact than others. If that's the case, be aware. I was communicating something. Speeches were the words spoken. It's obviously just a study with statistics so a different conversation is going to have different levels. But it is very clear that nonverbal communication is super important. The reason that's important to understand, I think, is that for example, I cannot read body language at all. I am almost is always going to judge you on the words you say. This isn't apply to my way of understanding the world and I find it difficult to navigate situations that have a high proportion of nonverbal communication in them. I'm lucky to pick and choose my social interactions and not have to go into an office every day. I can put my camera here and half my monitor has information on it. So something to be very aware of is eye contact. Not just in person but also online, if I start to feel uncomfortable, I'll look out the window. I'll still listen and talk to you and but I'll be looking at my garden. I've done this myself before my daughter was diagnosed and I learned more about neurodiversity and autism specifically. That is incredibly uncomfortable thing to do I feel guilty that I behaved like that. Just knowing that is important. You shouldn't judge someone because they're not looking you in the eyes, it's not an indication of untrustworthy. It's a physical brain difference that causes problem. Tone of voice is very personal me to me. I'm sarcastic when I'm sincere. If I get enthusiastic about something, I think the emotions become too much sometimes I might sound bored even if I care about something and that's hard to navigate and people find it hard to read tone of voice as well as regulate. Articulate has great articles on these things.

Intensity. There's a phase, special interest. Some people like it. Some people don't. It makes me happy. Star Trek is one of my special interests but I don't have an encylopedic interest. It's not that. I can't keep facts in my head but I can get excited when I talk about special interests, artificial intelligence. I become more intense when I talk about them and that can be over the top and feel -- frightening is the wrong word but it can feel like someone is engaging too much. You can even ask someone to take a step back, I have a problem with boundaries. I need lots of personal space. I've experienced this from both sides. Communicating your barriers is very important. This is a Star Trek picture that I feel conflicted about putting because obviously Data is a Android and I shouldn't relate to him. But there are episode where he is literal and that makes me feel seen.

One of the things I feel personally is when I feel something literally and it's taken as a nonliteral thing. That can lead to --

stimming is an interesting thing, that is move to indicate you're stressed or excited or calm yourself down.

I can do this. I will touch my face in places. One of the things if I catch myself doing it, the conversation will be solely what I'm talking about or what I'm listening to and it will also become about how many times I'm doing the thing that I've noticed I'm doing. This is also true with eye contact. It becomes about how many times have I looked at this person? Have I looked at them too long. Will should I look at them again? Am I appearing to behave like a human being. That distracts you from the conversation. On a call when I'm working remotely, immediately takes me away from that worry. So that I ask concentrate on what's being said and what I'm Hank and what I want to say. That helps me to navigate that problem.

Stimming on the other hand is a different thing.

You need to be more accepting of people making strange motions or doing things that you might not expect. Things like that. Because often we can't help it. Over time like most of communications happen from the top and so underneath here, you can't see what I'm doing. I have developed stims that I can do that you can't see but, if you meet me in person you might notice those and just accepting that's a thing and it's fine. That's helpful for me. We've got fiddling. I've noticed a few of these on calls and also on some of the presentations and talks today. I really like fiddly things.

I will share some on my desk this is made of metal and a lot of fiddly things are sensory. This gets cold and I hold it and that's really good. I have infinity cube. I like it. I have magnets and I can tick those around. Will I can put one-on-one side of my hand and I can put one-on-one side. Rubik's cube. Loads of squishy things. You what am I saying about this? What am I saying? If I'm fiddling with something or paying attentions to something, really interested to see Kevin talking about something similar on a previous talk. It's perfectly okay, I'm still listening to you. I'm still paying attentions. It could be helping me to pay attention and give everything to this discussion. Just accept that it's a thing.

This leads us to the double empathy problem. It's a term coined to describe the difficulty in autistic community. It probably has implications outside of that. I've had my manager say you do have empathy. It turns out I do. But empathy very specifically for people that I can understand and identify with. I find it hard to have empathy with people who are not neurodiverse. Double empathy problem is that both groups are empathetic but they struggle to empathize with each other. I'm going to use the term "normal people." Let's use nonneurotypical people. That's a better term. They will be more othering of neurodiverse communities

And inside the community is incredibly supportive. Empathetic or lovely. We have a group called neuroscats at GitHub and a friendly, welcoming and helpful place. It's an interesting phenomenon. I think it's a natural thing. It's a thing autistic people don't have empathy. We can try to take a step back and think about seeing things through their eyes. I think that helps. Now we're going to talk about communication preferences a little bit. Hooray for remote work. My life got infinitely better the moment I stopped going into an officer day, I like meeting people in person. Occasionally on my terms. Once or twice a week, that's my peak." Will fault back to talking to someone asynchronously on code and we have pings back and forth and I find that productive and useful and forces people to be direct and clear. People tend to be more literal. I would opt for a ping first and then video and then voice. That would be my preference. And you can ask people. We'll touch on what managers can do. Something I have spent time improving. I think the biggest advice I can give is try to be kind to yourself. I used to think I was the calmest least angry person in the world and then I had kids and discovered that I was the most repressed pushing down my anger person in the world. The minute I let all that go and started to be kind to myself, I discovered a whole new world. If you get one thing from this talk, be kind to yourself and those around you. I attached a lot of blame to myself for communicating badly or taking literally. And I think a very important message. If you misunderstand someone, no one is to blame. Seek clarification. Take misunderstandings with a light heart and try to laugh about it if you can. Also try to be honest as often as you can. You have to be psychologically safe to be honest with people. "think it important. Tips and tricks for managers, psychological safety. This is such an important thing for culture of a company, a team. Creating a culture where people can be honest. Tips on specific ways of communicating. Don't say, "Can we talk" or "Do you have a minute?" I'll always think I'm being fired. Always say I want to talk about this thing. How is your schedule looking between now and this time? If you ask me, I will think you want to talk about something immediately most important thing in the world and I'm in trouble. Whereas, if you say I want to talk about something specific and you need to talk to me about by a particular date, I can prioritize. I can prepare in my own head. And that's all good. You ask for a preferred way to talk about something. My manager might say I need to talk about this and by this time. And finally, act with patience and kindness. Some summary, be kind and honest, assume good intentions. Sometimes that's not possible. Learn about yourself. People are different and that's a good thing. Embrace differences, thank you for putting on this amazing conference, it's been great.