Thanks for visiting my Open Doors Therapy Blog This is the second installment of my blog series about navigating social skills in the workplace. If you are on the autism spectrum or neurodiverse, you might think your primary responsibility at work is to do your job well. Small talk, smiling, and other social niceties may seem like a waste of time and irritating. We will explore the purpose and value of such social behavior and ways for you to either integrate this behavior into your own life or find workarounds that feel more comfortable to you so that you can build rapport and effectively communicate with your co-workers.
Last week, we discussed how co-workers might misread your facial expressions if you’re autistic or neurodiverse. Today, let’s talk about the value of a simple smile.
Smiling may not come easily to you if you are autistic or neurodiverse. It might feel unnatural or insincere. It doesn’t mean you’re in a bad mood if you don’t smile. You could be neutral or really focused on your work. Smiling can take energy. It requires extra thought and social energy from you.
Your Social Battery
I like to talk about your “social battery”. If you’re neurodiverse or on the autism spectrum, most social interactions can deplete this social battery. Every social smile, all the small talk, and listening to your colleagues talk about things you don’t relate to can be draining. Therefore, at the end of the day, you may feel completely spent from trying to interact with people at work.
You only have so much social energy available to you on a given day. So how much energy are you willing to spend on smiling? Do you have to smile each morning when you see your coworkers? Is that enough? What’s the magic number of smiles it takes to put people at ease?
So, why even bother smiling around coworkers? What’s the value?
Smiling can signal that you are:
- Acknowledging the other person
- Ready to have a conversation with them
- Interested in what the person is talking about
If you do not smile when someone initiates a conversation with you, they may interpret it as:
- You do not want to talk with them
- You do not like them
- You’re in a bad mood
- You are unfriendly
- You’re rude or dismissive
If you don’t smile when YOU start a conversation with someone else, they will likely be:
- Unsure of your motives (don’t trust you)
- Afraid you are giving them bad news
- Defensive or aggressive (because they feel threatened)
- Less likely to smile back at you
A Tip for Smiling in the Workplace
If you are an autistic adult or neurodiverse and smiling is not your natural instinct when someone smiles at you or when you attempt to start a conversation, that’s ok.
My tip is to think of something that naturally makes you smile. For example, a beloved pet or a funny YouTube video. When you think of something that makes you happy, it will be easier to express a smile.
You might not think it is genuine or truthful to use this smiling strategy. But, smiling demonstrates your intention to interact positively with someone.
If your actual intention is to engage positively with this person, then this smiling strategy aligns with your intention. The purpose of this strategy is to help you seem friendly to others and facilitate a positive interaction.
The simple act of smiling cracks the door open to positive communications. I call my private practice Open Doors Therapy because I believe small gestures can open the door to positive interactions, and serve as the foundation for meaningful and positive relationships with co-workers, friends, classmates, teachers, and family.
Stay Connected With Open Doors Therapy
Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you are enjoying this series of blog posts on how to navigate social skills in the workplace. Now you know why smiling is a useful tool you can use to show positive intent when communicating with your co-workers. If you liked this blog and feel like it applies to you or someone you know, I would love for you to be a part of our community at Open Doors Therapy. Follow these three steps to stay in contact with my Silicon Valley area counseling office:
- Contact my office to schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation.
- “Like” Open Doors therapy on Facebook for another way to stay informed.
- Subscribe to my blog for news and information on living with neurodiversity.
Other Autism Services at Open Doors Therapy
Our Palo Alto/Bay Area counseling office helps individuals with autistic traits and their families. We work with individuals who identify as having Asperger’s, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc. and their families. At Open Doors Therapy, our autism therapy services include individual counseling, parent counseling, and group therapy. Our support and educational groups include college students with autistic traits, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, teens 16-30 & caregivers, gifted youth and caregivers, a summer social skills training program for youth transitioning to college, and a mothers group. If you would like to learn more about these services, contact our office.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private therapy practice in Palo Alto, near San Francisco, CA. She specializes in social skills groups for neurodiverse adults and teens on the autism spectrum.