Tips from an Aspie for Success in the Workplace


By Sam Farmer

Considering my Asperger’s diagnosis, I feel very fortunate to have had a wealth of career successes over the years. As a result, I have much to share regarding what has contributed to this success. Hopefully at least some of what I have to say proves to be beneficial to you with respect to your employment situation – though please note that if your line of work differs significantly from the work I have done over the past 20 years (technology sales), some of my tips may seem less relevant to you than others.

You will see that throughout this post, I frequently use words like “notice,” “be aware,” “learn,” “consider,” and “understand.” These actions are universal to all workplace environments.

Be Social

  • Say “Hello” and “How are you?” to your co-workers on a regular basis, and say these things with sincerity. How you say things matters significantly more than what you say. True, these phrases are clichés, but then again, they are clichés because they are always said and are therefore widely accepted.
  • When somebody asks you how you are, say “I’m fine,” “doing fine,” or something along these lines, even if you are not doing fine.
  • If there is one, eat your lunch in the lunchroom or cafeteria, not at your desk. Be among your co-workers, don’t isolate yourself.
  • Do not initiate conversations that involve politics and/or religion. Most folks agree that these two subjects should not be brought up in the workplace.
  • When you are having a conversation with a co-worker, lean towards her, stay still and maintain good eye contact. These gestures show that you are actively listening to her.
  • Be aware of co-workers’ body language that suggests that a conversation should wrap up, for example: loss of eye contact or body movements that indicate boredom or impatience, etc.
  • People are drawn to other people who look happy and are repelled by people who look unhappy or depressed, so smile when you are around your co-workers, even if you are not in a happy mood. Don’t be ashamed of faking it!

Be Likeable

  • Treat your co-workers the way you would want them to treat you.
  • Ask your co-workers questions that invite them to talk about themselves and others who are close to them. People love to talk about themselves and what matters most to them. For example: “How was your [weekend, vacation]?” “What does your [husband, wife] do?” “What do you enjoy doing outside of work?”
  • Learn what you can about your co-workers by listening to them speak to others and by asking them questions, then put what you have learned into a “personal file” for each of them. As you grow the personal files over time, you will have more to talk about with your co-workers.
  • Be aware of how busy other co-workers are around you. If a co-worker is intensely focused on a task, refrain from saying anything to her. Doing so will distract her from what she is working on and people do not like being sidetracked, even for a split second. Instead, talk to co-workers during their lunch breaks, when you run into them in the hallway, or when it is obvious that they are not absorbed in their work.
  • There are lots of simple, easy things that you can say or do every day in the workplace which will go a long way towards you becoming likeable to your co-workers. A few examples:
    • Say “thank you” to your co-workers after they say or do something that warrants it. A heartfelt    “thank you” means much more than a quick “thanks.”
    • Say “bless you” every time somebody sneezes.
    • Hold the door open for people who are about to pass through.
    • Stop the elevator for a co-worker wanting to get on.
    • Bring appealing things in to share with co-workers (a dish that you cooked, cookies, chocolate, etc.).
    • Send an article to a co-worker that you think she will appreciate.
    • When you notice a co-worker having a hard time with something, offer to help.
  • Work hard! Hard work doesn’t guarantee that your co-workers will like you, though being lazy and slacking off on your responsibilities will adversely affect your likeability if others notice, and other co-workers will notice.

Be a Team Player
There are many workplace behaviors that relate to the “team player” concept. Here are a few:

