Relationships in the Spectrum


It's a Problem

The Problem

People on "the Spectrum" have difficulty in understanding the nuances of daily negotiated transactions. This is particularly a problem with trivial negotiations which we encounter in daily life.

The problem is that, without a rulebook or HOWTO, it's difficult to learn how to do it right, and difficult to avoid confrontation.

(more explanation)

Major negotiations are less of a problem because the rules are often well-defined. Taking this to the extreme of a tri-cultural negotiation it seems that Aspies are particularly adept. It's the day-to-day encounters that take more innate understanding instead of logic.

Some of these trivial negotiations include nonconsequential things such as synthetic chat by checkout clerks. That sort of thing is easy enough to handle by a brief mumble or nod. It's the more meaningful interactions that require skill.

These negotiated interactions in the commercial environment are particularly irritating to people on the Spectrum because:

  1. Many of these ploys are artificial;
  2. They're keyed into NT behaviour which are not easily understood by autistics;
  3. The suggested response creates a trivial burden;
  4. The ploys are often intrusive; and
  5. It's sometimes difficult to know how to respond.

In the worst of circumstances, these negotiated interactions cause conflict or deny the autistic access to goods and services.

This Webpage

This page focuses on using commercial ploys as training exercises.

The purpose of the exercises are to train in the mechanics of negotiated interactions with NTs. This is based on the idea that the ploys are designed by marketing developers to take advantage of the unwritten rules of NT interaction.

There are several references to the "Telemarketing Scum Page" website at

That website has a different focus in that it is not intended to train in negotiated interactions or autism. The site does have a number of details which are beyond the scope of this page.

I fully endorse that website for good reason -- I wrote it!

Learning How

What's the Point?

The purpose of this document is to offer some ways to build skills needed for negotiated interactions.

The Lectures

A Homework Assignment

relationships.html describes the educational value of cinematic depiction of emotions found in "adult theme" entertainment.   The difficulty of these shows is that their content is often uninteresting, particularly for younger people with AS. (Adults with AS tend to find these "human studies" as interesting as NTs do.)

Try to find a show which has some degree of entertainment appeal to it. Some of the HBO shows are particularly good, but any movie which depicts adult themes and adult emotions is a trivial but real educational experience.


The Reason

Outbound telemarketing involves solicitation by organizations, usually using predictive dialing equipment. Generally they do not use "opt-in" lists and almost universally, they don't care.

Or maybe they do care. On Planet Aspie telemarketers exist for the purpose of training people how to interact. Perhaps it's the same way here.

Much as it's possible to learn how to drive a car in snow by intentionally skidding the car in a safe place, telemarketers offer a "safe place" to learn how to interact badly.  So even if you learn by getting your number "blacklisted" by telemarketing companies, you learn nevertheless! (Interacting badly is useful in learning how to interact favorably and how to recognize when one interacts badly)
[screaming operator logo 46K]

(Interacting badly is useful in learning how not to interact badly.)

Excellence in Training and Excellent Service

Outbound telemarketing operations use carefully studied behaviour patterns to manipulate their "marks" (potential sales targets). In other words, they pay people to train autistics in negotiated interactions! Is that convenient or what?

THANK YOU Telemarketers!

The Strategy

Increase their cost of making that call to the point where it's uneconomical. Usually it's just a matter of seeing how long you can keep them on the line.

Take the philosophy of SuSE Linux -- "Have a lot of fun." Try to find out what keeps them on the line and consume time. But most of all, make a game of it and have fun!

In doing so, you will learn how to negotiate interactions, as well as what things are agreeable or disagreeable to people.

This is actually counterproductive.

The more successful you are, the more telemarketing operations will blacklist your phone number. But in the meantime, you're practicing your negotiated interaction skills, helping the public and benefitting the economy.

What About the Employees?

Telemarketers get paid whatever the telemarketing operation deems they need to in order to keep people working there. There's more about this in

The Official Point System

On the theme of "have fun", here's a link to The Official Point System.


The telemarketing.html webpage mentions several things to avoid, including confidential information, and making purchases. Also mentioned are long distance telephone anti-slam blocks established with your local dialtone provider (US). This permits you to go through all of the motions of accepting a long distance service plan and not get the plan. But make sure you select a "no-fee  no-minimum" plan.


This is the difficult part, because it's the real thing. You've got to get it right. Unlike dealing with telemarketers, you don't want to learn by offending the other party. If "not offending" is part of the exercise, you will probably get it right.


