Monday, August 15, 2016

Small talk and other nonsense

What is it about small talk that makes me freeze?

In theory, it shouldn't be that difficult at all. When someone asks you how you are doing, you say, "I'm doing well, how about you?"

I've read in books that that was the protocol. But the two fragments of that sentence does not sit well with me. Because first, I'm not doing well. You came up to me and asked me a meaningless question since it has no motive; so inside, I'm a little anxious. And second, I really do not care for your answer about your health because I know you're going to lie anyway. Just like I did. 

The superficial nature of these types of conversations unsettles me. And I think it's part of the reason why many other Aspies do not prefer small talk. 

But NTs seem to not be bothered by small talk at all, and I find this fascinating. They can make small talk with people with ease, and I think it's impressive. I used to believe that NTs build relationships on tiny superficial conversations like these because that's how they make sense of the world. But I've long since abandoned this theory.

I now believe that NTs link communication with the strength of relationships. They need to communicate with one another to keep a relationship strong, which is a foreign concept for me. I've learned that the more they communicate, the closer they feel.

Aren't I cheeky?

The reason why this is a foreign idea to me is because I could go 2 months without talking to my best friend and not experience my feelings for her any less or stronger. Communication or lack of it has never been a factor that affects my relationship with anyone, and I find that this is something a lot of people in my life can't digest or understand.

Parents of teens and adults on the spectrum are very bothered by this. I've seen mothers asking in conferences how they can make their child communicate with them more, and dare I say it, care about them more. 

See the below video of Dr. Temple Grandin, for example.

At 16:49, the dude asks what advice would Dr. Grandin give to a person who feels cut off from their autistic child. After she gave him the answer from the point of view of an autistic person, he goes on to ask the same question again. And this is understandable. 

The mind of NTs work very differently from us. And as a result, some parents feel that they don't fit in our little world, just like how we don't fit in theirs. But this is genuinely a serious problem for some.

I've been in many a kerfuffles with my mother because of this issue. And I bring this issue not just to tell you a little anecdote of mother-Aspie daughter problems, but also because I like using the word, "kerfuffles." 

I did not understand the logic behind her calling every couple of days  to "see how I'm doing." In my blunt ways, I told her if something were to happen to me, the university would notify her. If it were a matter of safety, that should settle things, shouldn't it?

But this really blew up in my face because apparently it was insensitive and disrespectful to say such a thing. I didn't get it until the damage was done.

I can't tell you for certain why NTs are this way but here is how my mind works:

Until I tell you that I'm not okay, my status is: I'm doing well. 

No matter how many times you repeat the question, the answer is going to be the same. If I'm in trouble, I would tell you. It's not difficult to follow, really.

But ultimately, it was my mistake because I didn't realize that NTs equated communication (even the pointless ones) with care, love, and affection. I find it weird, but I'm sure NTs look at our seemingly indifferent behaviors and find them weird too. 

However, we do live in a world dominated by NTs, and I believe I should at least try to blend in. So I came up with an intelligent way to carry on small talks, and at the same time, actually get something out of that conversation since Aspies are goal oriented. 

The following algorithm is something I created a year ago, purely for recreational purposes. I'd read enough books about communication, trying to understand how to have small talk without feeling like the end of world is near.

Source: me and boredom

If you are unable to view the image above, try the one below. Or this. 

I made the flowchart purely out of boredom so I was feeling a bit silly as I normally do. But the flowchart does have a main premise: people like you more if you're interested in them

I read this on Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, which most of us know as a great book on socializing, but I think of it as the ultimate Aspie Bible. The goal is to direct most of the conversation momentum on the other person, so they feel important and valued. This also takes the pressure off of me to contribute to the conversation, which is a lot tougher than it sounds. 

If all else fails, you could try, you know, not leaving the house. That works too. 

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