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.
Invited to a party? Anxious about how that will go? Good news, Aspies: Mixing well at a party is really painless. Here are ten steps to being at ease at a party:
Be presentable. Clean body and clothes, regardless of what you wear. Fresh breath and deodorant are a must. No pet hair on clothes. Lots of people are allergic and you don’t want everyone in the room moving away from you all night.
Arrive on time, especially if it’s a dinner party. Don’t come early, and don’t arrive more than fifteen minutes after the specified time.
Be thoughtful of the host/hostess. Where do you put your coat, etc? Can you help with anything? They will most likely greet you at the door, take your coat, and either hand you a drink or point you to the refreshment table/bar.
Forget about YOU. This is a gathering of diverse people the host brought together with the overall idea of a fun/stimulating/entertaining evening. Therefore each person regardless of appearance, abilities or disabilities, is worthy of your time and attention.
Spend a little time with each guest as they become conversationally accessible. Introduce yourself, mention the weather or the funny hat the host is wearing, or how you know the host. Ask the person about themselves: what do they like to do? How do they know the host? What is the best movie they’ve seen this year? The worst?
LISTEN: Really listen. You aren’t listening if you’re waiting to talk about your favorite topic. And you aren’t listening if you’re looking around wondering who to talk to next. To listen, look at the other person. Absorb what they’re saying. Think of something to ask that relates to what they are saying, or, if the conversation is complex, briefly rephrase what they’ve said to make it clear that you understand. The point of any conversation is to draw the other person out, to see into their mind, their interests, their lives.
Excuse yourself, when it becomes obvious the other person is never going to stop talking, or others have joined in and are pretty much carrying the conversation. Do not take offence that this has happened, it is a natural evolution of party talk. However, if you see people moving away from you? Probably you are talking too much! Go on to the next.
At the end of the night, say a brief goodnight to each person you chatted with, thank your host and check that you have everything; cell phone, purse or wallet, hat, scarf, gloves.
Do not be the last to leave! Unless the host has designated you part of the clean up crew, exit the party in a timely manner. It’s okay to leave at any time, but probably best if you wait til after two or three others have left.
The next day, call or text your host/hostess to tell them how much you enjoyed the event. Be only positive in this missive. Do not point out how they could have improved the party or who they should not have invited or that your aunt has a better recipe for baked Brie. Positive remarks only along with thank you.
Do you believe that being kind could relieve anxiety? Researchers Jennifer Trew and Lynn Alden of the University of British Columbia might have suspected this was a possibility.
Recently the two did an experiment involving 115 socially anxious university students. The students were divided into three groups. Each group had a different directive.
The first group of students were required to perform 3 acts of kindness two days a week for four weeks.
The acts of kindness included activities like washing a room mate’s dishes, mowing a neighbour’s lawn and donating to charity.
The second group was required to insert themselves into a social situation (after taking several deep breaths to calm them down). These insertions could include actions like asking a stranger for the time, or asking someone to lunch.
The third group? Was asked to journal about personal events.
At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that people in the first group had less instances of avoiding social interaction due to fear of rejection.
This makes sense to me, since asking someone to lunch, someone you don’t know very well seems somewhat risky in terms of the possibility of being rejected, whereas asking your room mate if she’d like you to do her dishes? Is hardly a thing anyone would say ‘no’ to. And the room mate is likely to look more favorably on you after you’ve cleaned up her scullery debris, whereas the person you asked to lunch? Might be avoiding you so they don’t have to let you down again.
So, Aspies, to improve your sense of social connectedness and ease your way into social situations, try an act of kindness. Why not?
Then you can work your way up to asking the recipients of your kindness out to lunch.
Social connections seem very complex and can be confusing for us Aspies. I show this a lot in my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen.
What we see as the truth in the moment is exactly what we tend to say. This can lead to regrets later when we have additional information or have had a chance to rethink our position.
And one bad experience can cause us to generalize in a negative way about similar situations in the future. We tend to withdraw. We are after all, far more comfortable in our own little world. Why would we even bother to venture out?
Because, Aspies, our mental, emotional and physical health is greatly improved when we’re positively connected to other human beings. When we have people, even just one person, that we can call a friend. When we have a co-worker who is happy to see us arrive at work.
How do we manage that? How do we cross that vast and terrifying chasm of not knowing how and get to the land of Oh, I get it!?
Fortunately for us, there are many books and videos on the subject. Here are two that I have recently discovered:
The first is titled The Unwritten Rules of Friendship and is written by two professionals, Natalie Madorsky Elman and Eileen Kennedy-Moore. The book contains very straight forward information and how-to’s. It’s extremely practical and easy to read.
To give you an example of the contents? There is a section on distinguishing between sincere and insincere compliments. Very handy for Aspies.
The second book deals with workplace situations, offering all kinds of cut and dried advice.
In her book I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, Kate White, a former Cosmo editor-in-chief, not only gives examples of difficult office situations but tells explicitly how best to phrase responses.
While this book is written for women in the magazine industry, the advice applies to most workplace situations, to men as well as women.
White covers every aspect of the workplace including how to ace an interview.
Obviously neither of these books was written specifically for Aspies, but they are great aids for us nonetheless. I found Unwritten Rulesof Friendship in a thrift shop but it was published in 2008, so it should still be available at your local library, and I checked and it is on Google books. Or you can download the ebook at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWZvvhRMlmI
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:
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.