Communication problems vs boundary indifference

These things are different:

  • Difficulty reading social cues
  • Indifference to other people’s boundaries

These get conflated all over the place, in part because they both lead to breaking certain social expectations. But they’re actually fundamentally different (although it’s possible for someone to have both problems)

Both of these things get called social awkwardness. This causes a lot of problems, in particular:

  • People are pressured to accept boundary-violating behavior as innocuous awkwardness
  • People who are more innocently awkward are read as threats because people can’t tell the difference

People who don’t care about other people’s boundaries often actually have exceptionally *good* abilities to read social cues, for instance:

  • Creepy guys in geek space tend to know exactly how much they can harass women without being expelled from the space
  • And they’re really good at staying just shy of that line
  • And these dudes often get referred to as just awkward, and women get pressured to accommodate their boundary violations

So, if you want to create spaces that are safe for good people who have trouble reading social cues:

  • Stop tolerating boundary violations
  • Start making your spaces more accessible
  • Use interaction badges as a way to help people understand who welcomes interaction and who doesn’t
  • Wait a few extra seconds in conversations to give people who process language slowly a chance to speak
  • Don’t insist that people make eye contact
  • When you’re organizing loud events, create quiet space people can retreat to
  • Create multiple ways of contacting event or space organizers (phone, email, etc.) Some forms of communication are very difficult for some people, and spaces are more inclusive if there are more options