Getting to know someone can be a difficult process. In the beginning, you may struggle to get a conversation going. You don’t know the person’s personality so you want to make sure you start of slow until you can feel them out. There are some standard questions that many like to use as conversation starters. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Do you like sports?’ ‘What did you do today?’
Some questions we ask not to truly get to know someone but simply because we want to know their stats. What someone has, does, or who they know may determine whether we want to continue a conversation with them. Meeting people via online platforms makes it easier to assess them. Generally their location, employer, relationship status, hobbies, etc. are readily at our fingertips.
We are so used to knowing so much about people sometimes before ever meeting them. However, that invasive, need to know practice doesn’t necessarily translate in real life. Some questions can come off as offensive or invasive.
Over the last few weeks I’ve met so many people. For some the conversation has flowed seamlessly and others I felt like I was being interviewed and judged based on my answers. When meeting someone, our entire life history doesn’t need to be covered in the first hour. Here’s a few questions that could possibly rub someone the wrong way:
- What do you do?
That’s one of the first questions I’m asked, before people can accurately pronounce my name they ask me what I do. Unless I’m at a networking event or discussing employment I don’t really want to talk about my work history. When I worked at the W Hotel as a server and I would tell people what I did they would look at me like “Oh you’re just a server?” Now that I’m not working people look at me like “Oh you’re poor?” There are varying jobs with varying incomes in various fields. Whether someone works as a waiter, teacher, neurologist, or volunteer, it doesn’t make them any less worthy of conversation. Maybe allow the subject of employment to come up naturally instead of using it as a leading question.
- How do you support yourself?
Immediately asking for sources of income is reserved for filling out credit applications. It’s amazing how many people feel entitled to know how you afford your lifestyle. Whether or not someone lives outside of their means, has nice things, or dresses modestly your curiosity about their income should be just that, curiosity. How people support themselves shouldn’t be one of your first questions unless you’re offering to support them.
- What do you want to do with your life?
That’s a loaded question. I want to own an island and throw parties every day and eat whatever I want and not gain weight but that’s not possible…yet. I don’t want to detail to you my life’s goals just for you to tell me how unlikely it is that I’ll reach them. “Oh, you want to open a business? That’s going to be tough.” “Oh, you want to write a book? That’s a dying business isn’t it?” “Oh, you want to be a neurosurgeon? You’re a little old to be getting started aren’t you?” No matter what it is, someone always has a story to tell you about the friend of a friend that tried the same thing you’re doing…and failed. My goal is to be happy, how I achieve that can be discuss with people who will actually be supportive.
- You’re not married with kids yet?
Nope. The fact that you’re forming the question in a way that implies that I should have achieved those things already is judgmental. In an ideal world the plans we make for our lives when we’re little boys and girls would pan out just the way we wanted. For some of us, life has other plans. Some people may have lost a child or spouse or may never aspire to have them. Allow others to relish in their own idea of a happy ending without you imposing your judgment.
- How about those Black people being shot?
I moved to this new country, came to this party, ordered this alcoholic beverage or took this vacation for the exact opposite reason of talking about Black people being murdered by the police in the US. Yes, I’m aware of what’s happening. Yes, it’s extremely tragic. No, I don’t want to talk about how sad it is.
- Can you believe this election?
No, actually I can’t believe it. It’s the last thing I ever thought I’d have to believe but here we are. I also moved to this country, came to this party, ordered this alcoholic beverage or took this vacation to escape the fact that an orange misogynist, racist cartoon character is in the running for the most powerful position in the United States. I stopped finding it believable quite some time ago. No, I can’t believe his latest comment. No, I don’t know how anyone who isn’t in the top 1% of the country’s wealth can support him (because all they care about is protecting their money). And I also don’t want to talk about it.
Everyone is different. Some may not take issues with being asked about all of their personal, political, religious, and financial stats right away. Others may see certain topics as ‘personal’ and shy away from covering them. Getting to know people can be tricky, and you never know what may offend someone. There are so many questions that can be asked, try to steer clear of invasive or heavy questions at first. If you continue to spend more time with someone there’s plenty more opportunities to cover deeper conversation. If not, you shouldn’t know all of their personal information any way.