Friday, September 26, 2008

Tips for Managing Small Talk at the Office

Frequently, adults with Asperger’s will complain about the inane, time consuming, yet somehow valued activity called small talk. Typical offices seem to allow and even require a certain amount of time to be set aside for this type of socializing, even though it’s unrelated to the actual work that needs to be done. I’ve seen many blog postings where people question its value, but it’s here to stay. For neurotypicals, it’s even enjoyable.

Of course, you can do whatever you want with regard to small talk. But, if you think you’re being somehow penalized at work for not participating in small talk, I’ll be posting  some tips to play the small talk game.

1. You Can Keep It Short, But Say Something

Let’s say you’re going to get a cup of coffee, and the pot is surrounded by coworkers rehashing the weekend game. You hate football, didn’t see the game, and have nothing to add to the conversation. It’s very logical to ignore the conversation, get your coffee and get back to work.

But, wait! Neurotypicals are trained from infancy to look for subtle clues to other’s feelings, and they can be very insecure. If you say nothing, they will start making all sorts of assumptions, usually assumptions that revolve around their own insecurities. Things like, “Why is that guy so unfriendly?” or, “Why does he hate me?” or even, “Does he know that I’m about to get laid off, and he’s not telling me?”

A better option? Just say, “Good morning!” in a pleasant tone, look at them and smile, and move on to your coffee. This is one of those situations where neurotypicals also use scripts to know what to say. If you have to cut through the group, add in a cheery sounding, “Excuse me.” That’s it. Your coworkers will probably think you’re friendly, but busy, and not even think any more about it.

Please check back here frequently, I’ll be posting more small talk tips.