Welcome back! This is the fifth installment of my blog posts on social skills in the workplace. Previously, we have discussed the confusion autistic individuals may have over facial expressions, the value of a smile, and the importance of small talk. Today I would like to discuss why it is important to initiate conversations at work.
Many neurodiverse adults I work with feel a lot of pressure before and during a conversation with someone they don’t know well. They worry they will have nothing interesting to contribute to the conversation. And, they’re worried the person will talk about a topic that they don’t know much about. Sometimes, they worry the conversation will just be boring, or they will a fool of themselves. Ultimentally, they hate initiating conversations.
Awkward pauses can feel unbearable, and make you want to run and escape. When you’re anxious, your body may even go into fight or flight mode. Where you are ready to escape the discomfort that comes from talking with people, strangers, or even close friends. Additionally, some clients I work with say that they feel more pressure when talking to people they know. Because they value what the person thinks about them. But, other clients feel more pressure when talking with a stranger because they are uncertain how they might react. They often fear the worst. Especially, if they were bullied in the past. So, it can be hard to initiate a conversation with these fears and worries getting in your way.
The Power of an Open-Ended Question for Initiating Conversations
If you can muster up the courage to ask a simple open-ended question, this can lead to a conversation. An open-ended question gives the other person a chance to elaborate on their answer to your question. But, a close-ended question usually leads to a one-word response like Yes or No. Then you have to think of what to say next, and you might feel a lot of pressure to keep a conversation going.
For example, when you are making small talk with a coworker try asking them what they are doing over the weekend or what their holiday plans are. These questions require them to provide you with information about themselves. You may find that you have something in common with them that can lead to future conversations. And even lead to a friendship.
Remember, a conversation is a two-way road. If you’re asking the other person a question, it’s showing to them you are interested in getting to know them. They will be more likely to talk to you. And, they are going to help fill in the conversation with content, which will take the pressure off of you.
Why it is Important to Listen During Conversations
Never underestimate the value of listening. You might think you need to be able to solve people’s problems or give great ideas. Often what people are looking for in a friend is someone who cares enough to listen to them. Listening is one of the best communication superpowers!
Initiating a Conversation Can Lead to a Friendship
Initiating a conversation can feel like a risk. You are being vulnerable and putting yourself out there. But, it is a risk that can come with a huge payoff – the eventual development of a close friendship. There are few things more precious and amazing than a true friend. Sometimes, remembering the greater goal can give you the courage to take the first step.
Remember, that it is okay to feel nervous initiating conversations. But, be assured that the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become. The social skills groups we facilitate Open Doors Therapy will give you a chance to practice initiating conversations. We would love to meet you and help you practice social skills that will help you feel more comfortable at work.
Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed learning about how to initiate conversations with your peers. If you connected to this blog and feel like it applies to you or someone you know, I would love for you to be a part of our working professionals community at Open Doors Therapy.
Here are three easy ways to stay connected with my South Bay Area autism therapy clinic:
- Contact Open Doors Therapy and schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation.
- Connect with me on Facebook for another way to stay informed.
- Sign up to receive my newsletter for news and information on living with neurodiversity
Other Autism Services at Open Doors Therapy
My Palo Alto/Bay Area mental health clinic serves individuals with autistic traits. This includes individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc. and their families. I am proud to offer individual counseling, parent counseling, and group therapy for the Silicon Valley area and beyond. Additionally, our therapists offer support and educational groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, autistic adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. To learn more about any of these services, contact our office and schedule a free consultation.
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.