(Context: This response to a Real Social Skills piece; I can’t reply to anything in their reblog chains because they blocked me for disagreeing with them.)
I am very bad at tone. I nearly lost my job because of not using the appropriate tone with both staff and students. I am sure some people don’t like me - and I think this is a major cause of my social anxiety - because of the tone I use for even non-controversial things. But I have a lot of feelings about controversial things that I avoid communicating because I know the tone I tend to use will upset people/make them feel uncomfortable. So, this is a really important skill that I need to learn, else start wearing a badge that says ‘the tone I use probably won’t be appropriate but please forgive it and listen to me anyway’.
This is an interesting problem. I used to have much more trouble with this, and honestly, the biggest change is that I’m more-senior in various ways now than I was then, which means that very similar tone is taken very differently.
First things first: Do you have people who get along with you that you can talk to about this? One of the most useful things is going to be feedback from people who know you and/or interact with you face to face. And for tone things, my advice would be to ask both autistic and non-autistic people if at all possible, because they will perceive things very differently. Furthermore, there’s a terminology question or three here. See, people use “tone” both to refer to word choice and to more literal intonation; “tone of voice” and “tone of writing” are two different things, and they’re both potentially important things. Another important distinction is between cases where people are accurately interpreting your communication, and reacting negatively to it, and cases where people are misreading you.
The misreading problem can be pretty severe. One of the big problems that I’ve seen a number of autistics, especially female autistics, have with tone is that the autistic tendency to terse, flat-affect speech happens to closely mirror something that some people do when they are infuriated. So if you speak tersely without much affect, people may think you are very mad and trying to hide it. I’ve had this happen with one of my friends; on several occasions, I seriously thought she was mad and trying to hide it, when she was in fact just not feeling chatty.
There’s also a real risk that, sometimes, it doesn’t occur to you soon enough to either not say something, or say it in a way that people will mind less. The example I used once with the specialist who gave me my shiny autism diagnosis was that, in my early 20s, I didn’t realize that an entry-level hourly contractor should not refer to code written by senior salaried staff as “stupid”. Even if it was. This was a very confusing thing for me. Now I’m much better about it. I’ve gotten a lot better at responding to statements with “huh, I always thought it was the other way around” rather than “no, it’s the other way around”. (Admitting that you could be mistaken makes it easier for other people to admit that you’re not, because you’re not acting as though you think fallibility is their problem and not yours.)
Books to read: Suzette Haden Elgin’s writing, especially The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, and How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable. Both of these have a lot of useful tips for the sorts of things that people are likely reacting to. You may find that a lot of the things people are reacting to don’t make much sense to you. This is because they don’t really make sense in and of themselves, but they are a social protocol, which means that they are still influencing the way people react.
One thing I’ve found very successful with professional adults is to just tell them up front that I am autistic, and that I will sometimes be unintentionally rude, and also that a lot of the emotional cues they’re reading are probably random noise. How useful this will be can depend a lot on the audience, though. Some people will just be jerks about it on principle, some are genuinely unable to adapt their social interpretations. But among geeky sorts (programmers, for instance), who are inclined to be most focused on Getting Things Done rather than on social cues, I’ve been very happy with the results. It’s been years since I had any trouble I can remember involving tone of communication at work. Of course, I have a bad memory, so that may not be worth a lot…