May 11, 2020
On this episode, I interview Michael Szafron - Sales and Marketing Consultant and Owner of Autistic Superpowers! On the podcast, Michael talks about his early life and diagnosis of Autism later in life. He talks about how Autism impacted his career and his early career in retail sales and the impact that learning sales scripts had in his professional and personal lives. We also discuss the ups and downs in his career and the importance of his coworkers understanding his autism.
To connect with Michael, please follow him on LinkedIn (Michael Szafron).
Go to our website www.forallabilities.com for information on our software that enables employers to support their employees with ADHD, Dyslexia, Learning Differences and Autism.
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Full Transcription from Otter.ai
Hi, everybody. Thank you so much for tuning into forel abilities. I've got another special guest with me today. And in a minute he's going to introduce himself and he is going to talk about later in life diagnosis of autism and how that's affected his life. Both his personal life and his work life which he has some really interesting insights on that. If you are listening to this podcast please obviously you are listening to this podcast. Please share with your
Friends, please review and rate the podcast, you can do that on whatever platform you're listening to the podcast on. So thank you again, this podcast is all about understanding our differences and understanding our strength is our difference. And that if we all sit inside that imaginary box of the norm, we would have a really boring and unproductive society. So I'm so excited to have Michael here with me today. Michael, please introduce yourself to my audience.
Michael Szafron 1:33
Hey, everybody, I'm Michael saffron. I run a business management consulting company, if I'm the only one in it, and I get to work with a lot of different really interesting things now, but it's been a long journey to get here and I think we're going to go through that with with Betsy.
Betsy Furler 1:52
Yeah. So thank you again for being here. And how I usually start the show is by asking my guests about their childhood. So could you tell us what you were like as a little boy?
Michael Szafron 2:04
Well, I mean, I hear a lot from my parents about how I was. But you know, looking back, you know, my childhood was was quite a bit of a struggle. I really didn't have very many friends at all. I guess when you have like a university vocabulary when you're five years old, you don't make a lot of friends. And it was very interesting. It was very trying. And as I went through, you know, elementary school is probably more grade five, grade six, I really wanted to start having friends. And I couldn't figure out why kids didn't like me or want to talk to me, you're hanging out with me and made fun of me and beat me up and that kind of stuff. So I started really studying what they were doing, what they were saying and how they were agreeing.
And then I still didn't have any friends. But eventually, you know, towards junior high and then getting a little older. I started to get a bunch of people Things that that people, you know, I guess neurotypicals do is standard greetings. How are you? You know, it's interesting because I really don't care about how their weekend was but there's all this chitchat that you have to do with people so that they feel comfortable with you and don't feel that you're that you're strange.
Betsy Furler 3:19
Yeah, that's really interesting. I, I'm a extreme extrovert and an extremely social person. So yeah, some of those things that come so naturally to some people are really difficult for other people. And a imagine as a child, that is extremely confusing.
Michael Szafron 3:42
Yes, it certainly is. But again, you know, you set up sort of goals and, you know, I wanted to be able to interact with people and have and have friends and really not, you know, it was just it was really trying but then eventually, you know, I got in with a group of people In high school, I started doing band and i and i did baseball and, and started having some some, you know, good friends and acquaintances don't really talk to many of those people anymore. But, you know, life got a lot better when I when I got to high school and started finding things to do and it got a lot better.
Betsy Furler 4:20
That's interesting too because I think it is really important for kids really adults to to kind of have a tribe, I kind of have a group of people that they have something in common even if you are a person who's very different different than other children. I think our our society, our educational system in particular is very much set up where the average student or the average kid is the one who everything revolves around. You know, you're not if you're a kid, he's really an outlier. I know one of my sons was very much like this. And he's he's much more adult he was much more adult like, so when you're a six year old and you act like an adult in many ways and you get along really well with adults, you don't really get along that well with other six year old who is who your social circle is and everything about you is based on your interactions with those kids. Um, but I think it's it's great that you kind of found even if it wasn't people that you had a ton of stuff in common with at least something that you some people that you have something in common with in band and in baseball. And so were you. Were you a very good student from an academic standpoint.