  • When collaborating with co-workers as a team, think about what you can do to make your team members’ jobs easier. In other words, offer to help them or ask them if they would like help. If they accept assistance, they will likely be grateful to you for your efforts.
  • Learn your co-workers’ strengths and preferences. Be aware of these when you ask them to do something so that they feel good about themselves and look good to their co-workers when they do what you asked them to do.
  •  You can listen as well as you can talk. Try to balance the two. Listening to others with whom you work closely shows that you care about what they have to say. Listening becomes particularly important when working closely with co-workers/colleagues who have more experience and longevity at the workplace than you.
  • Consider how your co-workers prefer to communicate. Some folks prefer email, largely because it doesn’t demand an immediate response, allowing them to respond to you in their own time and in their own way. Others prefer a phone conversation or face-to-face interactions over email because these modes of communication are more personal and often lead to meaningful outcomes faster in comparison to emailing back and forth.
  • Show your appreciation of your co-workers’ efforts towards shared goals.
  • Be flexible. In other words, learn to step outside your comfort zone when effective collaboration with co-workers demands that you do so. Stepping outside your comfort zone often entails supporting your co-workers’ ideas even when you don’t agree with them.
  • Resist the temptation of self-promotion. Think and speak in terms of “we” or “us” rather than “I” or “me.” For example, say “we made it happen” instead of “I made it happen” to other co-workers, even when you are referring to a team accomplishment to which you contributed the most or which you alone initiated.

When You are New to the Job . . . 

  • Admit it! If you do so, others are more likely to be more patient with you when you make a mistake.
  •  As soon as you feel comfortable with your responsibilities at work and with the day-to-day work routine, stop saying that you are new to the job. Co-workers will not tolerate you playing the “I’m new” card forever.
  • Be willing to accept constructive criticism and follow through on that criticism. Understand that all people, to varying extents, are critical, even if they don’t come across as being so. Don’t let this bother you; accept it!
  • Do not expect to be respected and trusted as soon as you walk into a new job. Respect and trust must be earned. Being social, being likeable, being a team player and working hard will eventually result in your co-workers respecting and trusting you, though it may take some time.
    Look for ways to compensate for your challenges
  • In order to do this, you need to know what your challenges are. For example, over the years, I have found that I move slower than most others do at completing a given task or project, and therefore, I require more time to do so. I also know that I have auditory processing-related challenges whereby I struggle to keep up with all of the details that are said to me for the first time during a conversation.
    • Thankfully, my line of work (computer technology sales) allows me to compensate for these difficulties. As long as I meet project deadlines, I am free to put in all of the time I need in order to achieve success. As for missing details brought up during a conversation, I can email my clients or co-workers lists of questions that ask for all of the information I require in order to complete a project, and, through email, I can ask for verification of facts that I thought I heard correctly during a conversation but which I’m not 100% sure I heard correctly.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit your challenges to your co-workers. If they are aware of these, they are more likely to give you leeway when you need it than would otherwise be the case.

Use Methods for Alleviating Stress

  • The occasional deep breath can work wonders in terms of letting go of built-up stress. When you exhale, imagine that all of the stress in your body floats away with your breath.
  • Take regular breaks away from your desk or wherever you do your work. If necessary, schedule these breaks so that they become routine and are therefore not forgotten.
  • Take a walk. If the weather is nice, walk outside. Otherwise, take a stroll around the office and say hi to your co-workers along the way.
  • If it isn’t against the rules, listen to music while working, though keep the volume down so that you and others around you aren’t distracted.

Work Hard and Work Smart

  • Success in the workplace depends more on being social, being likeable, and being a team player than on anything else, though this does not mean that you can get away with slacking off on your work when you are strong in these other areas. I have found that these interpersonal skills and hard work are all very important and have all been directly relevant to my career success story.
  • Working hard and working smart involve all of the following: meeting all deadlines, being on time for all meetings and conference calls, following through on all commitments and promises that are made to customers and to co-workers, bringing intelligence and thoughtfulness to the fulfillment of all tasks, attention to detail, and taking pride in pursuing excellence (as opposed to barely getting the job done while meeting the minimum requirements or expectations).

If you work with somebody you do not like or who appears to not like you . . .

  • Accept it, deal with it and rise above it!
  • Understand that nobody can satisfy everybody else.
  • Bite your tongue. The consequences of saying something about this could be serious, particularly if the person involved is popular.
  • Stay strong, focus on your work and do your best to treat the person the way you would want to be treated despite how he/she is treating you. Be the bigger person!
  • Understand that some people might distance themselves from you until they have become more familiar with you. As a result, they may appear to dislike you when this is actually not the case, and they may warm up to you later.