I’m referring to those situations where someone shares some news with us, whether it be ‘negative’ news – “I think I’m getting a cold”, or “my car has broken down”, or ‘positive’ – “we’re going on holiday next week”. Often, our response is to start listing - in great detail and at interminable length - all the illnesses we’ve ever had, or all the problems we’ve ever had with any vehicle we’ve ever owned or even driven, or all the holidays we’ve ever been on and how good they were, etc, etc.
Now, I can understand why we do this (this ‘we’ is literal, I’ve been as guilty as anyone else of this!), and I suspect many of you also know too. We’re trying, in our own admittedly socially clumsy and awkward, roundabout way, to express our sympathy or even empathy, to in effect say “hey, I’ve been there too, I know what it’s like, I feel for you”. Or, “I’m happy for you.”
The trouble is, that’s not what the other person hears (especially if they’re NT), and not what they are thinking or feeling. In fact it’s far more likely they’re thinking “God, this person is so selfish, so self-centered, they do nothing but talk about themselves!” And then they go away disgruntled and put-off, maybe disliking us, and we lose another chance to make a connection, or even a friend.
So here’s my suggestion. Next time someone shares news of the above type (it doesn’t have to be these exact examples), instead of making a ten- or twenty-minute speech, simply say something like “I’m sorry to hear that”, or “that’s a bummer”, or (if it’s good news), “that sounds nice!” And then shut up.
That’s right, make one comment, and then just STOP. If they respond with more information, make one more comment, maybe a bit longer, or ask a question or two, and then wait for their response again. And so it goes on.
You don’t have to remember these exact words or phrases. It’s the idea that’s important, of keeping it short, sweet, and focussed on the other person, and which may help us get along a little better with the NTs we are invariably surrounded by, and incur, hopefully, a little less (bewildering, to us, because we don’t understand the reasons for it) hostility from them.
It’s worked for me, and I think it’s worth a try for others on the spectrum too. What do you reckon?