A Simple Exercise to Encourage Successful Social Interactions for Students

Being social is by nature messy. The rules are vague and morph (often without fair warning) depending on a multitude of factors. Before you utter a word, you might consider who you’re with, what emotional state they (and you) show up in, what kind of interaction it is, and what is expected of you in that specific social setting or environment or culture.

And even if you decipher all the unspoken rules that apply to a specific situation, check again. Behaviors that were socially acceptable (or tolerated) five years ago could get you fired and ostracized today. It’s hard to keep up.

One way to keep up is to have a game plan for successful social interactions.

Let’s take a look at the “short chat” which is the most ubiquitous form of conversation. These take place at the dinner table, in the break room, at a family gathering, on a plane, in the car… almost anywhere really.

While reciprocal conversations aren’t always a perfectly balanced tit for tat, they are a quid pro quo arrangement.

I talk for a bit and then in return for listening to me, I listen to you and you get to talk.

And despite the disparaging sentiments you hear these days, quid pro quo is the way to go when interacting in a social setting.

You talk, I listen. I talk, you listen. Those are the unspoken rules we follow. But if you have social anxiety, communication disorders, or autism, this may be easier said than done.

So many students (and friends, and family, and one current person very close to me, and sometimes me too if I’m totally honest), forget to do this simple back and forth.


Because when they get going, (and getting going isn’t that easy for many with social challenges) they lock into a delivery mode of information that just keeps coming. There’s a flow happening like an open fire hydrant that continues till the water runs out or someone comes along with a hydrant wrench. But a one-way flow doesn’t consider or give room for anyone else.

The non quid pro quo soliloquy often goes unchallenged because there’s a misguided assumption that if, for example, a person with autism is talking to someone, that’s the whole ballgame. She’s being social! He’s interacting!

But it’s not enough just to talk to another person.

You need to communicate with that person. “With” meaning that they too are in the conversation. The good news is that there’s an easy, entertaining technique to help your students learn to have successful short chats.

It’s called 1, 2, 3, Done!

Anything that I want to communicate with another person I do in three sentences. After that, I stop and take in the social clues from the other person, give them time to respond, and breathe in and out consciously before speaking again.

The goal is to share some information about yourself, something you like, or something you experienced in three sentences: 1, 2, 3 Done.

This “done” part gives you time to pause and figure out if they’re interested in hearing more or let them have a turn talking. People give clues about what they want all the time.

In this case you can first check in with their body language; Are they nodding their head or is their body is facing you and leaned in?

Perhaps they ask a question about what you just said. That’s a very strong clue that this conversation has legs.

Another great use of 1, 2, 3, Done! helps my students when fielding questions from their parents about their day. Most parents would be very satisfied with three bits of info. Sure, they may ask questions, but this technique gives the student a way to share that is manageable, participatory, and in control of the narrative.

Ask your students or clients to tell you three things about a movie, book, video game, tv show. Just three things. Beginning, middle, and end. Practice with these isolated exercises and then move on to having a short back and forth conversation as they learn to listen and look on purpose to the other person’s responses.

Taking turns talking is a great relationship building skill and shows others that you care about them and what they have to say! A quid pro chat: 1, 2, 3, Done!

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