I’m interested in becoming a skilled conversationalist. For an autist, this is a challenging proposition. I’ve been reading up on conversations from sites I googled using the search, “How can I be a good conversationalist?” One post in particular made a lot of things clear about conversations. It discussed a conversation as a thread in which two or more people participate in a series of brief exchanges. And the conversation typically starts with the shallow and mundane and moves gradually to subjects that are deeper and more intimate. Trust is built in the shallow and medium levels of the conversation so that both parties feel comfortable moving to the more intimate things. You find out which topics make people feel uncomfortable and which topics make people comfortable and even excite them.
Figuring out when people feel uncomfortable and when they feel comfortable requires a high level of calibration, which can be challenging for autists. It takes a lot of focus and willingness to appeal to the partner for clarification and a willingness to trust the other person. At the same time, it requires being “in the moment” a lot, which means that you can’t be intensely focused because you are trying to establish emotional rapport. You will find that some people are more likely to be understanding and helpful than others and you will get better at guessing which ones to trust.
So, it seems that conversation is like a cooperative game that you play where each party may have their own winning outcome. The outcome may be to add someone interesting to add to your party list or it may be to find a mate.
Like anything worth doing, this takes work. The more work you put in, the more skill you gain. If an autist puts in a lot of work with a high degree of focus, I see no reason why an autist cannot become a highly-skilled conversationalist. And, like anything, once you become consciously competent, with practice, you will eventually become unconsciously competent, when conversations will no longer require conscious effort, i.e., work.
So, I plan to practice conversations as much as possible–at the grocery store, at fast food restaurants, at game meetups, in clubs, at sit-down restaurants, at all kinds of social venues, trivial or otherwise. I plan to go to meetings of my improv group because I found that that group helps me with conversational practice as part of its games.
“Improv” = “improvisational”