You have invited your friend over for dinner. Your child sees your friend reach for some cookies and says, “Better not take those, or you’ll get even bigger.” You’re embarrassed that your child could speak so rudely. However, you should consider that your child may not know how to use language appropriately in social situations and did not mean harm by the comment.
An individual may say words clearly and use long, complex sentences with correct grammar, but still have a communication problem – if he or she has not mastered the rules for social language known as pragmatics. Adults may also have difficulty with pragmatics, for example, as a result of a brain injury or stroke.
PRAGMATICS INVOLVE THREE MAJOR COMMUNICATION SKILLS:
- Using language for different purposes, such as
- greeting (e.g., hello, goodbye)
- informing (e.g., I’m going to get a cookie)
- demanding (e.g., Give me a cookie)
- promising (e.g., I’m going to get you a cookie)
- requesting (e.g., I would like a cookie, please)
- Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation, such as
- talking differently to a baby than to an adult
- giving background information to an unfamiliar listener
- speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground
- Following rules for conversations and storytelling, such as
- taking turns in conversation
- introducing topics of conversation
- staying on topic
- rephrasing when misunderstood
- how to use verbal and nonverbal signals
- how close to stand to someone when speaking
- how to use facial expressions and eye contact
These rules may vary across cultures and within cultures. It is important to understand the rules of your communication partner.
AN INDIVIDUAL WITH PRAGMATIC PROBLEMS MAY:
- say inappropriate or unrelated things during conversations
- tell stories in a disorganized way
- have little variety in language use
It is not unusual for children to have pragmatic problems in only a few situations. However, if problems in social language use occur often and seem inappropriate considering the child’s age, a pragmatic disorder may exist. Pragmatic disorders often coexist with other language problems such as vocabulary development or grammar. Pragmatic problems can lower social acceptance. Peers may avoid having conversations with an individual with a pragmatic disorder.
WHY SMALL TALK MATTERS
If you are like many people with Asperger’s Syndrome, you categorize small talk as a nonsensical NT (neurotypical) ritual where people waste time talking about stupid subjects that no one really cares about.
However, small talk is actually a critical workplace skill. It is the first step in establishing those all-important relationships with your colleagues. Most neurotypicals (who make up the majority of the workforce) place a high value on relationships. So much so that a good relationship with one’s supervisor and liking one’s co-workers are consistently rated as major factors for job satisfaction.
Sharing a few friendly comments with fellow employees you see in the lunchroom or in the elevator sends the message that you consider yourself to be part of the group. Small talk with your workmates is the starting point for building camaraderie and trust.
You do not need to actually like someone in order to act friendly with them at work. Sometimes small actions go a long way toward establishing yourself as likable.
-Greet co-workers you see or interact within the morning by saying “Good morning” or asking “Hi, how are you?”
-Smile when you greet people or pass them in the hallway. If necessary, practice so that it becomes natural. A person who doesn’t smile is often perceived as angry or aloof.
-Join your colleagues for lunch on a regular basis.
How to Make Small Talk
Small talk is the discussion of general, neutral topics for short periods of time (usually no more than 5 minutes). Neutral topics are things like the weather, traffic, sports, a national news item, plans for the weekend, etc. Topics to avoid are those that polarize people (politics, religion, race), make them feel uncomfortable (sexual topics), or personal observations (weight, clothing, hairstyle, mannerisms). Negative comments about other employees or the company should also be avoided.
If you do not follow sports teams or popular programs on television, you can still find subjects for small talk. Many local news stations have Web sites that provide brief summaries of top stories. This is a quick way to stay informed about what is happening in your community.
The point of small talk is making connections with others. To do this, you must keep a discussion going for at least two or three turns. If you reply to a question or comment with a one-word answer or by saying “I don’t know,” it won’t go any farther.
Let’s say you are in the break room and someone asks whether you saw a particular program or sports event. You answer, “No.” Oops! The conversation is over. Instead ask a question to express your interest in the other person, such as, “I haven’t seen that program, what is it about?” or “I don’t follow baseball. Do you play?”
Here is another example that illustrates how small talk can be the bridge for establishing good relationships with your co-workers. Someone asks, “Did you get caught in that traffic jam on Route 66?” Instead of saying “no,” you say, “No, I live in Smithtown so I don’t take the highway to get here.” The other person responds, “I used to drive through Smithtown when I worked at ACME Widgetworks.” You reply, “I worked at ACME six years ago in the R&D group.” Your new acquaintance says, “I was in R&D, too. We should get together for lunch this week.”
This kind of scenario is not uncommon and can be the start of productive, long-term business relationships. Even though it may feel uncomfortable for you at first, look at small talk as an important business skill to practice.
Note: I am not a medical professional, I do not claim to know everything about it. Please feel free to research deeper and clarify for yourself where I have gone wrong.