“Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.”
I completed the educational part of my counselor training in 1999. The landscape of mental health looked notably different at that time. My daughter’s micro-generation, the “Zillennials”, had just been born. They had quite a lot to teach us. The particular Zillennial I had the privilege of parenting continues to teach me to this day.
I love the Zillennials. Like their older siblings, the Millennials, they often come with a sense that every human being is important. They are brilliant at owning themselves “as is,” challenging the systems and people around them to do the same.
In terms of mental health, many Zillennials celebrate neurodiversity. They have asked and answered an important question: Why would there be only one way to think and interact that’s considered “normal” or “typical,” and another that’s been labeled “divergent?”
This is one of those things that we Gen X and older generations didn’t adequately consider in the past, even in counselor training programs. In the late 90’s we really didn’t understand much at all about neurodiversity. We accepted things we really should not have.
This better understanding of a fuller panoply of human experience has pushed the human family to see what we previously glossed over at best, shamed and tried to change at worst. Some of the allistic among us have an unhelpful-to-all habit of labeling anything different from themselves as “wrong” or “bad.” Whole therapeutic modalities have been created to try to force neurospicy folk into behaving and communicating in ways that are more comfortable for allistics. One such approach was literally birthed out of the same “intervention” strategy that underlies “Conversion Therapy” designed to force people behave heterosexually.
I’m with my daughter and her Zillennial colleagues on this one: Doesn’t it make much better sense for each person to respectfully learn each other human on their own terms? Why is it a problem to let the people we encounter grow our understanding of humanness? Why should others wrap around our comfort? That sounds distinctly like ColonizerThink to me.
Differences between allistic and autistic people can be challenging and confusing when it comes to social expectations. We have these social “rules” that are unspoken, unwritten understandings a culture has around interactions. It’s like there was some book explaining the “correct” way to do things, and some people did not get the book. Those who didn’t get the book often get shamed for not magically knowing these invisible rules.
Let me demonstrate with an example outside of neurodiversity. In many cultures in the US, (pandemic norms aside,) it’s expected that people will stand at least a couple of feet from strangers in public spaces. However, I’ve found that many people who were raised in high-population Asian countries have a very different sense of “personal space.” When someone from one of these cultures stands closer than another person expects, the person more used to distance may sometimes feel the closer-standing person is being “rude.” It’s as if we believe our cultural norms are correct, while everyone else’s are wrong.
Subtleties That Derail
As more neurospicy folk take bold emotional risks and interact in ways that are “unmasked” (read more here,) many of the more subtle differences in the ways that people communicate are becoming apparent.
My daughter made sense out of one such dynamic for me recently. One way that some people share themselves and invite connection is referred to as “Info Dumping.” (You can find an explanation of it here.) To those who don’t think of communication that way, the info dumping person is sometimes read as selfish. The recipient doesn’t realize they were invited into an important place in the info dumper’s mind, and also invited to reciprocate.
My daughter and her circle of colleagues and friends refer to this kind of mutual exchange in terms borrowed from comedian, Mae Martin: It’s a “Snow Globe Exchange.” When someone does an Info Dump, it’s like they are handing you a snow globe and saying, “Look at this really cool snow globe! This is a piece of who I am and I want to share it with you because I like you.” Someone with a similar style of communication will receive the snow globe and then hand them one of their own, that may or may not be related or tangentially related. “Here’s a piece of me that I’m sharing with you! I like connecting with you this way.”
When someone tries to hand a snow globe to someone in response to something that was said and the recipient does not think this way, the communication breaks down. To the non-snow glober, it would appear that the snow glober wasn’t listening and is rudely changing the subject. They are left feeling dismissed, disrespected and disregarded. But the intention of the snow glober was the exact opposite.
Curiosity Over Accusation
Please click here to watch these two styles of communication in action. Can you see the challenge for both styles of people? Neither is right and neither is wrong. When we interpret people through our own set of assumptions and the other person holds a different set, we hurt one another.
One way to skip the damaging part is to trade accusation for curiosity. Imagine how different the results would be if we instead used an XYZ to unpack what happened. Assume that the person did not intend to harm you, but let them know what behaviors hurt. Listen to their different experience of the exchange, bearing in mind that they might not look at communication, respect, and sharing the same way you do. Now we are learning one another and growing in our understanding of this crazy “Skin Gig” that is our humanness.
Let’s make room for one another. Let’s grow together.
Thank you, Zillennials, for making us better people.
Would you like help becoming a more effective communicator? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s trade some helpful snow globes!