Michael Szafron 5:51
I mean, I did okay, I I've also got ADHD. So I really got distracted a lot daydreamed a lot. I mean pretty good at math and science. But if I didn't, if I wasn't engaged in the material, I mean, it takes three seconds for me to check out and be on the beach thinking about something else. So my, I mean, I did pretty well in school, but the things were, I would only do well the things that I liked and the things that I didn't like. I was pretty much checked out.
Betsy Furler 6:20
Yeah, probably didn't care too much about them. Yeah.
And what did you do after high school?
Michael Szafron 6:28
So after high school, I went to university for a year and a half. And it was just, you know, interesting in the 90s. And, you know, my son, my friends, were getting jobs and stuff, and I just, I just couldn't do the school thing, which which was really tough on my parents because they, you know, extreme academics all the way through the family. So my dad taught the university for years so they were pretty upset when I chose after a year and a half to leave and go sell computers at a retail store. Which, in Canada is called future shop I grew up in Canada, it's the same as Best Buy, but actually turned out to be one of the absolute best moves I ever made. One of the really interesting things that really helped me socialize and build a career was going to future shop. I, they took me to another town Calgary and put me in a hotel for a month. And I got to go to sales school. And what's very interesting is going to sales school taught me a bunch of skills that I could relate to the rest of my life. So they have a program called guest, which was great understand, educates carry the sale on tank, and it is an absolutely scripted encounter with another human. So when someone comes in you say Hi, my name is Michael, welcome to feature shop, what brings you in today? And then you listen. And then you go through qualification? You know, what have you seen that you've liked? Where else have you been? What are you using it for? And this script can translate into your Personal life, it can translate into other business, learning a script that you can run your life on. It was a lifeline for who I was and where I wanted to go. And I still use a lot of those pieces today.
Betsy Furler 8:13
That's so interesting because that's I'm a My background is as a speech pathologist. And so as a speech and speech therapy, we often teach scripts to kids who are struggling with, especially with their social communication skills, and kind of go through ideas of Okay, what can you say here? What can you say there? Because really all of us work on scripts, and they just kind of much more natural for some people than others. And that this the, that idea around the sales piece is really that that is fascinating. I'm going to keep thinking about that actually, for my for my own sales cycle, or my own sales process with my company as well. Maybe I need some more scripts around sales stuff that I'm not very good. Double lab. So that's amazing. So you and I want to remind the listeners that you were not diagnosed at this point. You were diagnosed just a few years ago. So at this point you are going through life. What were you thinking about yourselves?
Michael Szafron 9:21
Well, I mean, I because you're looking at the world through your own lens, you don't know that you're really any different. And you're just, you're just trying to adapt and be okay in the world. And it's more of the other people don't know. And they, they think you're a little off and they they're not sure what to think of you. They think of you like a robot like Spock like my you think autistics wouldn't be good in sales and maybe not in the wheel and dealin kind of way but my sales are very scientific, very fact based, very analyzed. You know, and and when you get down through a decision tree, if it's a good deal for them, You support it. And actually, if it wasn't a good deal for them, I tell them to go get something out. Because that's the right thing to do. Right? It was just, I was always just off the curb, it seemed like and as far as you know, relationships and people i didn't i didn't get that it was it was just get there and go do your thing. One of the other interesting things that's happened all my life to is not very good with some with spontaneity. So like even this, this call today, I mean, we've already had about, you know, 300 conversations in my head as I got ready for it, if everything you would say, or I would say, and I still do this stuff now. Like when I was going to have I did that Fight Club event digital Fight Club was Steven. I mean, we probably had, you know, 1000 fights in my head of every possible commutation of conversations that you could imagine. Before I got to that before I got to that moment. So everything thing is always pre rehearsed in your head and it moves very fast. And sometimes that's what keeps you up at night is, you know, going through 1000 conversations. So everything is can from meeting the chair the next day or a customer encounter, or whatever the case may be. So that keeps your head very, very busy a lot of the time.
