Life Skills: Addressing Annoying Actions

Whether your sensory issues are caused by autism, sensory processing disorder, or any other diagnosis, you know that there are times in the workplace when someone or something triggers a negative reaction. Whether it’s a co-worker whispering to someone next to you (disrupting your ability to concentrate) or a co-worker absent-mindedly clicking a pen (which could be a tic or stimming behavior for him or her), you will want the annoying behavior to stop. Here are some tips on how to discuss not only how you may be feeling, but also how to resolve the irritating behavior.

  • Before doing anything else, take a deep, but inaudible, breath.
  • Politely ask the person who is causing the situation to stop.  For example, you might say, “Excuse me, [name of person]. I don’t know if you aware of this, but [insert behavior] is really bothering me.  Would it be possible for you to stop doing that, please?”
  • One effective trick, especially in a work environment, is to remove yourself from the situation, even if it’s just a trip to the water cooler or the restroom.  This enables your body to reset.
  • If the situation is one that continues or that cannot be resolved to both parties’ satisfaction, you can ask your immediate supervisor to switch desks with someone else in the department. If he/she asks why, a simple comment such as, “The area is too busy” makes your request reasonable without placing blame on your co-worker.

Most work places will accommodate reasonable employee requests, but it is also important to remember that they are not obliged to do so.  Additionally, keep in mind that making multiple requests of this nature is taxing not only on your employer but on your co-workers.  If you ask for understanding too many times, you may come across as entitled or difficult to please, or that your  needs supersede the needs of fellow co-workers.

In reality, it is important for those with sensory issues to remember that you are the one who is affected, and that you are in the minority. While it’s true that a person with sensory issues cannot help how he or she is affected by their disability, the effort to anticipate and control how you react to the actions of others will be seen by your employer as meeting him or her halfway on creating reasonable accommodations.

Here are some other ways you can be proactive in the workplace, as well as elsewhere in public.

  • If you are sensitive to sounds, wear noise deadening headphones if allowed.
  • If you are sensitive to smells, suck on a piece of flavored hard candy helps  as the taste from the candy can sometimes distract you from unpleasant odors.
  • If you are sensitive to touch, politely remind others of this fact.
  • If you are sensitive to light, where sunglasses or consider having your eyewear tinted to reduce light and glare.

Additionally, if you must make a special request of others, remember that you are asking them to do you a favor.  Just as you have the right to have your needs accommodated in the workplace, others also have that same right to have their needs accommodated in that same workplace.  Here are four more suggestions to help resolve the situation.

  • Briefly explain your sensory issue.  Only offer as much information as you feel comfortable sharing as well as enough information to explain the situation.
  • Explain how stopping the behavior that impacts negatively on you would be helpful, not only to you, but to the area in which both of you are working.
  • If the person agrees to accommodate your request, thank him or her.  Remember to be as aware of their needs as they are of yours.
  • If the person reacts negatively to your request, politely thank him or her for his or her time.  If you feel strongly that the behavior cannot be overlooked, speak with your immediate supervisor.  Focus on what is the source of irritation without placing blame either on yourself or the other person.

Sometimes, relationships must be built with others before they will consent to changing their behavior.  If a co-worker initially refuses your request, do not retaliate and treat the other person poorly. Instead, continue to build a positive co-worker relationship with that person and approach the issue at a later date.  At that point, he or she may reconsider your request, see the validity of your request, and change this or her behavior.

Article researched, compiled and written by MIC volunteers, Elyse Bruce, Thomas D. Taylor, and Greg Trutner. 

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