I wasn’t planning on writing another post so soon after spending nearly 10 hours on the previous post (and trying to get over the event of that week). This post is sparked by another incident at work I can’t help but feel frustrated (great start to the week).
I can think of examples at work where my boss or colleague gave instructions which I misunderstood. Although poor communication is a trait of autism, to be honest, I don’t really think it is my fault that I’ve misunderstood the instructions. It is these situations that I wonder to what extent is the misunderstanding due to my autism. I think there are two aspects. First, the instruction is indeed unclear and prone to give rise to confusion for anyone else, autistic or not. Second, am I expect to work out someone’s intention from the instruction? The instruction may be unclear but someone who is not autistic might be better at working out the intention from the unclear instruction. Below is an example, fresh from the oven and piping hot (with burning flame and angry spice), so much so I have to lay it out here for it to cool down.
First off, some background context. We are inviting overseas guests to give a presentation in a conference. I drafted the invitation letters and a copy of these letters were saved together in one single word document. The actual invitations were sent by email (copy and paste from the word document) by my boss to the respective guests. For funds arrangement purposes, the finance department requires a record of our invitations and I was asked to send the invitations to XYZ, the secretary.
#Instruction 1: “Please send a copy of our invitation letter to XYZ.”
What I understood: My first instinct was simply to forward the relevant email to XYZ even though I did wonder for a second, if by ‘letter’, that refers to the email OR the letter format invitations that were saved in the word document. I could have asked but since the instruction pertained to one of the guests only, I simply forwarded the relevant email.
#Instruction 2: “Please send a pdf copy of our invitation letter to XYZ.”
What I understood: PDF? Does that mean my boss doesn’t want the emails but the letter format invitations that were saved in the word document file? But the contents in the word document differed slightly from the actual email invites. However, from previous experiences, it could just be a question of procedure and they want a record of a formal invitation (as opposed to an email). I’ve thought of asking but at the same time, it seems too minor an issue. (Having said that, the whole incident IS a minor issue but as things always seem to turn out, minor details/issues make big difference). Anyway, what I essentially did was to convert the invitations in the word document file into a pdf file and sent it to XYZ.
#Instruction 3: “(Sorry…) Please send the actual email invites to XYZ.”
What I understood: So what I did initially was correct, you do want the actual emails that were sent, not the letter format invitations in the word document? Fine, I’ll just forward the emails to XYZ. There were 9 emails in total and on my way to forwarding the fourth email, I received the following instruction.
#Instruction 4: “Could you save the invites into PDF files and then email one composite PDF file to XYZ?”
What I finally understood (and what my boss meant all along): NOW we’re talking. This is what I call “clear and specific instructions.” Can you see the huge difference it makes? The thing is is it my fault I let this happen? Does she expect me to read her mind? Is it just me having all these problems with communications? Why is communication so fucking hard and why do I always end up like the foolish one? Why can’t people be more specific and clear (especially when they have formed a clear idea of what they want from the beginning)? Should I just refuse to do anything in the future and clarify until I find the instructions clear and specific and leaves no doubt for confusion? Why does communication have to be so damn frustrating? Why is human interaction so annoyingly frustrating they exhaust me? And why is it my mind is so fixated on brooding over it I just can’t seem to let it go? Why do I have to be so difficult?