Working in a corporate office can be a minefield for autistics. There are countless unwritten rules of conduct and communication. There are also many written rules that often clash with the needs and expression of those of us with autism. On top of all of that, most offices are a constant barrage of sensory overload. It’s amazing any of us manage to survive the corporate wasteland.
In this vein, I am starting a series about the struggles of surviving the corporate workplace as an undisclosed autistic. Today we start with hallway conversation.
In my office, there is a large hallway I must travel from my desk to the bathroom. Not only must I pass by the desks of others in my department, but I also pass by HR, the entry way to the building, and the entrance to the lunch room. As such, I tend to encounter at least a few people whenever I must take this path, which, due to physical issues is fairly often. While I’m sure for NTs, this may not seem like anything huge, these brief walks bring me a great deal of stress throughout my day.
For some reason, everyone else seems to feel the need to have some form of interaction when passing in the hallway. Whether we know each other or not, people always say something as we pass and usually appear to expect some kind of response from me. This tends to be problematic as I’m never quite sure how I’m supposed to respond. Even a simple good morning can throw me off because usually it is said as we are walking in opposite directions and have already moved past one another. Am I supposed to turn around to wish them a good morning? Should I stop for a conversation? Do I just say it as I keep going which means they may not hear my response? Don’t I sound stupid just parroting back what they said?
If my hallmate says anything other than a simple greeting, I am completely thrown for a loop. Typically, I am just focused on making it to the bathroom without issue. Having a random phrase or, worse, question thrown at me shatters through my bubble and leaves me reeling as I try to understand what I’m supposed to say in response.
Typically, I manage to get out something in response. I then fret over whatever fell out of my face for a while as I bash myself for an inappropriate response, though this usually leads into an internal rant about why this has to happen at all. I really just don’t understand why it is expected that if two people pass in an office we need to interact. We’re both just trying to get to our point b’s. Can’t we just do that in peace?