"Person" of Speech (first person vs. second )
In personal conflict resolution, this is sometimes referred to as "'I' statements and 'you' statements". (In a particular structured technique of personal conflict resolution, an "issue" is addressed by a person stating an "issue" in terms of "'I' statements"; i.e., in first person. The theory is that the statement is less accusatory when stated in first person. While the facts are essentially the same as stated in first person or second person, the focus is on the experience of the person raising the issue.)

Consider whether to phrase the conflict in first or second person. In general, first person is less confrontational.

There are instances when second person is less confrontational because it is more direct. e.g., "You're repeating my name." is more direct than "I object to hearing my name repeated several times in a single conversation." One test is whether the "first person" statement is too obsequious.

Here's an Example of First Person Language Used in Negotiated Interaction

Some General Techniques in Negotiated Transactions

"Are you able to ..."
This accomplishes two things:
1. Verifies that you have the correct person; and
2. Creates an incentive for the person to attempt to meet the request. People who would be less inclined to be helpful will often provide the service if it demonstrates their authority to do so.
This is most effective when dealing with large corporate entities and bureaucrats. People working with small entities generally don't need to prove their authority.

Insist that the person focus on the question first.
Diversions range from answering related but irrelevant questions, to repeatedly mispronouncing the caller's name. Some responses:
"Yes, but that wasn't really my question."
This one's a fairly non-confrontational response, and has the advantage of focusing the conversation. It also gives a reason for repeating the question, which is often necessary.

Recognize answers which "contradict" the question, or which are "non-responsive" in general.
If an answer doesn't have a direct correspondence to the question, be ready to say so. Examples:
  • "Yes, but that wasn't my question."
  • "Yes, but [repeat question]. That is what I really want to know."
  • "Oh, I'm afraid you misunderstood my question. (More likely the person pretended to misunderstand.) Do you understand what I asked?
  • "I understand, but that's my question."
  • "Yes, but that has nothing to do with my question."
  • "Yes, but that doesn't really address my question."
All-in-all, it's a fairly easy thing in some cases to make this kind of "Is it responsive?" analysis.

This type of "Is it responsive?" analysis can also be used to confirm dishonest business dealings with sales people, agents, etc. If you receive a non-responsive answer,
1) confirm that the non-responsiveness was intentional, and
2) determine whether to terminate dealing with that person.
Request that the issue be addressed first, before irrelevancies.

Repeat addressing, repeat naming or signifying
The other person repeatedly addresses you. This is significant for people on The Spectrum because of a tendency to take the "signifying" tactics literally -- "HEY, [name], you're not paying attention!"

(If calling by name is done immediately after an introduction, it's a mnemonic device and should not be considered hostile.)

In many cases it's best to ignore it as a sales or intimidation technique, or simple state, "You're repeating my name." 

More on responses to "repeat naming" or signifying tactics )
The part about giving them your dog's name is particularly useful if you're in an irritable mood trying to solve a particular problem on the phone.)

If the person is talking too fast for you, avoid the tendency to speed up.
(Usually, this is the person's natural manner of speech, but you will be at a disadvantage if you try to match it.) It is to your advantage to slow down to a more comfortable pace, and it is more likely the person will listen to what you have to say.

Conversation interrupted by repeated "hold".
Start from the beginning each time. The person will stop using the "hold" interruptions, usually after the second time, or will "flush" the call (hang up). Either way, the "hold" interruption tactic won't work.

(This is distinguished from "hold" while the operator is performing a work function. These "work function holds" functions can be irritating but are different.)

"Cut and paste" quoting.
This is mostly for text communications, where non-responsive answers can be particularly exasperating. If the question doesn't get answered a first time, cut and paste the same question.

Make it difficult to "ignore" the issues
This also usually applies to a second written communication. Write it with the idea that someone doing a very quick review would immediately notice if the issue is ignored a second time around. Perhaps a very brief, but polite preface, such as "(same question...)".

Refer to their notes.
If you have any sort of account that the person is looking up, there are likely to be notes. Since they are obviously looking at that, don't be reluctant to say something like, "Please look at your notes. You'll see that..."

Don't forget that the person on the other end of the line (the inbound telemarketer) is a human being doing a difficult job.
They are often used by their employers to make excuses for poor service or illegal or unethical policies. They are the ones that hear from irate customers.

Nevertheless, if they are supporting something that is unethical or otherwise unacceptable, don't be afraid to politely voice your objections. The business cannot act illegally without the assistance and consent of its employees.

Practice by Problem Solving

The idea is to get by with the least conflict. In most transactions, it's possible to try again so it's hard to lose by not getting what you want.

