The professor and the other students in the class stared at me, appalled. In true Aspie style, I had directly expressed my complete and total disagreement with the lecturer’s statement.
Fortunately, that professor was open-minded and willing to listen to counter-statements, but in many classes that outburst would have netted me a failing mark for the semester. People in general, and especially those in positions of authority like professors and managers, supervisors and bosses often do not like to hear dissenting opinions.
As Aspies, while we need not ever remain silent when we have an opinion which we wish to express, it is important that we express it in a manner which is most likely to be effective.
Consider this: If your response is considered confrontational, it is likely that the listener will simply shut down and shut you out. Would it not be more advantageous to encourage the listener to engage in dialogue with you?
So what is the most effective way of NOT agreeing with someone’s statement, and at the same time putting forward your own questions about their position?
A friend of mine, when he was in university learned to say, “It seems to me…” This allowed him to advance his own opinion without either directly agreeing or disagreeing. The beauty of this opening is that it allows for the advancing of a personal point of view along with evidence that backs up that point of view, in a non-threatening fashion.
“It became a sort of a trademark of mine,” he said. “And it helped me navigate my way through some pretty touchy conversations.”
I have also heard of a very successful person who, when questioning practices in the workplace, would use lead-ins such as “I wonder…” and “I’ve noticed…”
This is a far less abrasive approach than exclaiming “No!”, or saying something like “Why do you do it that way?” or “Shouldn’t you …?” Both of which are considered excessively confrontational by non-Aspies. (Go figure!)
When you convey your position in a non-threatening fashion it allows the listener to ask to have it clarified, to assimilate it, consider it, and perhaps ultimately, even to change their position.
In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger’s Teen, I relate how I was often blasted for saying what I thought was expected of me!
Feelings of inadequacy don’t go away easily, so I’m always on the lookout for advice—especially advice related to conversing. Here according to leadership coach Lolly Daskal of Inc.com in New York City, are five words to avoid:
Won’t: When you say that something won’t work it conveys a defeatist attitude. Instead say something like, I have some concerns; let’s work through them.
Maybe: Saying maybe gives the impression of an inability or unwillingness to commit, (not good) and may signify a lack of intention or direction to your listener. A better approach, if you have reservations? I’d like to hear (or see) more details first.
Sorry: This is the perfect word if you have an apology to make. But if you’re asking for something? Sorry does not belong. Phrase your request without apology.
Just: When you say, I’m just concerned… you may sound tentative, even apologetic to the listener. You will come across as much stronger and more confident if you say, I’m concerned….
Usually: This is a word that not only lacks energy, but indicates resistance to change (not that we know anything about that, right Aspies? A friend bought me a charming new hat and was disappointed when I would not wear it. I told him Aspies need time to get used to new things. We need to have it around for awhile before we can deal with it emotionally. The same applies to ideas, changes in schedule, routine, proposed menu—you name it!) So, watch out for the word It will give us away in the twinkling of its four syllables. Instead, gather up your courage and say something like, Let’s give it a try. And mean it.
Aspies, I admire each and every one of you. Thank you so much for following my blog. I’d love to get your input on my posts, so don’t be shy about commenting!
Remember, just getting up each day and going through the motions is important. Even more important? Having a purpose. Read next week’s blog to learn more about that.
Margaret Jean Adam.
This blog is from material published in January 9, 2017 Financial Post Column by Rick Spence, Free Advice to Live By.
In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I include a couple of poems. Here is one that arose from a Business Networking Meeting I attended every Friday. It’s just how I felt, being an Aspie on the outside of all the conversation:
I do not wish to tip toe around the polite perimeter of social exchange,
To avoid intimacy and understanding.
I do not wish to abstain from participation in the
socially connected sea of humanity;
to be silent when I am eager to speak,
To smile with others without knowing why,
Or listen to the negative impreachments of my peers.
I wish to connect
To find and open the portal to your innermost reality.
Who will navigate us successfully through life to success? To achieve the goals we set for ourselves?
Dr. Phil as he is commonly known, says it has to be us. Nobody else. And he has developed a set of what he calls “Life Laws” which he has used to help many of his clients find their way out of seemingly hopeless situations.
In his book, Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters, Dr. Phillip McGraw stresses that what is vital is “…understanding and controlling the cause-and-effect relationships of life; in other words, using your knowledge to make things happen the way you want them to.”
That we are responsible for learning the social strategies that will get us where we want to go, is probably, as Aspies, the last thing we want to hear.
But whether or not you are familiar with Dr. Phil’s non-nonsense TV Show style of therapy, I strongly suggest that every Aspie young adult and adult read this book at least once.
He goes on to state that “We live in a social world.” This book explains why social skills are key to success and how to organize and manage your life in the direction of your own definition of success.