Betsy Furler 11:18
Right. And that must take a lot of energy.
Michael Szafron 11:22
It doesn't seem to it just kind of goes, I'm just
Betsy Furler 11:27
interesting. And so on off on that topic. And and we didn't discuss this before. We got on the call on the recording. But what about what has happened with COVID-19 with you has that has that changed in everything that we do thrown you off?
Michael Szafron 11:50
Well, not really. So well. I mean, there is an adjustment period and I'm very much into very specific routines, but I already spent a lot of time working at home. Okay, a lot of time processing that stuff. Recently now with one of the oilfield services companies, we actually have a contract that requires that died legally come into the office and do work here. Which is interesting. But it, it didn't need to change my routine that much just because of the way that I was already structured.
Betsy Furler 12:28
Okay, well, that said, so that was good for you. I mean, it was it was it wasn't too too much of a change. Correct. Because I do think about I know with myself and it changed everything about how I do things. And, and I deal with change fairly well, but you know, it was it was quite an adjustment, but I'd never really worked from home. I've never sat in a desk all at a desk all day every day. Until now. I've spent a lot of time driving around and Going to a lot of social events. And so, I'm learning I'm learning to, to not do that now. And so you were so you so back to your career. So you started in sales selling computers and and did you like technology and computers a lot at the time?
Michael Szafron 13:22
Yeah. And because of the environment I was in my father was a computer science professor. So I was I was fortunate to have computers ever since I was probably ever since I can remember there was a computer at home, like, you know, three, four or five years old. We always had stuff and I was in computer science and, and, you know, I learned how to program when I was eight because of my cousin, my father and things. So it was a natural thing to go into.
Betsy Furler 13:48
Oh, that's amazing. But you kind of you kind of fell into it too, or you went a bit against the grain to leave school and go into sales. Although it sounds like that. was a good news.
Michael Szafron 14:01
No, it was a good move. And it was great in the store and following the scripts and it was a great company and they, you know, really nurture young kids. You don't make a lot of money in retail, but it really teaches you a lot of things about business. And I was in Edmonton, and then you know, within eight months, they put me into the manager training program move me down to a little town called Medicine Hat, or they stick a bunch of people and then I was there for about five months and then I was the sales manager the old left bridge feature shop store. And they brought a bunch of guys in that are actually still really good friends till now. And yeah, it was they put the best the best to try turnaround that store and we didn't built a new store. And I mean, that was really, really, really good time. I learned a lot about a lot of things at that time. And then it you know, craziest career paths. A friend of mine calls me up and said, Hey, I got this bootstrap startup. Electronic Medical software company out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, need someone for Edmonton, which is where I was from, do you want to? Do you want to move back and do that? I was like, Sure. So I made the plunge into that startup. And we did well, and there's a bunch of m&a that happened. And then finally, they got sold to the national Telecom. I'm going to give you the real Coles notes version of mine. And then, and then a friend met me for coffee and he goes, Hey, do you want to sell top drives? And I said, That's interesting. What's the top drive? And he goes, you'll figure it out. I'm moving down to Houston. And that's when I got into oilfield and started working for Tesco Corporation. Way, Way at the infancy and miscue were actually with this lady Linda sorry. Who was the founders nice. In Cobra trucking miscue. And I was definitely the oddball in the oil field at that time having worked for medical software and selling computers And, you know, I didn't know anything about the oilfield, but it was amazing how I was able to go to clients and just say, Hey, I'm the new guy. This is what I do. Tell me about it. Guys from enzyme energy really showed me what the top drive was and how drilling worked. And they, they sent me out to rigs and, and all kinds of stuff was was really interesting. And