Chit chat and small talk is often seen as meaningless conversation by adults with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism. But silence isn't necessarily golden. Sometimes it's just plain uncomfortable to find yourself with strangers and nothing to say.
Here are some tips for Aspies who hate chit chat – but feel they should be more conversational (if for no other reason than simply being polite):
1. Be a good listener. You can give visual clues that you are listening. You can nod your head, lean in towards the speaker to let them know you are paying attention.
2. Be a warehouse of information. This entails reading a lot and watching many documentaries on television. But information does not have to be encyclopedic or boring. Read and learn about things you are interested in, but take time as well to learn about things you think other people would be interested in. Knowing a few good facts that other people can relate to is better for chit chat purposes than having a head full of information that makes the eyes of other people glaze over.
3. Care about the “vibe” more than the topic. A conversation is much more than an exchange of facts and ideas. It is an exchange of energy. What many people miss is that when you know how to make chit chat, it means you can create a positive exchange of energy. The topic is just an excuse, so it doesn’t have to be a deep topic. When you’re making chit chat, you want to focus more on being friendly and positive than on picking the right topic or saying the right things. Smile, relax, joke around, be spontaneous and be silly. Remember that your vibe comes mainly from your attitude.
4. Don’t get “stuck” on the trivial stuff. Keep in mind that chit chat is not a destination. It’s just a temporary station. If an interaction with a person goes well, do move the conversation to deeper and more personal topics. You can talk about topics (e.g., family and relationships, career plans, life goals, challenges, etc.). You now find yourself in a new land: the land of bigger chit chat. Ultimately, a strong bond between two people is created when they talk about the most meaningful things, in the most meaningful way. Knowing how to make chit chat is one of the key people skills to master. From there, if you also know how to have charisma and engage others in more intimate conversation, you can get outstanding results with people and you can build a highly fulfilling social life for yourself.
5. Don't melt-away from conversations. Make a graceful exit. Try and shake the hand of the person you've been talking to. Show appreciation by saying, "It was interesting hearing about your job."
6. Greet warmly and use names. Make sure if you don't remember someone's name to ask. And, be prepared to introduce people to each other. It's also important to smile and be the first to say hello.
7. Get a life. It’s easy to make chit chat when you have a lot of things to chat about. People who know how to make chit chat well have a rich inner - and especially outer - life. Conversation is for them just a matter of expressing that. It’s much harder to make chit chat well when all you do is work a repetitive job or play on the computer all day. A rich lifestyle creates content and it helps you engage others. If you don’t have one, it’s time to create it (e.g., read, travel, try new things, take on various hobbies, do some charity work, socialize, etc.).
8. Keep a diary. This will serve as a repository of any information you feel is worth collecting. Anecdotes, important pieces of facts, names of people you need to remember - anything can go in that diary. The point is to read through the diary to bone up on the information that you feel is important to remember.
9. Keep it meaningful. Making chit chat makes a lot of sense with people you’ve just met. Imagine asking a person you know for 30 seconds: “So, how’s you sex life?” That is way too intrusive! Chit chat on the other hand provides a method to ease into the discussion. When you make chit chat, the subjects may be superficial for comfort, but they should be subjects you care about and approach in a straightforward manner, staying away from clichés. In this way, you can make the discussion meaningful for you – and for the other person. Focus on what is interesting as a topic and on what is real within you. You’ll make the talk fun even though you keep it small.
10. Learn to listen to what people around you are saying. Did your doctor just say he wants to go on vacation? Ask him when and where. Has your mother been telling you that she has back pains? Inquire whether they are getting worse. Did the cashier inform you that she is banking on being promoted soon? Congratulate her in advance. These are all opportunities to make chit chat, because you cared enough to listen to what they were telling you.
11. Make it a point to join groups of people anywhere just to make chit chat. Have you noticed that when many people are gathered together in one place, someone inevitably strikes up a conversation with another person there? Some people are quite shy though and leave it to other people to make the first move. That is okay, so long as you try to join in the conversation as well.
12. One of the best ways to learn about another person and help them feel as though you are interested in them is to ask questions and listen carefully to their responses. It may help you to prepare questions beforehand for the person you are meeting. Also, you can take a few minutes to learn something about the person you are going to meet before you meet.
13. Prepare for conversation. Before going anywhere, you need to make sure you have two or three things to talk about. It only takes a couple of minutes to prepare. The worst time to think of what to say is when you actually have to say something. You can talk about current events or what you already know about the person. But you have to be prepared.
14. Show an interest and dig deeper. Everybody should avoid clichéd questions that merely lead to clichéd answers that no one really cares about. "How was your day?" is one. You'll never know how someone's day was unless you dig deeper. You could say, "What went on at work today?" That kind of question will bring a more detailed, thoughtful answer, and you can follow up with another question. You have to actually be interested in the other person to have a good conversation.
15. Stop being an advisor. There's a real temptation in the course of conversation to respond to someone with advice. Resist that temptation. No one asked for advice. They just want to be heard. You don't have to solve people's problems in your conversations.
16. Treat chit chat with strangers as a skill you want to master. That means you need to have plenty of opportunity to make mistakes. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. That means you are experimenting and learning. Eventually you will become better at making conversation with new people.
17. Try talking to yourself in the mirror. This allows you to practice your chit chat skills in private. You can then catch any bad habits that you have, like pursing your lips or licking your lips when you speak.
18. Try to overcome any feelings of shyness or lack of self-confidence by participating in more opportunities to do chit chat. There's no getting around it - you learn how to make chit chat by doing chit chat whenever and wherever you can.
19. Practice your chit chat skills on people you encounter in your daily life such as the gasoline attendant who fills your car tank with gasoline every week, or the bus driver who accepts your fare for the daily commute to the office. Practicing hones your chit chat skills so that when you have to attend that important community function you will find chit chat to be easier (if not second nature by then.)
20. Be patient with yourself as you learn the fine art of chit chat. Start very small with small talk. Then move on to bigger small talk.
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