I tried to teach my autistic boss how to use LinkedIn: it was a disaster.
Jen Blacow Operations Manager, Aspiedent CIC
3rd June 2020
My autistic boss, Dr Elizabeth Guest, is great. I often advertise the fact that she is a genius in many ways and the best boss I have ever had. She has always trusted me to get on with my work and has always kept me in mind when thinking about the direction of our organisation, Aspiedent.
She encourages my professional development, allows me to make mistakes and listens to me. Furthermore, it is clear to me she cares and wants the best for her employees (even if that is not the best thing for her).
She can solve problems nobody else can solve. She is brilliant at understanding and explaining complexity. However, when I tried to teach her how to use LinkedIn: it was a disaster.
Elizabeth has had a LinkedIn page for years, but never done much with it. First of all I spent some time helping her to update her page. She complained that her LinkedIn feed was rubbish. It was just like Facebook which she hates.
So I explained that LinkedIn shows you stuff based on what you have liked and commented on. To her credit, she had a go, but made a real mess of it.
She liked some posts, which was good. But within a couple of days, she had got herself in a complete muddle. She had already potentially upset somebody, and had also received LinkedIn messages from connections which she had no idea what to do with.
‘LinkedIn HELP’ was literally the subject line of her emails to me about this!
It appeared she had tried to provide some useful input in a comment on a blog post. Unfortunately, her autistic brain could not see how this may have come across as unwelcome criticism and was not exactly what the poster might have liked in response to their blog post.
I came to the rescue and tried to do what I class as ‘damage limitation’ by taking over the interaction. Fortunately, the connection was very graceful about this and we are now back on the right foot.
The problem is that I cannot get Elizabeth to understand that LinkedIn is not about critiquing posts, nor about imparting information, but purely about building relationship. And you do not build relationship by criticising people.
This makes no sense to my autistic boss at all. "But don't people want to improve their understanding?" she cries. No we do not. Well, not here on LinkedIn, in public. Instead we want "social oil lies" and to be "verbally stroked".
Social oil lies are her way of explaining what is to her baffling and boring social chit chat. From her point of view, it is all about flattering people by saying things that are not strictly true (social oil lies) and about stroking them with what is to her meaningless conversation (verbal stroking).
My autistic boss has noticed that during social chit chat (including over social media), people share emotions and social chit chat is not so much about imparting information as about making emotional connections.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth has no idea how to make that emotional connection. She struggles with emotions generally and struggles to process emotions that are being gently lobbed in her direction in real time. It normally takes her a few days to process what was going on.
As a consequence she comes across as cold and uninterested, although this is far from the truth. I believe this is one of her greatest autistic challenges.
The idea of making emotional connection via electronic media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media is too much for her. Computers do not do emotions and emoji's do not make sense - she has no idea what emotion most of them are supposed to convey, much less any idea as to how to use them. It is all much too vague and nebulous.
My boss likes information. Her idea of building relationship is to have an intellectual exchange of ideas. That is fun to her - though good luck keeping up with her. I learn something new every time I see her, which is several times a week.
Actually, we ended up turning this situation into a positive in that we better understand why Elizabeth should not be let loose on social media, and I also made a good connection with the blog poster. Furthermore, we have produced this post in a bid to help people understand and hopefully accommodate if Elizabeth misses the mark in future!
It is safe to say though that I will be doing my best to look after Elizabeth's LinkedIn page from now on. She is now under strict instructions to simply like things and make nice comments - and to just ignore anything she thinks is rubbish!
In the meantime, she will continue to use her skills of analysing and explaining complexity and continue to work out autism behind the scenes and explain autism.
Note that not all autistic people have difficulty making emotional connections with people. They have different problems with social interaction.
Contact us for more information about how we can help.,