then it really started to snowball. I couldn't figure out why it took two weeks to do a quote. So I ran it down and started a whole infrastructure system for quoting that took only five minutes to create. And they promoted me to commercial manager. And then finally they asked me to move down to Houston 10 years ago, I guess almost 11 years ago, they they moved me down. And I took a global group took over global sales. I traveled the world, you know, more than 35 countries I've been to and done business with everywhere. Very, very fortunate. And then what was interesting There was I had this new boss who was a really great mentor, his name is Fernando. And every time I went to his office, he would always say, you know, being smart is not enough. And I could never figure out what that meant. Notice before I was diagnosed, it was all it was all the soft stuff. So they, they did a 360 where they interview all these people, and you know, my scores were very interesting. So, you know, empathy and understanding and all this stuff was like, Whoa, bottom, bottom basement scores, but, you know, analytical thinking creativity, a bunch of ones were off the charts. They're like, What is wrong with this kid? So they, you know, they wanted me to good manager and my management skills were really poor and I didn't know why and they didn't really know why. So they sent me to Guild, which was an amazing workshop. I had a, you know, personal coach, who's still you know, follow some of my LinkedIn stuff and comments. And I remember meeting with her for the first time and she Like, so when you go to meetings, you ever bring doughnuts? I said, Why would I ever bring doughnuts to a meeting? And she's like, how do you respond to emails? And she looked at some of my stuff, and she's like, okay, whenever someone sends you something, I need to thank them. So she gave me a whole bunch of mechanical tools that I could use them on sticky notes all the way around my monitor.
Betsy Furler 18:21
Yeah, kind of more scripts.
Michael Szafron 18:23
Right. It was it was more scripts to interface in business, more professional business at a higher level. So I went through that, and then they're like, man, his kid is still not figuring it out. So they did. Emotional Intelligence course. So they flew me out to Bangkok, Thailand, we did a week long course out there. And, you know, I didn't really get it, but I definitely learned how to pass the test. You know, memorize that book front to back, you take the follow up test, you know what the answers need to be and then keep going. Right, right. So then, oh, man, then it gets crazy. And then I was, you know, really recruited to a tele medical services company they wanted someone with oilfield it and medical experience. I was there. And then I worked for an Israeli MRI company that wanted to move to the US. And then finally I ended up starting a business consulting company and, and turn through that and during that phase you know, I was still I read this book called very last lap, very late diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. And realize that, you know, this was me. So I went and got a and and got diagnosed and I went and told my parents, my family and everybody and they're like, no, you're just smart. You're not you're like us. We're like that too. Okay, so I'm like, you know, when about another year and I'm like, I need to go back. So I went down and other psychiatrists took whatever the newer test is, and it came back definitive as well. So it was just very interesting. But the the thing that made the difference, getting diagnosed was then being free to tell people. So now when I work with people, there's a guy, Michael McCreary if you heard of him, no. So he's a Canadian guy at a Toronto. He's called the aspi. comic. And he does a lot of really great material. And whenever I work with people now I tell them, I'm autistic, I usually wear an artistic button to conferences. And if I, if I'm going to work with someone, I also I send them all this video to watch. And I also tell them, you know if I say something wrong, or if you get offended, because I say a lot of facts that sometimes offend people, you know, just just let me know, and let me know how I could have phrased that better. You know, so I, everybody that works with me now gets a little crash course on autism awareness and what it means and how to interact with people. And that's done amazingly well. People don't get you know, upset when I say fax in a meeting anymore. They say, Michael, this is why we're all upset about what you just said. And I learned from them keep going.