Perhaps the two most important aspects of this book, are 1) the insistence on one’s duty to self when it comes to learning social skills, and 2) the notion that we manage ourselves.
If you haven’t read this book, you might look at your current self-management strategies and ask yourself:
It’s SMALL. Bytes of conversation as opposed to megabytes or gigabytes.
Keeping it short and impersonal can be challenging when you’re longing to express thoughts and ideas you have harboured inside yourself for so long that they are bursting to come out. But you must manage your conversations, especially when you are first meeting someone.
Remember: Bytes. Little. Little bits of conversation.
When you are first introduced to someone? This is not the time to tell them about your fascination with engineering systems, national infrastructure or energetic reactions. Save those conversations for networking meetings or gatherings of people with similar interests.
Socially? Small talk is for when you first meet someone. It’s a time to establish a safe conversational zone for both you and the person who is the object of your conversation.
Topics? The weather. Recent outings or vacations. Current events. Popular movies.
If the other person takes you deeper into their personal life, political or religious persuasion, fine, let them go on.
But rein yourself in. Keep your conversation pleasant, interested and attentive. Excuse yourself politely if you feel you must escape them.
In case you think I’m writing this blog from a position of perfection, you should know: it ain’t necessarily so.
Once on a road trip with my daughter? She was singing along to some CD’s she brought. I think she has a pretty voice. She loves to sing. But like me? She has a little problem with keeping on tune.
No big deal. But she sings in a band. So I said, in a very motherly way, if she would take singing lessons? I would pay for them.
She wrote a whole blog about that.
If you don’t think I was out of line? You probably have Asperger’s too.
Another time, I went to visit my other daughter, who at that time was a single mom. There were a number of issues I wanted to discuss with her, so I made a list. And pulled it out and started on number one.
She laughed so hard she nearly fell over. That is so YOU, Mom. A list of what to talk about!
Just thought you’d like to know—both girls still love me, still include me in their lives, and are only a phone call away when I need anything.
But don’t think the author of this blog has come to perfect her social relationships. I do research so that we can learn together.
I’m alone in a roomful of people–people I don’t know!
And I want to make a good impression. What do I do now?
In Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I talk about the gaffs I made at a dinner especially arranged to introduce me to some theater people. I really wish I ‘d had Dr. Carducci’s book and Jeffrey’s videos back then! These two experts on small talk really know how to ace a social situation.
You’ve just listened to Jeffrey’s video. He’s a guy who’s given more than 3,000 presentations and met many people. His comfort level with strangers is very high. But even he says it takes practice.
Dr. Bernardo Carducci is head of The Shyness Institute at Indiana University South East, so he has a lot of research behind his book,The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk; How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere about Anything.
Like Dr. Bernardo Carducci, Jeffrey Benjamin says step up and introduce yourself to someone standing near you.
Don’t interrupt a conversation to do that. Just find someone who is standing alone and go for it.
This is called breaking the ice and while to an Aspie it can feel just as dangerous as falling into freezing water on the skating pond, practising this manoeuvre will make it less stressful each time.
Both experts say listen. Listening in this sense, means being able to repeat back key phrases of what the other person has just said.
Repeating back a brief summary or phrase tells the other person you truly are listening, not just waiting for a pause in the conversation so you can jump in with your favourite topic. Listening like this also keeps you on topic mentally.
Benjamin actually says Listen more, talk less. This is the best advice anyone can give, and probably the hardest for an Aspie to follow. Discipline yourself.
Benjamin’s last item? Be positive. Dragging negativity around is not only pointless? It’s also terribly boring. Bring a positive attitude to the party. After all, you got invited didn’t you?
Why perfect the art of small talk? The ability to to communicate socially on what may seem to Aspies to be the art of meaningless chit chat?
First, for your physical health. That’s right! Dr. Dean Ornish cardiologist and author of Reversing Heart Disease says this:
“being able to initiate and maintain relationships is integral to heart health.”
He goes on to explain: “being able to interact meaningfully in a reciprocal relationship with another human being relieves stress and the feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
Isolated? In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I show how I felt that way a lot, and how damaging it was to me socially to be unable to connect with my peer group as well as my parents and elders. As Aspies, I’m sure we all know what those feelings are like.
And the second reason to learn small talk? Because it’s the key that opens the door to successful social relationships. It seems meaningless, but on the contrary: it’s important!
Small talk is the way people conversationally explore their comfort zone with the other person.
It’s where you and the other person communicate briefly about the world you both live in before deciding if it’s desirable or even safe to go into further fields of conversation.
Initially? Keep it small, keep it light, and get connected. Ultimately, small talk is good for the heart and good for your mental and emotional health.