“Do people tell you you’re a good listener?” Autistic Versions

Good Listener There is a question on an autism screening questionnaire, I can’t recall which one, but a quick Google tells me it’s not the AQ50 at least. It’s something along the lines of the title of this blog post and this post is triggered by a recent passing comment to me, about me being a good listener that reminded me of the question.  This is one of those “it’s not what it looks like on the tin” explanations, based on the fact that autistics often do what looks like the same thing as NTs (and may in some cases be the same thing) but for different reasons than the NT believes and not necessarily for the same reason as an NT would.

That doesn’t mean the outcome can’t be as positive however (in some cases may be better, at least from the autistic perspective if it’s a solution for themselves). Autistics tend to be logical and when faced with a problem, to seek a solution. I’m far from being an expert on NTs, but I gather that a ‘good listener’ for an NT, is someone who seems sympathetic and sits quietly making sympathetic-sounding expressions. To be honest, if someone I didn’t know well was crying or panicking about something that had happened to them, I would feel a bit at a loss.  Probably because I’m not sure what response they expect and other peoples’ emotions are tricky.  I would probably also feel a bit bored if they cried for an extended period, having offered solutions that came to mind and this still not having calmed the person down.

But a couple of times, I’ve been told I was a good listener after I offered practical solutions and suggestions. It surprised me, because that’s literally all it was and it was interpreted as me having been something I thought I wasn’t necessarily great at.

I think, to sit patiently while someone pours their problems out isn’t necessarily a good listener, it might be a patient thing to do, but what else can you do? They have no idea what’s going through your mind (which could be “enough already” or something similar!) and maybe all they want is a physical body there to talk/cry at and it could be almost anybody. But to me, the definition of a good listener would be someone that had oodles of sympathy, knew what to say when, had hugs in the right places and how to build the person’s self-esteem up. I’m happy for an NT to comment below if I’ve got that wrong.

I’m sure NTs appreciate solutions the same way autistic people do, but I just thought they wanted more. So I’m intrigued as to how an NT perceives being offered practical solutions, equating to being a good listener.  Is it the fact that you have processed their problem in detail, to them meaning you must have taken the trouble to listen well?  Is it the fact that they didn’t know what to do and the fact that you gave some viable solutions, meaning they think you must really personally care about their predicament?  I don’t have to care per se about the person’s predicament, although I am a sympathetic person and if I have been through the same or a similar experience myself that makes it a lot easier to understand how it is for them.  I don’t like to see people suffer either.  I just don’t really understand how offering solutions,  in a literal sense means you are a good listener.

For what it’s worth I scored very low on the empathy quotient when I was tested, which makes it all the more confusing.

On a tongue-in-cheek note, autistic people apparently hear more than NTs: https://theconversation.com/autistic-people-can-hear-more-than-most-which-can-be-a-strength-and-a-challenge-77039

Although as we know, hearing doesn’t always equate with listening! Answers on a postcard please…

Blah, blah, blah

5 thoughts on ““Do people tell you you’re a good listener?” Autistic Versions

  1. “Is it the fact that you have processed their problem in detail, to them meaning you must have taken the trouble to listen well?” I’m NT. It’s mostly this. Nobody really cares about (or is as motivated to deal with) other people’s problems as much as their own. A poor listener is someone who can’t put aside their boredom/discomfort with other people’s problems long enough to offer anything of value to the complainer. A good listener is consequently someone who has something to offer – sympathetic noises (emotional support) or a solution to a problem (practical support).

    A fair amount of social skills just involve putting in the effort to pay attention. I think a number of autistic people are actually superior to NTs in these particular skills and don’t realize it. I think it’s because you tend to monitor your social actions faaaar more than we do whereas we can often be quite thoughtless socially.

    1. Thanks for your comment, it’s appreciated. If I know the person well, then I am prepared to stomach far more than if I don’t, (but that could be a universal thing). So if a stranger randomly became upset I would probably internally freak out and not know what to do and would make my excuses as quickly as possible, or try to get someone else to help them, I think that’s one way I differ from an NT. If someone is repetitive in their complaint I also feel irritated and if they put up barriers to the solutions (e.g. are very negative in outlook and defeatist) then that makes me feel irritated too and then I have far less patience, which might make me seem unempathetic. I think NTs are a lot more skilled at faking interest and sympathy than autistics, or are more prepared to fake it anyway. You’re right about autistics monitoring our social actions, having learned the hard way through social faux pas and faced unpleasant reactions or actions from NTs we are justifiably paranoid. I think Tony Attwood says something along those lines in his famous book. “Nobody really cares about (or is as motivated to deal with) other people’s problems as much as their own.” Sometimes I prefer to hear about someone else’s issue if I know them, than explain my own. I think because I know what my problem is better than anyone I go about solving it asap and it seems pointless to tell someone else. Thanks for your insight.

  2. A couple of other points:

    Spectrumites can get “stuck” listening to someone’s troubles because they don’t know how to disengage! I’m fairly sure that’s why back in college, I seemed to be a natural “wailing wall”, with friends and even strangers spilling their guts to me.

    Then too, where an NT might brush someone off, or just “close their ears” while someone’s dumping, the spectrum person takes the speaker seriously, and actually pays attention to what they say. Almost anything the listener says after that, is likely to be more relevant and helpful than if they’d just been waiting their turn to talk.

    The altered perspective of autism can also be genuinely useful in helping NTs with their problems, simply because (as usual) we can look past some of the things that NTs take for granted, and see parts of the situation that an NT can’t.

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