Betsy Furler 21:07
That's, that's incredible. I i that is amazing that you have those self advocacy skills. And I think that many people would would benefit from being able to do the same thing. And it's something that I as I've gotten older, I've been more upfront with people in my life of, you know, saying I think it's partially because of my training as a speech pathologist and I, I have this sense for many people that they're not meaning to offend you, they just do accidentally and if you say, Look, when you said that, this is how it made me feel, or I really need to know this information from you. Not that then they're like, Oh, yeah, no problem. Here you go. As opposed to not being up front with people and ending up having a lot of poor communication and bad feelings about Situations
Michael Szafron 22:02
write well, and it, I think it helps them more than me, I still don't know why I'm upset by it.
Betsy Furler 22:07
Exactly. Right. Exactly. And it helps the other person, or, you know, the person kind of who's sitting on my side of the table to be able to understand you better. But that's amazing that you're able to do that. And that that's really, I'm sure, a huge part of your success, but also such a gift to the people that you are dealing with.
Michael Szafron 22:36
Well, I mean, it's, it's interesting, I think there is still a bit of a, I mean, people will still think you're weird, but at least they can appreciate, you know, some of the stuff and then you know, like my old boss used to say being smart enough. It's all the soft skills that makes a difference in business and a lot of things and you try to learn those skills, but there is there is still you know, sort of us stigma against autism, I think because when I, I published an article sort of my first, you know, coming out to the network that I'm autistic and here's what it's about and blah, blah, blah. I had so many comments saying that was brave. And then finally asked, I said, Why was that brave? That wasn't brave? I said, Yeah, because people think autistics are XYZ that's like, wow, I really
Betsy Furler 23:25
Yeah, I think we've I think there's been a lot of progress made. I think there's a lot of progress left to be made as well. Because I do think it maybe that's coming from a neurotypical standpoint to
Unknown Speaker 23:41
Unknown Speaker 23:43
it you know, is it
Betsy Furler 23:46
because if as a neurotypical person I really care about whether what other people think of me and and, you know, and possibly you coming from and all artistic standpoint, you don't care that much about what other people think. And so, so maybe you feel of it as more of an information where I'm like, oh, that took so much of your heart to express that. And yeah, I mean, I think we still have a lot to learn about other people's perspective and realizing that not everybody thinks the same way we do. And I'm speaking from as a neurotypical person. You know, we, I know we can really project our own feelings on other people. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So, and I do think i think but i think i think the world has has changed. Is is changing, I would say, I would say is changing. I think that one of the reasons I started this podcast I have I don't even know if you know this, but I think my listeners now I talked about it enough. I have a software company where I'm helping employer support their employees who think and work differently. And including ADHD, dyslexia, learning differences, autism, etc. And because what I saw as a professional was that people were so misunderstood on the job, and especially people can who can kind of pass for, quote unquote, normal that normal bots. And they end up having so many problems at work, because the people that are working around don't understand them, and so therefore, they're not able to work to their potential and not able to be as productive or efficient as they could be if they weren't forced inside this box that they don't really fit in. And, and so, so, as I started, as I started doing this, I started talking to some of my advisors and other people, other people in kind of an advisory role. Not necessarily my Direct advisers but people in an advisory role a lot of tech people, and several people expressed to me how thankful they were that I was doing this, because they have one of these conditions, but they're so embarrassed about it that they don't ever tell anyone. And, and these were like amazing, successful, wonderful people. And I was like, Really? You're like this, that it surprised me It surprised me the level of that and also several families that I met who were just devastated by their child's diagnosis. And I was like, you know, this isn't a death sentence and this isn't even something to be fixed. This is something to understand and work with and, and, and be able to bring out the gifts and people gifts on all of us and the differences in all of us. So anyway, I think I think what you are doing for the people that you work with is absolutely amazing, both to help them understand you better and probably you're able to work more productively and efficiently when they do. But also for the for other people with autism and other other types of neuro diversity.
Michael Szafron 27:17
Yeah, no. And they're just to know why like, they think sometimes it might be in malicious behavior, you're doing things specifically to hurt them and you're not. They just take it that way. They need to know that it's not malicious.
