Many individuals find small talk inane and dull. This may be especially true for individuals with Asperger’s or autism. So many of my coaching and therapy clients have told me that they don’t enjoy talking about sports, or the Oscars, or the weather. It’s true, if you hate sports, the Super Bowl seems both trivial and overly hyped. Even if you love movies, the Oscars are just a celebration that the stars throw to honor each other. And the weather? We can all see what the weather is like, talking about it doesn’t change it.
Some people take this to mean that small talk is unimportant, a waste of time, and not something worth participating in. I disagree. It’s true, small talk doesn’t fix any of the world’s big problems. Few important insights are generated. But, small talk does enable people to establish relationships. It’s a simple, low risk way to share something personal about yourself, without opening up too much. It might be something really simple, like the fact that you love the snow. Or something a bit more personal, like that you took your family skiing over the weekend. However much you share, you’ve given people a hook, a means to get to know you just a bit better.
Many autistic individuals complain about feeling lonely and isolated. Obviously, relationships are the key to combating this isolation. But, people don’t go from total strangers to best friends overnight. It’s a gradual process, from strangers, to acquaintances, to friends. That process starts with small talk. And it’s not just a conversation about the weather, it’s an entire nonverbal communication as well. How friendly is the other person? How positive? Is body language open? Is the flow of conversation appropriate? Is this a person I’d like to get to know better?
So, the next time everyone is standing around the coffee maker chatting, try to join in. You don’t have to be witty, or clever, or original, or even fake. Just attempt to be positive, curious, and friendly. You can admit that you’ve never watched American Idol, just try to be open about what the rest of the crowd finds so entertaining about it. You might just find that people are trying to be friendly to you, they just need a chance.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.