Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More Tips for Managing Small Talk in the Office

“How was your weekend?” This is another one of those questions that can really confuse professionals with Asperger’s, autism or just general difficulty in reading social signals. Of course, as always, everything depends on context. If it’s your therapist, the doctor in the emergency room, or your wife asking the question, chances are, they really do want to know the answer. But I’m not talking about situations like that, I’m referring to the guy standing at the coffee machine on Monday morning, saying, “So, good weekend?” 
This is one of those questions that is really a variation on, “How are you?” or “Good morning.” that neurotypicals like to use on Monday mornings. If you don’t feel talkative, you can probably just answer with, “Great, and yours?” Pause here, so you can hear their response. Then a cheerful, “Oh well, back to work!” should be enough to end the script.
But, this question is friendlier than “Good morning.” or “How are you?” so it’s also an opportunity, an invitation to connect. If you want to make friends, appear to be more approachable, or connect with coworkers, “ How was your weekend?” is your chance. You know that your coworkers are going to ask this question, so you can be prepared in advance. You don’t want a rote or practiced response, but you do want to think about your answer in advance. Have an interesting statement or two to throw into the discussion.
Remember, it’s small talk, so keep it light. Popular culture, weather, hobbies, family activities. These are all good topics. “My daughter had a great soccer game.”, “I was hoping to rake the leaves, but it rained so much.”, “I finally caught up on Grey’s Anatomy.”   It’s also a chance to bring up your special interests if you want to share them. “I went to the Star Trek convention.”, “I organized all my internet correspondence.” It’s easy to avoid topics you don’t want to share. Generally politics, religion, issues related to health or bodily functions can all get very intense and personal quickly. Use the topics with caution.
I think it can be easy to look down on small talk as useless and meaningless. But, at it’s best, small talk is about human beings trying to connect to each other.