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I have Asperger's Syndrome. I'm an aspie. I am naturally inclined to say things literally and take things literally, but I have learned most neurotypicals communicate differently, and as a minority, it's up to me to adapt where I can, so I do my best to learn typical non-literal implications. That goes both ways.

Sometimes, I say something, and people believe I implied something else. This may lead to conflict. I may get annoyed at the other because I perceive they aren't listening properly. They might get annoyed at me because they perceive I'm being dishonest. Perhaps it's even related to this elusive term passive-aggressive that I've never quite understood. A classic if somewhat constructed example:

Them: You said you like X
Me: I did not say I like X
Them: Oh, so you don't like X?
Me: No, I did not say I don't like X. Actually, I like X.
Them (annoyed): But you just said you didn't say that!

Although this example is somewhat artificial, there are many examples in the daily world where poor communication may cause conflict.


Another example, from the real world:

Ten years ago, a young woman I knew from university asked if she could sit on my bike rack, and I answered she was too heavy, as my bike rack doesn't like more than 30 kg or so.

I don't remember if I said the part about the maximum weight for my bike rack, but as an engineer, she should understand. I'm bad at reading non-verbal communication and I was unable to understand her response, I may have said something wrong.

I am aware that there is a cultural attitude against telling women they are too heavy, but rationally there should be no insult in telling an adult woman her mass appears to be more than 30 kg and that the bike won't like it, in particular, if she is an engineer. It's true. And it was only a 500-meter walk anyway.

If I kept a diary I could probably list dozens, if not hundreds, of examples.

In hindsight, I may be able to think of ways I could have formulated it differently, but I'm not sure if My bike won't like that would have had a very different effect.


Question

My question here is not about those specific examples, but more broadly:

How can I communicate more clearly that I really just meant what I said, and did not mean to imply anything else?


Note and clarifications

  • I am currently in the United Kingdom. I have previously lived in The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and Canada.

  • I experience the scenario described above offline and on the internet and with people from those countries as well as Brazil, Korea, Thailand, United States, Australia, and elsewhere.

  • I believe it's more an Asperger thing than a location-based culture thing.

  • 10
    The problem with the artificial example is that it requires people to understand a bit of formal logic, and most don't. So it's not that they have a problem with you being literal, it's that they genuinely don´t know the difference between "I never said I like X" and "I don't like X". – Erik Aug 30 '17 at 18:49
  • This may be related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/591/… – Vylix Aug 30 '17 at 19:11
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To me, it does not sound like a pure Asperger thing: I have never been diagnosed with anything, but make the same mistake (not communicating clearly what I want to say). But from what I know about autism disorders it can definitely make communicating worse, and if my answer does not work for you, feel free to let me know. It is mostly based upon improving by practising and feedback, and I have not enough knowledge about Asperger's to know if that is possible for you. But here is what works for me:

  • People that know me better (say, co-workers for daily interactions, family, neighbours, friends) know that I am not always clear in my communications. With most of them, I had a serious talk about this, and proposed to them that if they think I am 'doing it again', they just repeat what I just said back to me, but in their own words/interpretation. This makes for constant exercise and after a few years I have improved a lot in thinking before I talk, and thus me being imprecise is happening less and less.
  • Then there is the category of people that I have just met, that don't know about my quirks, but with whom I might have to interact more often (new colleagues or class mates for example). In some cases, they realise something is off about my way of communication, but most of the time, it is me that realises it after 10 minutes/1 hour/a good nights' sleep. I always make it a point to go back to these people, explain to them that although I said so and so, I later realised this could imply thus-and-thus for them. I apologise (just a polite 'I'm sorry if this offended/hurt you in any way'), explain my quirk and a.) Either ask them to adhere to bullet no. 1 or b.) Leave it at that for now, but return to the decision-making process when things happen again.
  • And if I am just talking to a stranger on the bus, and later realise that 'Oh, our conversation might have fallen short because I said so-and-so', I try to formulate a better way for myself, learn from it (archive it) and leave it at that, since there is no apologising to strangers you only meet once.

For your first example of 'not liking X', Eric's comment is spot-on: Most people do not understand the difference between 'I never said I like X' and 'liking X'. The best way to respond to these situations would be to either not stop your sentence after 'I never said I like X' or to rephrase the response:

I never said I like X out loud, but you are right, I do.

I don't remember saying I like X to you. You are right however, I do. Did someone else perhaps tell you I like X?

This provides a little more context than just an 'I never said that'. For me, it took years of practice (even in my head), some coaching and lots of situations to create such an arsenal of 'standard' replies.