Betsy Furler 27:32
Absolutely, yeah. Yeah. Well, that's fantastic. And, and I'm also I also think it's amazing that you went for that second opinion, for your diagnosis. I think that was probably helpful for your family. Maybe not so much for yourself, but again, again, for other people in your life.
Michael Szafron 27:52
Well, I mean, it was just it was just fact checking, right? Like it was like, Okay, well, maybe and you do some reading some things and Okay, well, maybe, maybe not. Or, I guess, yes.
Betsy Furler 28:03
Well, and I mean, I think it's the same as getting a medical diagnosis of any other type. You know, if you go somewhere and a doctor diagnose you with something, it's, you know, it's not always the best thing to just go, Oh, okay. That's what I have, you know, you frequently Well, I mean, our family frequently will go on to another doctor and get another opinion because just one person's opinion is not always accurate. And so, and but, but you rarely hear of someone getting a second opinion on a diagnosis of autism or ADHD. Um, I, I've, I don't know if I've ever heard of that. I've heard maybe a couple of times, but that's a it's a rare story. Um, so thank you so much for being here. Is there anything else you wanted to tell my audience
Michael Szafron 28:57
there was one last thing that came to mind when you We're talking about people and and the stigma and people who worry about the diagnosis of a child or something like that. When one of my friends, he used to work with me back at Tesco, he's, he's an engineer with an MBA, but he's actually really personable and fun. And he wants to start up a career as an industrial comic, which is kind of a side gig. And he came up to me and he was a little bit sort of hesitant, because he had this new bit that he wrote about autism. And he wants to try it out. I'll be of course, I don't know, dude, it's totally cool. I got you. And it was really funny because it was about vaccinations. And he starts talking about, you know, I don't know what's wrong with all these people that worry about, you know, their child's getting autism by getting a vaccination. Because I'll tell you what, if there was a way that my child could get autism, look at these people, they're successful. They're engineers, they're scientists. They're, I mean, he's looking at high functioning. Autism right about Yeah, and all the benefits and the superpowers. I mean, he's like, look at you, like if I could get a vaccine that would guarantee my child has autism, I'd be lined up around the street to get that thing. So, it was just, it was very interesting that you know, that stigma is starting to shift because he is, you know, 100% neurotypical.
Betsy Furler 30:22
Right, yeah, yeah. And, and I, I so love and appreciate people with autism and ADHD and all sorts of other forms of nerd diversity and and love the, the difference that that you all bring to the world and, and such a different outlook on life than I have. And, and it really like it. I appreciate it so much. I appreciate that creativity and thinking in such a different way. It's so valuable, and that's really cool that he is developing that That routine, and at the end that he ran it by you first, just to make sure,
Michael Szafron 31:06
yeah, not to offend anybody, but it was really good material. So,
Betsy Furler 31:09
exactly. Well, if my audience wants to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that?
Michael Szafron 31:16
Best way to find me is gonna be on LinkedIn. I'm pretty active on there. I've also published a lot about autism and also sales and other things. So LinkedIn is probably the best way to find me get a hold of me, send me a message Connect.
Betsy Furler 31:30
Okay, and your last name is spelled with an S and is sc. Right?
Michael Szafron 31:36
Yes. z AFR o n. Michael. To be confused with my my cousin Microsoft friend who's a who's a math professor.
Betsy Furler 31:49
Yeah, cuz you have that very unusual last name, but you know, same name, as somebody related to
Michael Szafron 32:01
run in families. I'm the one that says autistic superpowers in my headline.
Betsy Furler 32:06
Okay, awesome. That'll be a great way for everyone to find you. Well, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being on the show today.
Michael Szafron 32:14
Thanks very much. Appreciate it.
Betsy Furler 32:15
Yes. Great and tell my listeners thanks so much for tuning in. Again, please rate and review the podcast on whatever podcast outlet you're listening to us on. And please share my podcast with all your friends and family. Thanks again.