Most NTs will explain the need to be assertive. I believe that the difficult part is being assertive while understanding the interactions.

Practice by Controlled Responses

This involves limiting the interactions in a commercial setting. Develop specific ways to minimize responses to artificial familiarity, but do so in a manner which you deem to be non-offensive. Adjust your response according to experience which you gain.

Discrete Non-Confrontational Technique

One step further than simple "face-to-face" negotiation is doing so when the mere initiation of the negotiation requires discretion.

Public Manners

In engaging with in-personal exchanges, there are four priorities:
  1. Being polite and displaying proper decorum;
  2. Choosing issues that make sense without explanation to others;
  3. Choosing issues which can be easily resolved;
  4. Obtaining the result.

Often these priorities are such that it is best to ignore the situation.

An Example of Public Manners - "Priceless" Items

This involves the confluence of:
  1. distinguishing the problem from very similar circumstances where the problem doesn't exist
  2. determining whether circumstances are appropriate to raise the issue
  3. determining how to raise the issue without offending friends
  4. objecting in a polite manner, and in accordance with social norms

Also (in sharp contrast with the Telemarketing "exercises") it is important that, You should be careful to not be rude to the waiter or wait-person.

The analysis of the social situation is very complicated, but the required behaviour is fairly simple. In addition, it is possible to "back out" at any time.

Specific Example - "Priceless" Items at Restaurants

(now on a separate page) ("Priceless" Menu items at restaurants make good exercise material for negotiated transactions because this involves a confluence of the negotiation, social situations being exploited, and a need to match the negotiation to socially acceptable customs and norms.

This is addressed on a separate page (

Specific Example - Mid-Meal Marketing at Restaurants

This example is described here at The Telemarketing Scum Page

General Issues

Sometimes the "Local Rules" differ from the real rules.
In some cases, the "Local Rules" apply, but consider circumstances where they may not. Verify any verbally-stated requirements at a convenient time and place.

Sometimes the "Local Rule" relates to what someone wants to do or not do.

Derogatory Remarks
If you find that a derogatory remark is incorporated into notes about you or your transaction, use this to your advantage.
Example: I had special order eyeglasses ordered at a Walmart. After considerable delay, I complained that they could not have sent out the improperly mounted lenses without knowing about it, and the further delay was also intentional. On a call the next day, the person read notes that I thought there was a "conspiracy" against me. (I never mentioned "conspiracy" to them except in response to that note.)

I guessed that I would experience another several months' delay, and so called the main office of Walmart, and mentioned that the local office my objections by noting as "conspiracy theory". The same day, that office called to find out where to mail the glasses.

The point is that if you get an indication of derogatory comments, it may be to your advantage to comment on it. In the case of the "conspiracy" remark, the derogatory comment was an indication to the main Walmart office that the local department was grossly dismissing customer concerns.

(I've seen criticism of Walmart, but their policies have generally been very favourable to customers in my experience.)

Deliberate Confrontation

There are cases where confrontation is deliberate. An example would be a store clerk initiating a sales pitch uninvited. In such cases it's best to keep one's mouth shut until one thinks through an appropriate response. These intrusions are usually a subtle twist of accepted social norms, so it is important to think though the response. These "twisted norms" may be particularly obvious only because you are on The Spectrum.

Depending on local culture, you can directly object ("I didn't ask to hear a sales pitch" or "This kind of 'in your face' sales pitch makes me uncomfortable."), or a more general "reactive" response such as a lengthy description of something equally irrelevant.

Information for Trainers

Understanding Friends A program to educate children about differences, and to foster empathy
This is from (O.A.S.I.S.) and describes in-class exercises. I'd explain more but it's a lot easier to just go to the link.

Other Pages at This Site
restaurants.html - Restaurants and Negotiated Transactions at Restaurants
Includes "priceless  items as an example in negotiated transactions within a social context

etc.html - etc., a list of things
misc. issues related to autistic living

relationships.html - Autism, Dating and Socialization

index.html - the index page

singles.html - Autism and 'Singles' Dating Sites

abuse.html - Partner Abuse as Pertains to People on the Autism Spectrum

faqs.html - FAQs about editorial content of the relationships pages only - Reducing Computer Display Monitor Flicker

SCN Home Page
Seattle Community Network
SCN People Pages

Comments about this site: email me

This site first posted August 8, 2002; rev November 13, 2011 ~~ written in WordPerfect 5.1 and works best with Any
Browser ~~ copyright 2002 by Stan P.