In the bike-rack case, I would have gone back to the person as soon as I realised my mistake, and just state that the bike-rack says it only holds up to 30 kilo's, and I was just not willing to put her in danger. The last part here is a subtle form of flattery, and makes her think you care about her enough to not put her in danger. That part works well in other situations too, so it is also part of my 'standard arsenal of expected communications'

(I could have made the same mistake, by the way. I always assumed bike-racks these days can't hold more than 30 kilo's and I would have assumed this general knowledge, at least in the Netherlands).

  • 2
    This is a pretty solid answer. And @gerrit, I also think the girl and the bike rack scenario is not directly related to Aspberger's although, like tinkeringbell said, it may be thus exacerbated. You have to forgive me for finding some humor in the story as it actually sounds like a familiar experience for me and many of my male friends. The logical (thing that supports X weight - far below that of average human - should not be burdened with human weight) is rarely going to get one out of a sticky situation like this. Self-deprecation and/or apologies are a far better bet ;) – A.fm. Aug 30 '17 at 21:12
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    I'm pretty slow and by the time I realised it may have been the wrong thing to say it was days later, she's probably forgotten! – gerrit Sep 1 '17 at 0:41
  • @A.fm.: Well Aspergers isn't just about being different. Also a lot of things aspies struggle with are problems some NT's struggle with aswell. It is the sum of such problems that outlines the real problem, and by the sum of that the implied lack of "tools" to face these problems. And the deggree of trouble this question is creating for me personally is definately related to Aspergers. Especially as this specific question is an open pandoras pox for me and my therapist for over a year now already and we haven't come to a point it being handable for me. – dhein Oct 4 '17 at 11:38
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This question reminds me of 80% of my arguments with former partners... Mostly joking there, but sadly accurate.

Me: It really irritates me when you X.
Them: So what you mean is, "I shouldn't XYZ".
Me: No, what I mean is "It really irritates me when you X."
Them: So, what about Y and Z?
Me: Who said anything about Y and Z?

I'm an aspie too, if that wasn't obvious at this point...

So much of neurotypical communication is implied that many people see implied statements where none were intended, which obviously skews the noise to signal in a lot of interactions.

To deal with this I've, more or less, learned to mimic the speech patterns of the people I communicate with on a regular basis and I generally insist on doing business in print. (I find written communication a lot clearer and less prone to this sort of problem.)

When it comes to in person communication, I try to acknowledge that all people have this issue from time to time, which takes away some of the frustration. Asking for and offering clarification is a "normal" part of human communication. No need to be overly concerned if the message gets garbled in translation. It happens.

Them: You said you like X.
Me: I did not say I like X.
Them: Oh, so you don't like X?
Me: No, I did not say I don't like X. Actually, I like X.
Them (annoyed): But you just said you didn't say that!
Me (apologetic): Sorry, I like X, I just don't remember ever saying that.

Mimicking speech patterns is helpful, because it helps me to speak the language of the listener a little bit better. Trying to word things the way neurotypical people do takes a lot of listening and practice, but it helps. As does anticipating their next move... Neurotypical people take this verbal chess game for granted, but we usually have to work at it a little bit.

Using your example:

Them: You said you like X.
Me: I like X well enough, but I don't think I ever said so.
Them: Oh, maybe I was thinking about someone else.

When it comes to people I'm close to, I usually try to explain the mental chess game that's required for me to appear "normal" and how exhausting it can be at times. It seems to help them understand that I'm really trying to communicate well, it's just not as intuitive for me.

  • Could you give some more insight on HOW you explain it to people you are close to? And what exactly you mean by that "chess game". This is a very significant problem I have and I tried to explain this quiet often to those who are close to me, but never felt like they got it. If I get too much into detail by being precise enough to avoid any implication like "I really don't intend to call you X. Just the fact you do Y why I connect with X makes me ask my self why don't you consider your self X?" generates the annoyed response "So you think I'm X?" just omitting the first sentence..... – dhein Oct 4 '17 at 11:56
  • .... But just saying "If you don't identify with X, how it comes you do/have?" Also isn't generating the response I would hope for. The problem for me is all this seems so specific that I can't find a general pattern I could explain up front, so I always only can clarify afterwards.... So maybe more detail onto that would be great... I even would post a question so you could put that as an answer there, but..... I can't even really put into words what I'm asking here for, so... maybe could you do me that favor? >.< – dhein Oct 4 '17 at 11:56
  • @dhein I believe the thought about the chess game is that as someone on the autism spectrum, we have to think about our conversations at least 3 moves ahead if we're going to come through them unscathed. But at least 7 moves ahead if we want to end up where we intended. This chess game is why I spend most conversations with more than one other person silently observing, and when I do have something to say, it's about something from 10 minutes ago. – Ed Grimm Feb 7 at 1:59

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