Do you often feel like an outsider? Unable to connect in a meaningful way with others? In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I talk about how, as a teenage girl, “the entire female species was as foreign to me as a zebra to a long-horned steer.”
Fortunately, early in my adult life I found Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I strongly suggest you find a copy and read it. His main lesson for social success is simply to get other people to talk about themselves while you actively listen.
And you may be surprised to learn that just being quiet while someone else is talking doesn’t mean you’re listening. Really hearing what the other person is saying is the key to social connection.
This is especially true for us Aspies, because real interest happens only when we allow someone else into our neural space. For me, this can only happen when I shut up and listen.
Only then can I ‘get’ everything the other person is communicating.
For instance, if the other person is speaking about the weather, or their vacation, that’s probably a good indication that, at this particular time, they don’t want to hear about world affairs, software engineering or other complex subjects with which you may be currently obsessed.
And if you think you may like to get to know this person, you need to keep the conversation on their level. You need to ask specific questions related to what they’ve just told you, and you need to do so in a way that expresses your understanding and interest.
Some people are lonely because they haven’t learned to listen. They believe they are right–more intelligent, educated or experienced–and they bully their way through conversations, correcting people, and boring everyone with what they know on the topic. Sound familiar?
This conversational hi-jacking impresses no-one. The fact that these people are knowledgeable, intelligent, highly educated and/or experienced in their field may be both true and appreciated. But it does not override the other person’s need to be recognized.
We all enter into conversations to feel validated. And if that validation doesn’t occur, the brilliant intellectual is going to find himself or herself alone in a room full of uninterested people.
Listen. But do not stand quietly waiting to say what you have to say. Actively engage the other person while being polite, and attentive. Take care to address what they are saying.
You want attention, right? So does the person speaking with you!
And if they really have nothing to say that interests you, excuse yourself politely and move on. Do not be rudely dismissive. Everyone wants and needs to feel important. It is not always all about us.
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.