First-class coach

Categorising your boss and yourself in these boxes does neither of you any favours.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: How do I cope with a boss who I suspect has Asperger's Syndrome? I suppose we're at the opposite ends of the spectrum and some people might say I have ADHD. What I want is that he accepts my strengths as much as I respect his - we can't all be the same! Can he meet me half-way or do I have to get the hell out?

A: Packaging up behaviours and giving them a name is sometimes a convenient shorthand, but it can stand in the way of understanding and resolving a problem. I suspect that categorising your boss and yourself in these boxes is an exaggeration that does neither of you any favours and may prove an obstacle to your finding a good solution to what sounds like a tricky situation.

So let's analyse both ends of the spectrum to discover the reality behind the labels. Starting with your boss, what does he actually do that could be classed as symptomatic of Asperger's?

Though often highly intelligent, sufferers from Asperger's Syndrome have difficulty relating to others; they tend to be highly focused on the detail, not always comprehending the bigger picture; and when they don't get what they want their frustration can result in angry behaviour. Which bits of this description sound like your boss? Does he lack emotional intelligence (the ability to understand and manage his own and other people's emotions) and appear not to understand the impact he has on others? Is he obsessed with getting the details right? Does he often have outbursts of ill temper?

If he exhibits all these characteristics, your diagnosis might be right. However, it's unlikely he'll have reached this level of seniority if he consistently behaves this way. More likely, he exhibits mild versions of some or all of the above.

If it's his emotional intelligence (EQ) that's lacking, that can be increased, and you can help him by providing some data input. Some highly task-focused individuals who have paid little attention to the 'people' side of things can become good managers when they turn their attention to acquiring these skills.

Giving your boss feedback about how his words and actions have made you feel will enable him to connect his behaviour with its results. Identify what you find particularly difficult or upsetting and calmly talk through examples with him. Be factual and specific rather than judgmental and vague, and try to model the way you yourself would like to be treated. Let him give you feedback too, so you can gain a picture of how he sees you, and pick up clues on how you affect his feelings. You may find there are things that you could do differently that would greatly improve your working relationship.

You also brand yourself as ADHD. Though also often highly intelligent, sufferers of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder find concentrating for any length of time a problem; they have difficulty organising tasks and they can be noisy and disruptive. If you're like this, it might explain the conflict.

If the tension between you is based on a difference in the degree of attention you give to accuracy, there may be ways of narrowing the gap. He may be a perfectionist but is perhaps prepared to accept the occasional departure from his personal standards. On the other hand, you may be working in a field where 100% accuracy is crucial, so slip-ups cannot be tolerated.

Stand back from the situation and think about your job: what degree of detail does it require, and are you happy to deliver it? I once had a job that involved checking 200 addresses and phone numbers each week, as well as the product specifications of 100 cameras and 50 hi-fi systems. If I got any of these details wrong I would seriously annoy customers, manufacturers and retail franchisees. I was keen to do the job well, but I was useless at it. I don't have the mental wiring for it. When I was offered a job that involved creating things and dealing with ideas, I jumped at it - and was much more effective. Perhaps you'd be happier in a different sort of job or organisation.

But before you jump ship, explore whether, between the polar opposites of your personal styles, there's a middle ground where you can operate together satisfactorily. Some personality profiling for both parties might be a good entry point to a rational exploration of your respective strengths and weaknesses, differences and similarities. It would certainly be more helpful than hiding behind the labels of mental disorder.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail: miranda@firstclasscoach.co.uk.

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