Q. As a psychologist, I am concerned about a client who is having difficulties at work. “Sharon” holds a technical position and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. She struggles with miscommunication and has gotten into some hurtful arguments with peers during stressful times.
On performance evaluations, Sharon always receives low marks on interpersonal skills. She has shared her diagnosis with her manager, but he does not believe that Asperger’s is the cause of her conflicts. Do you think she should officially notify human resources about her disability?
A. Declaring a disability can be a double-edged sword, so anyone with a “hidden” condition should carefully weigh the decision to go public. On the plus side, an official diagnosis may trigger legal protections, thereby increasing job security. But although it may not be fair, people almost inevitably begin to view the person differently.
In Sharon’s situation, one major consideration is how much control she has over these behaviors. Many technical employees with underdeveloped social skills simply have no desire to master the nuances of interpersonal interaction. If Sharon is capable of improvement, but choosing to be interpersonally lazy, then she needs to make more of an effort.
On the other hand, people with Asperger’s frequently have difficulty reading social situations and responding appropriately. So if Sharon truly lacks these skills, then requesting accommodation for her handicap might be a good idea. However, she should understand that this limitation might disqualify her from assignments where interpersonal aptitude is a necessity.
As Sharon’s therapist, perhaps you could help her determine which behaviors she can change and which she cannot. Once she has the answer to that question, she may find it easier to assess the pros and cons of disclosing her diagnosis.
Q. One of my co-workers has a retired husband who has begun spending a lot of time in our office. Although “Jerry” is quite smart, he also tends to be bossy and intrusive. He constantly evaluates our work and tells us how we can do things more efficiently. How do you handle someone like this?
A. You shouldn’t have to handle him at all, because that’s your boss’s job. Managers are responsible for establishing boundaries, and this fellow is violating a bunch of them. So the real question is why Jerry is being allowed to wander around freely in the first place.
To prompt your boss to address this issue, you and your colleagues should explain that Jerry’s presence is making your work more difficult. Ask your manager to advise both Jerry and his wife that his office visits need to stop. As an employee, she should be held accountable for seeing that her husband complies with this instruction.
But if Jerry’s meddling continues, kindly remember that you have no obligation to respond to his suggestions. If he persists in making comments about your job, simply smile and tell him you’re too busy to talk. Jerry obviously doesn’t have quite enough to do, but his boredom is definitely not your problem.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”