Saturday, February 23, 2008

People Skills and Air Traffic Controllers

I don't generally like big groups of people, but I almost always like small groups - ones, twos, threes or fours and I'm fine. Because I like people. I'm good at reading body language and I'm good at picking up small signals that show how people are feeling.

In fact, one of the reasons I don't like big groups of people is because, I think, that I pick up the feelings from the others who don't like big groups of people, and those feelings make me uncomfortable.

Okay, in the next paragraph I'm going to tell you about the work I do to help to assess or train doctors or other medical professionals. It will seem as though I'm blowing my own trumpet a bit but please bear with me: there's a reason for it.

I know, from the reactions I get to the medical roleplay I do, and from the fact that I get offered such a lot of work doing it, that I'm good at doing it in reverse - I seem to know how to replicate the speech, the body language and eye contact - or lack of it - that shows how the patient whom I'm playing is feeling. The other day I was playing a wife who was the victim of domestic violence from her husband: the people leading the session had extensive experience of working with such women and said that my portrayal of her was "frighteningly real". How do I do this? I don't know. I just think myself into it.

What I'm not, though, is technical in any way at all. The few bits of technical knowledge that I have, I've picked up from sheer necessity. I'm not technical. I do words. I do people.

My husband Stephen is not like this. He is Top Techie. He works with computers, but really, anything with a plug on it bows to his command. However, as he would be the first to say, he doesn't do people at all: apart from me, Emily, our close family, and my friends, whom he invariably adopts as far as he can.

If you met him you wouldn't know this. He's very friendly and very easy to get on with and has a very good sense of humour. And just as you're thinking this, there he is, gone, upstairs to his computers and whatever he's currently designing or building.

In The Times today there was a questionnaire about Asperger's Syndrome, which is a form of autism. If you could answer "yes" to all the questions then it's very likely that you have it, at least to some extent.

Stephen told me, with some pride, that he had done the questionnaire and answered "yes" to every single question. He was not, however, sure about question number 3, the one about "Do you struggle to maintain friendships?" since he doesn't have any friends of his own to start with, and is perfectly happy that way.

He's quite happy, too, for me to tell you all this - and why wouldn't he be? He's brilliant at his work and he's happy with his very small social life and he enjoys devising and building technical things - his current project is an all-singing all-dancing DVD player and recorder.

Of course, he'd be a brilliant Air Traffic Controller. Apparently very many of those have Asperger's Syndrome because they can do the phenomenal concentration that's required. Me, I'd rapidly lose interest in all those dots on the screen and start asking the others lots of questions about their lives and what makes them tick.

The people who interest me least, as a matter of fact, are the ones with those polished social skills, who excel at small-talk, who like dressing up and showing off, who thrive in a crowd. Hurrah for the others: hurrah for the ones who aren't like that. To me, they're the ones who are worth getting to know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting post.

I actually think 'A' has borderline Aspergers (assuming that's possible which I assume it is). He also has a very small social circle, very introverted and certainly lacks an ability to empathise.

I did once say "I think you may have borderline autism" which went down like a lead balloon, however. Turns out one of his cousins has it full blown and he is very touchy about the subject.

PS I'm like you in that I'm much more social/personality based than technical. I also hated maths and sciences at school.

8:38 pm  

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