The third chapter of Aspergers on the Job is titled “The Big Consequences of Small Talk”. Here are thoughts on Rudy Simone and discussion about this chapter. Stephanie is one of the fantastic APC Coaches and Doug is the founder of APC.
Doug: This chapter was all about small talk, a topic many adults with ASD have told me they deplore. Two interesting questions were asked at the end of the chapter. The first was about your thoughts about small talk on the job? The second, what do you think others get out of it?
Stephanie: I agree with what you said, that’s hard for many of our clients to do small talk and overall, follow social norms on the job. This may actually be one of the biggest challenges with employment. Our clients have training and education with the actual responsibilities of the job but what isn’t directly taught is the social skills. To answer your question, I think that many of the clients I work with understand that small talk is an important part of the job and try to do it, but only focus on it for that reason- because it’s socially mandated. I like Rudy Simone’s analogy with small talk. She said its like speaking Chinese. If its not your native language its foreign to you and when you try to pronounce it, people still hear your accent. Small talk is similar because its foreign to many of our clients and even when they attempt it, it still sounds different to some.
Doug: Yes, it is socially mandated. There has been on more than one occasion where a client has asked me why small talk is socially mandated. It’s a tough question to answer because it is an unwritten rule of communication on our society. Lets just take the job of a coach at Autism Personal Coach for example. Every week you and I have a meeting to discuss your clients and to talk about other aspects of the Autism Personal Coach business. Now this isn’t anything I have required, but it just happens that we usually start and end our meetings with small talk. That small talk can be anything regarding how our week has been personally, what we will be doing over the weekend, what tv shows we are watching(good call on True Detective!), or a variety of other topics. Now the question regarding all of this is why do we have small talk at the beginning and ending of our meetings if its something that neither one of us suggested that we do?
Stephanie: Because we understand the importance of it and it allows us to get to know one another better. It also allows for some transition both at the beginning and the end of our meetings. I have a client I work with and the second I see them its right down to business. No hellos, how are you, etc. I usually slow her down, ask about her day/weekend, and explain that its nice to share some personal things to form a relationship and get to know more about each other. Now when we greet each other she engages in small talk but still doesn’t always initiate it. In her eyes, my purpose is to be her coach and that is my only function so why talk about things that aren’t related to what we are working on? It’s kind of like giving me two different roles in her life by being friendly and learning more about each other and also doing work together and those two roles may be confusing. However, with this same client we have talked about the importance of small talk at work and have gone through different questions you may ask a co-worker. I think she is doing better with it at work but doesn’t understand she can generalize it to other situations and contexts such as when she meets with me.
Doug: You touched on some key points. That is where I feel our services our valuable in terms of educating our clients on why small talk is important. This is an important first step, finding value in small talk. Then we have to assess and teach how to make small talk. The next step is our clients making a conscience effort to make small talk. It may not be perfect or sound like the rest of the “neurotypical” population, but effort can go a long way.