Dear Aspie: How Do I Keep Small Talk Going?


Dear Aspie:
?I?ve read your articles on small talk, but I can?t seem to make it keep going. It always seems to die out after a little while, even though I want to make it work. What am I doing wrong!??


Read on for GroovyDruid’s response!
Dear Aspie:
?I?ve read your articles on small talk, but I can?t seem to make it keep going. It always seems to die out after a little while, even though I want to make it work. What am I doing wrong!??


I have a pretty good idea of what?s going on. It involves the finer mechanics of small talk and conversation generally.

Most people think of small talk as a tennis game. The ball goes from one person to the other, without any real weight to one phrase or another, blah, blah, blah. This analogy misleads. Really, small talk is more like a dance; and like any good dance, it has a message in its pattern. What is that message? Well, you are proving that you are a complete communicator, i.e., that you can both give and take communication. Let me explain:

When a person?call him Alan?starts up small talk, he originates communication. The other person, Beatrice, then communicates back that she received his communication, and they have completed a cycle. This is a very important: Alan proves he can originate communication, and Beatrice proves she can receive communication and acknowledge it.

Ideally, then, the cycle reverses direction. Beatrice originates her own communication, and Alan replies and shows that he has received it. At this point, they have both proved to one another that they can give and take communication.

This may sound simplistic, but it?s not. Communication is the most important thing humans do, and to function well among people, you have to be able to give directions, instructions, ideas, needs, sentiments, and to receive them, too. Communication of this sort is an exact formula. Society labels those who do too much giving or receiving of communication as a blabbermouth or an introvert. As unfair as it is, society rarely offers good opportunities to people who can?t communicate.

At gatherings, small talk functions as a way for two people to size up each other?s communication abilities. Two CEOs like Alan and Beatrice might sound like this:

Alan: (originating)
I played the course at Pebble Beach the other day.

Beatrice: (receiving)
What a nice day to do it.

Beatrice: (originating)
I went to the beach there a couple of years ago and thought it was gorgeous.

Alan: (receiving)
It?s funny: I?ve been there several times, but I?ve never left the golf course!

And the conversation will continue in this vein until the two part and begin anew with other people. We aspies would likely label this chit-chat as drivel, if we didn?t know to look for the pattern underneath the superficial exchange. The pattern is vital. Alan and Beatrice establish that they can give and take communication well. By following the pattern, they build rapport and respect for one another?s abilities.

Aspies can reap great comfort from knowing about this simple pattern. How? When some stranger asks you, ?How?s it going?? at a party, you will know what?s happening. Most aspies complain that they don?t know how to respond to such questions, but you at least know what you have to get across in your answer: ?I received your communication!? And then you know what your conversation partner expects you to do next: originate your own communication for him to receive and acknowledge.

Of course, this pattern will only hold strictly true with the very best communicators. Most NTs fall well below these standards in giving and receiving communication. They will talk compulsively about themselves from nervousness, fail to acknowledge your communications, or fail to originate communication when it is their turn. But at least you will be the one in the ?know? for a change, hm?

I can?t tell you how impressed people will be if you can exercise this pattern at least part of the time. A cycle of good small talk done with correct give and take of communication can land a job interview in the first two minutes, and leave people with an open, happy impression of you that lasts for years. Good luck with it. Onward and upward!

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