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As an autistic person, I have noticed that when I speak directly, in a flat voice; often this can be perceived as threatening or trying to challenge the status quo - when I'm simply asking for the purpose of understanding.

My Goal:

My goal is to improve my communication with the neurotypical (NT) people in my life and find some way to rephrase questions and statements so that my intention accurately comes across, rather than being misunderstood.

Some Examples of what I mean:

Me: Why do you feel that way?

How it gets perceived by NTs: You're psychoanalyzing me.

How I mean it: I seek to understand how you are feeling to connect with you empathetically.


Me: What if we did it that way?

How it gets perceived by NTs: You disagree with the ways I'm currently doing it. I take offense to you requesting to one up me by suggesting a better solution than mine.

How I mean it: I value improvement within the process. I can think of many possibilities, and it could be worth trying it out, although there is nothing currently wrong with the way we are doing it; maybe better solutions do exist.


Me: So, you're feeling angry because your core need of connecting with others is unmet?

How it gets perceived by NTs: Why are you trying to be my therapist and solve my issues for me when I just want to vent?

How I mean it: I am trying to empathetically connect to you, understanding your feeling and core needs, so that we can align on shared core needs and so that you might feel better.


Me: offers a solution to a problem an NT has presented
NT: is resentful that solution is there

How I mean it: Why ask for advice if you don't actually want it?


NT: Asks for advice
Me: Gives advice, NT does not follow said advice, continues to "vent" about problem I have already solved

How I mean it: See above


Me: gives a compliment to someone next to them
NT: assumes that if I compliment one person, that I must be insulting another one. Then seeks to change discussion to shift focus back to them

How I mean it: The world is beautiful. I love commenting on small details about people that I find fascinating. Just because I compliment one person does not mean I'm insulting another, there's more than enough compliments to go around.


Me: If you want me to make dinner alone, I don't mind it, you can go relax

How it gets perceived: Why are you being so condescending? Do you think I'm incapable of making dinner myself?

How I mean it: I'm offering to make dinner for you, because I think you deserve a nice night to relax and not worry about making dinner.


Me: picking up the phone from my NT, NT is very drunk and very angry about something.
Me: What are you angry about?
NT: NT lists off what's making them feel angry and I listen, being very careful not to interrupt
Me: So, you're upset because person "XYZ" said this to you and you felt invalidated by it, and you're angry because your core need of being understood is unmet?
NT: You're right I'm f****** angry, no one cares about me and I do everything
Me: I'm sorry you're feeling that way. Yeah, I know how frustrating it feels when my core need of being understood isn't met.
NT: Is all that you can say, yeahhhhhh?
NT Proceeds to continue cursing on the phone, then decides to hang up

How I mean it: I'd like to set a boundary that I'm unwilling to talk to you in this drunken state, though I do not know the best way of doing that other than validating your feelings, making sure you are in a safe place and not harming yourself or others physically.

This is my attempt to empathetically communicate with your struggles so that you remember you're never alone and I deeply care about you.


Other nuances I have tried

As a result of this miscommunication process, I subconsciously raise my voice when talking to most people. It's a type of masking in the hopes that regardless of what I ask, if I ask it in a friendly tone of voice, people will understand that I am trying to be kind.

It helps a lot - but it is quite exhausting to never be able to use my natural voice without it being misunderstood or sounding "pissed".

It's like resting bitch face but with vocal chords.

So, how can I adjust my communication style while communicating to NTs so that what I am trying to convey comes across clearly?

There is never a time where I am trying to respond to anything in an aggressive way. I simply ask questions to clarify and full understand the social or emotional situation.

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    One example you give is that when you say "What if we did it that way?" it's perceived as "You disagree with the ways I'm currently doing it". Is that not true? Or do you suggest changes to procedures just to suggest changes, regardless of whether you think that they are improvements?
    – DaveG
    Sep 24, 2022 at 0:59
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    I find it hard to understand that all autistic people and all dyslexic people understand you one way and all neurotypical people understand you a different way. And it occurs to me that your thinking of “us” as all in one category of person could be an impediment to communication with “us”. I’m guessing you are not like all other ND people and neither are the people you label all alike. My comment boils down to - maybe you are incorrect that correct labeling is important, maybe labeling in a black and white way is a symptom of the problem. Hope this give helpful food for thought. Sep 25, 2022 at 5:16
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    "Sounding pissed" - in UK English, "pissed" is drunk. "pissed off" is annoyed.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 26, 2022 at 10:23
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    Most NTs react to other NTs the ways you've described. We just wave it off and carry on. We deal with other people being unreasonable because we know we're unreasonable most of the time.
    – Agent_L
    Sep 30, 2022 at 12:35
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    as an asperger myself ... i would re-phrase your responses to be conditional "Could we discuss an alternative"... "I'm not sure if this is important, what would be your view?" or replace "If you want me to make dinner alone, I don't mind it, you can go relax" with "I'm happy to make dinner, why dont you go and relax?". Your responses are very "final", they don't invite further comment. Raising your voice in pitch is not going to help, you need to soften it, if anything. Oct 3, 2022 at 12:20

3 Answers 3

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I have a colleague who is Asperger. I was put in her office because nobody else wanted to share with her, because she's "weird". The first thing she said; "I'm K and I'm autistic. I don't shake hands." Fine by me.

We got on as well as two nerds can. I learned to understand the unusual things she said and did.

One day one of the others said; that K, did you hear what she did? I said; you do know she's Asperger, she can't handle crowds of people and she doesn't understand sarcasm. They hadn't known.

From then they showed a lot more understanding. So you need to bite the bullet and tell people what the problem is. People are mostly good at heart and will accommodate your differences and strengths.

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  • Thanks for sharing! 🙏
    – Kelsey
    Oct 11, 2022 at 15:01
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I think you have to moderate what you say based on who you are talking to and the expectations of that relationship.

You have mentioned a couple of scenarios that make me think this is happening with close friends or a significant other. If that is the case I would recommend finding some time when you are both comfortable to discuss this issue face-to-face. Everyone communicates differently, one hopes that friends and partners should be understanding. Ask them directly what about your line of questioning bothers them. It's also possible that you are reading into their responses in a way that they don't intend.

Furthermore, expanding on what gnasher said, not only are what you say, and what others hear different, what you say, and what you mean are also different. For example:

Me: Why do you feel that way?

How I mean it: I seek to understand how you are feeling to connect with you empathetically.

Aligning what you say and what you mean will give more of the rationale behind your questions, something that seems to be often misunderstood. Perhaps:

I know you're feeling down and that sucks. Can you tell me why exactly you're feeling that way? You're my friend, and I'd really like to understand why you're feeling this way.

In this response, I also included an empathetic comment which can be appropriate even if you don't understand exactly why your communication partner is feeling the way they do.

Regarding your conversations around providing solutions and continued frustration for both parties. Sometimes people complain about a specific problem not because they want the problem solved but because they want some sort of emotional confirmation. I live in a foreign country and I sometimes call my parents to complain about bureaucratic issues. Frequently, I already know the solution, but I still would like to complain and hear a simple "that sounds really frustrating." It's up to you to decide if you want to engage with people in that way or not.

Lastly, using language like “keen to understand" or "core need to connect with others is unmet" comes off as very clinical, cold, and distant. Most people in my friend circle would bristle at hearing that and I would recommend not using it.

As an aside, I found Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, while in many ways dated, very instructive on changing things in my communication style that were inadvertently putting people off.

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    + 1 for noting that ‘ "core need to connect with others is unmet" comes off as very clinical, cold, and distant.’ And weird. Sep 27, 2022 at 7:41
  • Carnegie's book is strange. You can use it in a cynical way to try to manipulate people - I can guarantee that you will be found out and it will backfire. Or you can just take it at face value, practice to be a nicer person, and get the rewards.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 27, 2022 at 8:37
  • @gnasher729 I agree... so much of seems to be used for taking advantage of others, but lots of it is truly helpful advice. For me personally the bit about not having to be right was most useful. Sep 27, 2022 at 14:16
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    @Kelsey that was more of an example. If they do not seem in anyway sad, I wouldn't use it. "That sucks" or "that sounds frustrating" is more generally applicable if you can pick up on that feeling. Again, you don't need to understand the feeling to reply. For the non-work examples, are these close friends or a partner? Sep 27, 2022 at 23:49
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    I think that with with not-close friends perhaps you need to get comfortable with not knowing exactly why someone is feeling that way. The frustrated responses you get might be because the kinds of questions you're asking are somewhat intimate in nature and usually only reserved for close friends (the exact language of how you ask aside). Sep 28, 2022 at 23:41
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The problem is simple: what you say, and what others hear, are not the same thing. In principle, there are two solutions to this (since you won't be able to change what others hear): you either change what you say, or you change their expectations.

If I know you well, then I will know "If I hear Kelsey saying X, then they really mean Y", and there is a good chance that Y is much closer to what you intended me to hear than X.

The first solution is absolutely not simple. It's hard to achieve, and permanent hard work for you. The second is probably a lot easier. Of course it depends on the other person. If a person isn't willing to accept you as you are, there is little you can do. On the other hand, if I got the wrong impression from what I heard, and I realise a minute later or five minutes later what you actually meant, then I can come back to you and any damage in the conversation can be fixed. If you change the way you talk, you have to get it right all the time.

PS. Conversation with a drunk person: that person is drunk. The best conversation would be "You're drunk, go to bed. I'll see you tomorrow". Anything beyond that is much too complicated for a drunk person.

PPS: People taking everything the wrong way: yes, there are people who do that. Often comes with low self-esteem. If you tell certain people that someone else did something well, there is something in the brain, often based on bad self esteem, that makes them hear you saying something bad about them. That has nothing to do with you at all. Anyone else saying the same thing would have the same experience. It's the problem of the person you are talking to.

What you can do: don't give praise to others when this person is there. If they have two coats and you want to say that the one they are not wearing right now looks excellent, just don't say it. It doesn't matter how you say it, it will be taken as wrong. If a friend of yours is happy that they lost four pounds of weight, don't say it to a person who hears "so you are calling me fat". But you need to know who is in that special category; most people would be happy for you to say the same thing.

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  • Really great ideas, thank you so much for the detailed response! Yes, I've been focusing all of my energy in #1 and that's exactly why it's so difficult. Good thinking with the conversation with a drunk person, I'll keep that in mind.
    – Kelsey
    Sep 26, 2022 at 14:48

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